A response to Paterson's "The Empty Image"
Don Paterson's "The Empty Image: a new model of the poetic trope", available
from his Ars Poetica
page has more in it than I can comment upon or understand, but I'll mention a few
- I don't think he's saying much that's new, but he doesn't claim to. I
think he's saying that word-meanings create provisional context which
in turn modifies word-meanings (and modifies reading strategy). The modification might be more than just a
tweak: ground might become tenor, details might become symbolic, and v.v..
These feedback loops operate on several features, not just along the part-whole
also along transparent-opaque, sound-layout etc. Readers are likely to
recontextualize as they read, delaying the processing of the raw material
until the appropriate methods of processing become clearer.
- "discredited lines of philosophical thought ... persist in the literary
sphere long past their sell-by-date" - I've noticed that too.
- "shouldn't talk about what the poem or an image means, so much as what
meaning it generates" - I think that's the only way to do it. Within a
certain group/context (e.g. of mainstream UK poets) there may be so much
agreement about a poem's meaning and quality that one might, as a
short-hand, say that the poem contains meaning, but give the text to a US
avant-gardist and you'll get a surprise.
- He says "My definition of overinterpretation is the avowal of the presence
of effects ... discovered in your post-reading critical vivisection. I
think these are to be strongly distrusted" but later says "We find
ourselves attuned only to a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and
whatever universe our senses conjure up for us is not the universe" - I
re-read to compensate for my narrow tuning using telescopes, microscopes,
(and Google, syllable-counting) etc, otherwise I'd miss too much. I need to
re-read to catch up with some of my peers who don't have the blindspots that
I have. Where
does re-reading end and overinterpretation begin?
- "Poets coin new metaphors that either reveal underlying mappings in
existing conceptual metaphors, or - more often - they innovate new
conceptual mappings" - I like this part of his essay, and the consequences.
- "That dynamic is bidirectional; take 'the moon is a dinner plate'" - by
chance a Judy
Brown poem has "a thick white saucer like a worn-out moon, brittle from too
2 related little stubs I've produced are
- Attention and Poetic Effect - "Two issues relating to
Attention are 1) what is being focussed on, and 2) the narrowness and
intensity of the focus. Here I attempt to describe the effects of some
poetic features. The up/down directions mentioned below pertain to the
hierarchy formed by letters, words/sound, localized meaning, and general
meaning. The in/out direction is relative to the text...."
- Poetic Requirements - "To increase the
poetic effect of a text, you can make the text more poetic, or you can make
the reader adopt a more poetic approach. ... But of course there's more to
it than having a text and a reader - the 2 need to get together under
suitable conditions. In Acumen 54 (Jan 2006) Judy Gahagan wrote 'the once
unique poetry habitat is a threatened one', a metaphor which can be
extended. When a species' habitat shrinks, a few things are likely to
Updated May 2010