Temporal Poetics: Rhythmic Process as Truth

By Cureton, Richard D. | The Antioch Review, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Temporal Poetics: Rhythmic Process as Truth


Cureton, Richard D., The Antioch Review


Over the years, many have lamented the weaknesses in prosody (in the sense of our theories of poetic rhythm) and poetics (in the sense of our theories of poetry), but to my knowledge none have claimed that these two weaknesses are closely related. Over the past twenty years or so, I have been working with a strong version of the opposite assumption: that these two weaknesses are the same. I call this approach to our understanding of poetic rhythm and poetry temporal poetics, because rhythm creates our experience of subjective time, and this approach to prosody and poetics uses an explicit, detailed theory of rhythm in order to develop an explicit, detailed theory of poetry.

Temporal poetics has a considerable history. It took on a substantially finished shape about ten years ago; I have been teaching and writing about it ever since; and it has already been used by others (in one case, used as a book-length argument). Whether it will significantly influence the future of prosody and poetics, only time will tell. At this point, I can report only that it seems promising.

The prosodic tradition has always been primarily interested in the voice, how it moves rhythmically from syllable to syllable, stress to stress. But for whatever reason, this tradition has always given vocal movement a very regular, one-dimensional, and minimal representation (e.g., poetic feet, with foot substitution, etc.), while claiming that all more regular movement is just an abstract norm of this vocal movement and all less regular movement is not rhythmic at all.

This conception of rhythm can be useful for certain basic critical tasks, but is much too narrow and misleading to be of further theoretical or practical use. Actually, the movement of the voice (what linguists and music theorists call rhythmic grouping) is not at all one-dimensional, regular, and minimal but multi-levelled, variable, and complex. Similarly, the simpler and more regular movement that often accompanies the poetic voice (what music theorists would call meter) is not at all abstract and normative of the voice but gestural and cyclical, a felt pulsation that winds down in relatively fixed, alternating patterns that are directly opposed to the normative contours of the voice. All complex rhythms have more volatile linear and non-linear components, too, what music theorists call prolongation and theme, respectively.

This critique of the prosodic tradition leads to a new conceptual framework for the study of poetic rhythm, a new definition of poetic rhythm. In the prosodic tradition, rhythm is a simplified tracking of the regular motion of the voice, and everything else is collapsed into this one thing (or neglected entirely). The implicit claim is that rhythm has some sort of unified temporal logic (i.e., isochronous repetition, iambic feet, or whatever) and everything else is a kind of significant/negligible variation from this temporal norm. Therefore, a poem's rhythm can be fully described by specifying (or assuming) this temporal norm and then cataloguing the deviations from it, whenever and wherever they might occur.

In temporal poetics, however, rhythm (and therefore subjective time) is not homogeneous and logically unified but multiple, divided, and dialectically conflicted. Rhythm is not one thing but four very different things in inherently tense, complementary interaction. I like to call these four different things the major components of rhythm. Each of these major rhythmic components creates a different sort of subjective time. Meter creates cyclical time, which is associated with sensation, perception, and physical ecstasy. Rhythmic grouping creates centroidal time, which is associated with the centered self and emotional expression. Prolongation creates linear time, which is associated with volition and action. And theme creates relative time, which is associated with thought, imagination, and memory.

In this approach to prosody, rhythm is not just the regular movement of the voice but the concerted and conflicted movements of our major psychological faculties--sensation, emotion, volition, and thought; body, soul, will, and mind. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Temporal Poetics: Rhythmic Process as Truth
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.