Monday, 4 October 2010

Gallop to Salop: Voice and its bugs

Apropos of answering questions and hearing the answers when the questions disappear.

It is true that we aim at rational discourse, continuity, coherent narrative, and the rest in speech, but we often note how 'naturalistic' speech in drama is far from natural. It has been edited into continuity and coherence, shaped to function within other shapes that are, in turn, ordered to follow each other in a way that also aspires to coherence.

Though we do at times ask what coherence is about. When I translate Marai, for instance, I know I am not rendering natural Hungarian speech into natural English speech. The only natural presence is the mind of the author who is, naturally, curious. Curious about what? About what happens when you follow an idea through to its conclusion perhaps. Curious about what happens to people when presented with certain situations. Because we are - despite John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester ('I'd be a Dog, a Monkey, or a Bear / Or any Thing but that Vain Animal / Who is so Proud of being Rational') - a rational species. It's just that our rationality is far from perfect in that it is infected by other rationalities of desire and desolation. Our programmes have bugs in them.

But, it is interesting to argue, that may be because language, the chief instrument of rationality, is full of bugs. What is more, these bugs settle on precisely our most reassuring pieces of logic, our very best sentences, rendering them numb, turning them into mere machines. It is one of the reasons poetry is in league with silence and unreason, the reason it will not trust entirely to syntax.

A floating word or phrase emerges out of some discourse, and its potential seems more vibrant than the full sentence from which it has escaped. Not that we don't want the sentence, not that we don't want syntax, not that we expressly desire NOT to proceed from A to B without let or hindrance. We desire reason and the products of reason. We need science and law and commerce. But not only these things. These things are never enough. The language machine produces the goods, but the goods are faulty, the bugs of language have got into them.

But here I am, having written this far, made my way to this point of the argument I have with myself, or not even so much myself, as the language that comprehends things like selves, even here, in Shropshire, a little past 11 pm on a cold night. And I think I am making sense.


atir_49 said...

I love your phrase that Poetry is in league with silence & unreason-
Equations -
I have a friend who studies pneumatic engineering/the passages of air some as small as a hair/can float weights as heavy as lead./One day beside the Aga he took a pristine sheet and composed the alphabet of logic,/three dots equal therefore and PSI. equals the shape of a mushroom etc.../I smiled ,pretending to understand,/I said it was beautiful- the alphabet,/that there was poetry in logic,/He shook his head, smiling and said,/No,understand, there is no poetry in logic./ I smiled, but still the alphabet looked beautiful to me,/and it occurred to me that he might say,No, there is no logic in poetry./
And I wished that poetry had an alphabet of logic/then we could balance our emotions in beautiful equations/and the permutations would be endless -/and poetry would be like engineering/ the passages of care through pipes some as small as a hair/could float weights as heavy as lead/and some people would shake their head/ and say I don't understand it/but it looks beautiful/and it would make them smile.( my poem Equations where I liken poetry to pneumatic engineering)

I like Hammershoi paintings which exude 'a poetry of silence'- poetry has a pulse like the heart of systolic & diastolic beats or the rests between music are the silence invoked by poetry etc - (poet/painter living in Shropshire!)

Anonymous said...

Poetry breaks free from the lexical chains of cohesion.

I like the thought of a word or phrase floating out of a sentence like a balloon accidentally let go.