A Premature Afterthought

My apologies in advance if this begins to sound confessional, discursive, delusional. First, I’d like to thank you all for today’s discussion of Jakobson, namely (many thanks to Jeff for assigning him); it was my second time engaging with “Linguistics and Poetics” in company, and my first experience actually talking about “Two Aspects of Language.” The latter, in particular, is a piece I continue to think much about. I’m going to circle back to our Jakobsonian concerns at the end of this post, by way of a detour through Burke, with whom I’ll agree in at least one respect (though there are more; but I also don’t usually find Burke affecting/effective): his four master tropes sure do “shade into one another.”

Jeff mentioned irony as an adjacent (and likewise slippery) figure in class today during his introduction of metaphor and metonymy, with a nod to style. I’ve been thinking about irony for a little while now along more or less these lines (my interest has to do with wit and, as it happens, the conceit), and I entirely agree. So I was struck by the following definition for “allegoria” in Puttenham: “when we speak one thing and think another, and […] our words and our meanings meet not” (270). Irony, right? At least, in one of its multiple forms. But it gets better because Puttenham elaborates by alluding to dissembling and dissimulation – “the Figure of the False Semblant.” (I’ll just mention here how neat it is that he allegorizes each of his “sensable” figures.) Already, semblance, similitude, seeming are triggered in my mind – all coded references to our master trope, metaphor, insofar as it’s predicated on an analogic mode of thinking (which, yikes, deserves a post all by itself; perhaps we’ll encounter it sometime? [I’m not sure that Puttenham’s “analogia,” “a decent proportion in our writings and speech,” is the same thing, though? {240}]). Then Puttenham, effectively, “maketh the figure allegory to be called a long and perpetual metaphor” because it, allegory, constitutes itself in speech “in sense translative and wrested from the own signification” (271). So allegory is in a way a function of metaphor, and “ironia” occupies neighboring space under the flag of “Dissimulation, […] the chief ringleader and captain of all other figures either in the poetical or oratorical science” (271). And so two of Burke’s categories are uniquely related in Puttenham, specifically vis-à-vis allegory (though I’m unfortunately not at the point of looping in synecdoche and metonymy, especially not with Jakobson inevitably intervening). And so – I’m tempted: can I? at the risk of severe conflation? anachronism? retrojection? – what would Puttenham, and Peacham, for that matter, have said about symbol? It doesn’t appear, from what I could see, in either of our primary texts for this week. And I ask because it has to do with modes or processes of signification – of being, seeming, appearing – ostensibly different from those indicated by allegory. But I don’t know.

Now back to Jakobson. Will posed the searingly penetrating question of what it would mean and how it would look to treat literary texts according to Jakobson’s system – how to apply, implement (and thereby, perhaps, value?) his structural(ist) paradigms. Well, YES. I want to point to the opening sentences of Burke’s essay: “I refer to metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony. And my primary concern with them here will be not with their purely figurative usage, but with their role in the discovery and description of ‘the truth’” (my italics). Does Burke ever deliver on his intention, anywhere over the course of the essay or in its (cryptic) closing section? What would it even look like for him to deliver on a premise he treats with some degree of condescension otherwise and elsewhere (I’m referring to his use of “scientific realism” here specifically)? There’s a very strong chance that I’m overlooking or misconstruing some point, so please call it out if I am. But I jotted down a question by Burke’s first paragraph that my reading of “Four Master Tropes” failed to address. What are the stakes here?


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