Alien Bodies

Sometimes in a text there can be a small section (or even a word) which seems strikingly out of context. Examples include

Faced with this alien material what are the choices? One option is to treat it as something that will always be alien. The classic fight/flight/surrender options come into play. If it becomes distracting there are 2 solutions

Alternatively, the reader can in some way tried to absorb the material. Two Piaget terms come to mind The latter is more interesting. Sometimes a single line which doesn't "fit" is the key to the piece, triggering a flip-flop re-interpretation. For example, an authorial intrusion, like a patch of bare canvas, can reveal the essential artificiality of the piece. The analogy sometimes used in this context is Supersaturation - "Just as an alien body falling into a supersaturated solution causes the precipitation of crystals, i.e., reveals the true structure of the dissolved substance, the "alien word" [citations, etc] by its incompatibility with the structure of the text activates that structure", Yury Lotman, "Analysis of the Poetic Text", Ardis, 1976, p.109
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Updated in December, 2006
tpl@eng.cam.ac.uk