Thursday, March 13, 2008

TLS February 29 2008

from Marina Warner's Commentary "Who can shave an egg" on Beckett and Mallarme:

The foreign word takes us to a different level, where its embodied character, its sound and shape, act more directly on our physical receptors because they are freed from intelligibility. The physicality of a word grows lighter and less substantial when we know what it means without having to think. How to avoid this attenuation, with its corresponding drying up of the aesthetic response, becomes the writer's task.


Jee: This line of thinking is alluring, but wrong, I think. A word does not become attenuated when it is intelligible. The problem does not lie in intelligibility, but in the quality of the attention brought to bear on the word. There is an instrumental attention, what we do to survive the day-to-day, and there is an aesthetic attention, which we bring to a work of art. In her first essay in Proof and Theories, Gluck explains she uses simple diction in her poetry, such as the word "field," because simple words have such rich meanings. Warner in her piece discussed Beckett's use of "quaqua," as an example of nonsense words whose physicality defies semantics. While the word "quaqua" has the fiery sparks of novelty and transgression, they are mere sparks compared to the steady fires of the intelligible word "quack."

Beckett seemed to feel the same way when he commented on Mallarme's poetry (as quoted in Warner's piece):

I don't know why the Jesuitical poem that is an end in itself and justifies all the means should disgust me so much. But it does--again--more & more. I was trying to like Mallarme again the other day, & couldn't, because it's Jesuitical poetry . . . . I suppose I'm a dirty low-church P.[rotestant] even in poetry, concerned with integrity in a surplice. I'm in mourning for the integrity of a pendu's emission of semen, what I find in Homer & Dante & Racine & sometimes Rimbaud, the integrity of the eyelids coming down before the brain knows of grit in the wind.

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