Sunday, January 3, 2010

Who is a Language Poet?

What of a "language poet?" Could be any other? For what material does a poet work with if not language? Could there be any other kind of poet?

In his essay "Semiology" Vincent Descombes discusses the propensity for structuralism to describe language as "code:"

"We have just seen that structuralism, in the semiological sense of the term, is based on the comparison of human language to a code of communication. But this comparison makes light of one obvious difference: a code is constructed, while a language is not. To construct a code we require a language." (From 1980 book "Modern French Philosophy" pg 102)

must always use the material of language (the first-order “code”) in order to suggest that a (ancillary) structural system exists. We cannot say that one is not a language poet: for the material through which one communicates any poem is itself an already "coded" (perhaps "invention" might work here, but only if invention can free itself from the expectations of its own system) linguistic system with its own structure and governing principles. Descombes also remarks:

"The code, and not its emitter, decides what shall and shall not be pertinent. If language is a code, it is language which speaks each time that the speaking subject delivers a remark, of whatever kind. Speech is not a gesture which renders the meaning of the experience, "still dumb", into verbal expression, for dumb experience has no meaning by itself. Meaning appears with the signifier, or with the first opposition between "yes" and "no" [...] The meaning of the message is not the meaning of experience, nor is it the meaning experience would have, prior to all expression, if this were possible. It is the meaning that experience can receive in a discourse which articulates it according to a certain code--that is, in a system of signifying oppositions." ( pg 98).

Structuralism would suggests that we are helpless in the face of a language that speaks us. We are condemned and erased within it. It is not that we do not wish to mean, but rather that the language fails to let us mean as ourselves (as if a self could exist within this system). And yet (!), if the possibility of invention exists, language is no mere code but rather a collection of roaming (potentiating) signifiers.

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