Sometimes in a text there can be a small section (or even a word) which seems strikingly out of context. Examples include
- rhyme or meter
- swearing and explicit sex
- authorial intrusion
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
- ignore it (assume it's a mistake)
- treat it like grit in an oyster - the alien matter provoking a reaction that results in beauty
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
- Assimilation - this is when new material is fitted into
existing frameworks of interpretation, though perhaps at the expense
of stereotyping the new material
- Accomodation - here the reader has to change in order to
absorb the new material.
Updated in December, 2006