The present paper is primarily meant to be an attempt at viewing some
differences between traditional poetics and contemporary poetics, especially
in regard to the relationship author - text - reality (the realm of res).
Among these contemporary approaches primary attention is paid to three
moments: 1) the analysis and interpretation of the text as a dialogue
of different discourses; 2) the primary role of the signifier in the making
of a text as embedded in the signified; 3) macro or archistructure as
an object of non-analysis, unless transformed into a new signifying chain.
Before we come to the modern approaches, I shall make a very short
excursus into traditional poetics. The problematics connected with the
role of the author in relation to text and reality is ancient.
1.1. Aristotle states in the Poietikê that the objective of the
author - on the example of tragedy writing - is that of mimesis - the
imitation of reality. Yet it is artistic quasi-reality, inasmuch as it
must take the upper hand if necessary. So in Poietikê 24, 1460a
it is stated that “the verisimilitude which is not (really) possible is
to be preferred to the possible which is not verisimilar”. In 19, 1456a-b
Aristotle speaks of the importance of the language (lexis) in connection
with thought (dianoia). The domain of the thought comprises all effects
which should be expressed through the words.”It is its [the thought`s
- Ü.P. ] part to demonstrate and confute, to raise feelings such
as mercy, terror, rage and other similar emotions, also the augmentation
or diminuition of these.” The only distinction between action (drama)
and a discourse is that in action there is no need for verbal interpretation,
but in a discourse these emotions (pathos) must be caused by the one who
speaks, they should proceed from his words.
So the word’s role is to engender a feeling in the spectator. The word
(or action in drama) is a kind of bridge to the feeling and the thought
of the actor and through that to those of the author.
1.2. This particular work of Aristotle was not authentically known in
the Middle Ages, as it was translated into Latin from Greek only later.
What the medievals certainly knew were Averroes’ commentaries on it. However,
another auctor of the poetic art, Horace, was widely known. Horace maintains
in his Ars poetica (II, 3; 102- 103) that “if you [author] want
us to weep [over what we read] you must first weep youself” - Si
vis me flere, dolendum est/ primum ipse tibi.
Does this mean identification with reality? Horace hardly means crude
identification, for in several other places he stresses the necessity
of the harmonious composition of the work, the suitable selection
and unity of its components and its style. And that is already artistry.
1.3. The doctrinal writers of the Duecento were thoroughly explicit. For
example Geoffrey of Vinsauf puts it in his Poetria nova, vv. 2048-49 (Cf.
Faral, p. 260) as follows: Veros imitare furores, non tamen esto
furens (Truly imitate fury, not being, however, furious). The medieval
poet is, rather, a kind of architect, a faber, an artisan in the
noble sense of the word. How does it then agree with another conception
of the poet, the poet as vates, prophet (the term goes back to Terrentius
Varro)? A prophet is a madman. He is furious. He speaks out in a rage.
A lover (at least in the romantic sense, or the lover as the subject of
the irrational feeling) is mad too. God speaks in the rage of the prophet,
who is also irrational. Jehova is furious Himself, as is shown in many
extracts of the Old Testament. Fury became a widely-discussed topic in
the age of humanism (fury vs melancholy). Does God speak through the madness
of the lover? What kind of madness is that? What should we say of the
sentiment of the Canticle of canticles - the love song of Solomon. Is
it madness checked and harmonized?
Perhaps it is in this light that we should view the troubadours, quoting
for example the well-known lines of Rambautz d’Aurenga: Cars bruns et
teinz mots entrebec/ Pensius pensans (as I entwine dark and light words/thinking
thoughtfully: quoted in Kristeva, p. 349). The poets were well aware of
the double character of the matter they treated. In the case of Rambautz
the complicated, inexpressible nature of the sensation of love is to be
seen in the “dark” words besides the “light” ones. They were also aware
of the complications they had to tackle when they wished to express
this matter in their art. In the case of Rambautz, they should do it being
pensively pensive, thoughtfully thinking, or expressively expressing,
if we extend it by analogy.
The “dark” and “light” words entwined by Rambautz actually correspond
to the theory of two ornaments in the new poetics of the Duecento - the
ornatus difficilis and the ornatus facilis. Geoffrey of Vinsauf says in
Documentum de arte versificandi, 132 (Cf. Faral, p. 309): Quanto
difficilius, tanto laudabilius est bene tractare materiam (the more difficult,
the more commendable it is to treat the (subject-)matter well). The ornatus
difficilis is employing the words in another sense than that which is
their proper sense and thus creates ingenuosity and dexterity in word-play
(Cf. Faral, pp. 89-98). There follows a whole classification of tropes
(which we are not going to treat at this point), yet one thing is clear.
The theoreticians of the Duecento are also of the opinion that words have
their proper sense, and the poet, if he belongs to the trend of trobar
clus (closed, dark, intricate poetics), only plays with the other signified
as expressed by the same signifiers. This is another, extended, variant
of mimesis and it is based on reality. The troubadours are magicians,
yet they work their magic on reality. Or there is the outside reality
for them even if they maybe do not make use of it. That reality is then
the idea of the reality itself. A troubadour as an alchemist of love is
the term that best characterizes him as a creator. He is a scientist in
the medieval sense who in cold blood exercises what he has conceived
in the fury of his mind. Yet the question arises: what is his primary
material - feeling or language? Arnautz Daniel sings in his
“En cest sonet coind’e leri” (quoted in Bec, pp. 186-188) as follows:
En cest sonet coind’e lèri
Fauc motz e capug e dòli,
E seràn verai e cèrt
Quan n’aurai passat la lima;
Qu’ Amors marves plan’ e daura
Mon chantar, que de lièi mòu
Qui prètz mantén e govèrna.
To this light and gracious melody/ I make words which I plane and scrape:/
they will be sincere and stable/ when I shall have tried on them my file./
For Love polishes and goldens my song, /which is inspired by my Lady,/
the protector and the guide of all merit.
melheur et esmèri,
Car la gensor sèrv e còli
Del mon /.../
I improve and I get more refined,/ for I serve and hold in respect the
most gentle lady of the world /.../
de còr e la quèri
Qu’ab tròp voler cug la’m tòli,
S’òm ren per ben amar pèrt.
Que’l sieus còrs sobretracima
Lo mieu tot e no s’eisaura;
Tant a de ver fait renou
Qu’obrador n’a e tavèrna.
I love and
desire her with all my heart/ so that in excessive ardour I shall rob
her from myself,/ if one may lose a being for loving it too much./ For
her heart submerges/with mine in a flow which will nevermore evaporate./
Doing so she will have acquired both/ the artisan and the boutique.
Ges pel maltrach
qu’eu sofèri 36
De ben amar no’m destòli,
Si tot me ten en desèrt,
Qu’aissi’n fatz los motz en rima.
which I endure/does not hinder me in the least of loving her well,/ although
it keeps me in solitude,/ as it allows me to set my words in verses.
Ieu sui Arnautz
qu’amàs l’aura 43
E chatza la lèbr’ab lo bòu
E nadi contra subèrna.
I am Arnautz
who collects the wind;/ I chase the rabbit with an ox/ and swim against
It may be that here he comes closest to expressing modern literary ideas
about the role of the language in making a text. Arnautz says that his
words will be sincere and stable only after refined work. Yet despite
all the eagerness with which we might want him to express the modern conception
of language superimposing itself on the poet`s thought and making him
understand better what he feels, Arnautz still states that it all comes
from the feeling for the lady. Be it delight or torment, it is the feeling
that allows him to set his words to verses, but not the word which
1.4. Let us now observe the first of the two quotations presented
as a binary motto to this work. Dante declares that Amor speaks inside
him and dictates what he should say. Thus it is Love which is the
real dittatore (Dichter) and not the poet. Or, if we proceed, it is the
nature of the feeling which gives the poet the notion to be signified
in verbal form. It is the signified which requires signifying. Whatever
now the poet says is the mere registration of what is already there, inside
him in the form of emotion and intellect.
Let it be noted that the suggestion of the authorship of Love is very
interesing. We actually deal with an episode in Purgatorio. Dante and
Vergil find themselves in the circle of the golosi (the greedy) and among
others there is Bonagiunta di Lucca, a poet who wrote according
to the traditional canons of Provençal and Sicilian poets. Dante
wants to express the idea that he does not care for the strict canons
which the Provençal masters had placed between life itself and
its expression in literary form. He declares - as he had already mentioned
in the introductory part to his famous sonnet “Donne ch’avete l’intelletto
d’amore” (Vita Nuova XIX): la mia lingua parlò quasi come
per se stessa mossa (my tongue spoke as if almost moved by itself) - that
his expression is spontaneous, following the close study of the feeling
inside him. To this Bonagiunta answers that he now sees clearly how Dante
and the other masters write what Love dictates (Io veggio ben come le
vostre penne /di retroal dittator sen vanno strette, Purgatorio XXIV,
vv. 57-58 ). Here, too, the author is almost “dead”, if we wished to go
in the wake of Barthes, and it would suffice to interpret Love as a “déjà
vù” and “déjà lù”. But it would be an error
to subjugate Dante-the-author to the dictations of language in a modern
sense, despite the fact that Dante was very keen on linguistic problematics.
For although the topos of inexpressibility is a common one practically
all through the Paradiso, the underlying idea is that man cannot know,
to the full, the divine idea because of his inefficiency and therefore
he cannot express it in language.
1. 5. To be convinced that it is really love that dictates according to
the poets of the Duecento, let us also have a look at two extracts from
Cavalcanti’s canzone “Donna me prega” (A Lady asks me), his doctrinal
poem on love’s location in the sensitive soul, the lady in her visible
form as its agent, which takes possession of the intellective soul (in
intellectus possibilis) similarily to a dark light which dims rational
will as its mode, an accident to senses as its essence, delight and torment
as its effect, invisibility as its distinction.
Vèn da veduta forma che s’intende,
che prende - nel possibile intelletto,
come in subietto, - loco e dimoranza.
La nova - qualità move sospiri,
e vol ch’om miri -’n non formato loco(,)
It comes from the preceived form, which takes its place and habitat in
the possible intellect as its subject /.../.
The novel [strange -
Ü.P.] quality causes sighs and makes man look into the non-formed
Cavalcanti probably proceeds from Averroes’ commentaries on Aristotle’s
De sensu (Cf. Ciccuto, p. 119). Love is born as a result of an idea contemplated
in its visible form - the lady. As an idea it comes to the intellective
soul, which according to Averroes is not part of the individual soul,
thus not perishable. And as an idea it is only contemplated. Bliss does
not come from this, it comes from feeling. Love as a feeling resides in
the sensitive soul and causes both bliss and torment.
thus takes hold of the subject as an idea in a visible form. Then
it is turned into feeling through sense organs and it is the feeling that
is registred (cf. Dante) as a signified. There is the sliding of
the signified (cf. Lacan’ signifying chain which will be discussed later),
expressed by the non-formato loco, but it is not under the incision of
the linguistic signifier, it is the sliding of the idea of love under
the instability of the agent of love.
To conclude we may say that despite all importance attached to spontaneity
of expression, it is still the signified which is considered to be the
basis of signification as expressed by the author. And in spite of various
approaches, it seems to be a common feature of traditional poetics.
2. If we now study Foucault’s statement, in the second motto, we see that
he sees it the other way round. It is man who through speaking represents
to himself the sense of the words or propositions he utters. Thus the
signified does not make the signifier, it is thanks to signifying that
the poet makes sense of what he feels. And signifying means, according
to modern theories, a representation ad libitum of signifying elements,
not the underlying signifieds, which “slide away”. It is exactly in the
signifying chain or the interplay of Signifiers (written with the capital
S by Lacan in the famous formula S/s and standing over the signified)
which governs signification. Lacan speaks of the “supremacy of the signifier
in the subject”. He states the relationship of the subject’s
interdependence with the signifier. It is actually so that the signifier
penetrates into the signified with the subject just as (in an attempt
to compare the structure of language and that of the unconscious)
“/.../ a neurosis is a question which being poses for a subject
“from that place where it was before the subject came into the world”.
/..../. It does not pose it [the problem - Ü.P.] before the subject
/.../ but it poses it in place of the subject, that is, in that place
it poses the question with the subject, as one poses a problem with a
pen, or as man in antiquity thought with his soul” (Lacan 1988: 99).
is thus empty, mobile, without a centre. It moves from one analytic task
to another and through a language in which all expectations of coherence
are invalid (Bowie 1979: 132). The ego as opposed to the subject,
a cognizent entity, is then but a succession of different states of mind
(read: signifying chains, language itself).
It is primarily the reversal of hierarchies (in addition to the one above)
that Derrida “centres” upon (the word “centre” itself seems out of place
on the background of the Derridean “différence”) in his mode
of deconstructive reading. It is not actually the deconstruction
of structures or discourses themselves, it is the deconstruction of the
mode of reading and interpreting these structures or discourses
Anyway all three - Foucault, Lacan and Derrida, as most contemporary theorists
- declare difference to be the major element of all distinction whereon
any communication is based on. Moreover difference is based on some event
which is not present, which has occurred and of which some traces are
preserved. Therefore differance includes both differing and defferring.
Yet one wants to object by saying that it is not only the quality of difference
as a result of previous events which stands at the root of signification,
but also similarity. Thus it would be a mistake to concentrate
only on the differences in sequences like pet, bet, met, set, let etc.
and forget the sameness of the differentiating elements p, b, m, s, l
in their allophones or allographs p’, b’, m’, s’, l’, etc. even though
they are never pronounced in the same way or written in the same way.
It is both the presence and the absence that characterize a linguistic
sign or any sign. It is exactly through similarity (and sameness as its
special case) that the quality of presence is also maintained in the mentioned
sequences to counterbalance the quality of difference which is sometimes
overstressed. Derrida has himself pointed to the quality of iterability
as a necessary precondition for any signification . It is exactly in the
iterability that presence reveals itself. Thus it is not the supremacy
of either speech or writing in the narrow sense or micro-structures, but
the so-called archiwriting, a kind of macrostructure, a structure of relations
to be found in all structures, which escapes analysis .
We shall now make an attempt at reading some early Italian poetry in the
light of the afore-mentioned modern key concepts: a dialogue of discourses,
signification as primarily dependent on the interplay of signifiers which
bear both on difference and similarity as a departure for the deconstruction
of a seemingly homogeneous text and the reconstruction of the discrepancies
on a metalevel.
2.1. Let us start with the dialogue of discourses. As an example we shall
look at the opening sonnet of Petrarch’s Canzoniere.
Voi ch’ascoltate in rime sparse il suono
di quei sospiri ond’io nudriva ‘l core
in sul mio primo giovenile errore,
quand’era in parte altr’uom da quel ch’I’sono;
del vario stile in ch’io piango e ragiono,
fra le vane speranze e ‘l van dolore,
ove sia chi per prova intende amore,
spero trovar pietà, non che perdono.
Ma ben veggio or sì come al popol tutto
favola fui gran tempo; onde sovente
di me medesmo meco mi vergogno:
e del mio vaneggiar vergogna è ’l frutto,
e ‘l pentersi, e ‘l conoscer chiaramente
che quanto piace al mondo è breve sogno.
You who hear in scattered rhymes the sound of those sighs on which I fed
in the time of my first youthful error, when I was in part another
the one I am now:
for the varied style in which I speak and lament, between vain hopes and
wherever there is someone who understands love from
I hope to find not only pardon, but also pity.
But now I
see well how I was the laughing stock of everyone for a long
for that I am often ashamed of myself;
and of my delirium shame is the fruit, and repentance, and the clear
that whatever is pleasing in the world is a brief dream.
(Trans. by S. Minta, p. 26)
The English translation is very clear and seems to postulate convincingly
the supremacy of reason over sentiment. The poet laments and shows the
futility of all youthful feeling - vain hopes and vain sorrows. His love
has been a laughing-stock for all those who are in their right mind. Therefore
he now asks for understanding and even pity from those who have had a
similar experience. And he declares at the end that he is ashamed of himself
and recognizes clearly that whatever is pleasing in the world is a brief
If we take this interpretation for the text we have to agree. Yet we might
as well try a different interpretation: I have nurtured my heart
with the sweetness of the rhymes that I have written. I have used various
styles to lament and through this lament reason. And surely you, who know
what love is, pity me and forgive me. I became a fable amongst the people
and my reputation was long. I myself understood what I was doing and it
proved fruitful, for I understand that all this sweetness which pleases
us is like a short dream.
Certainly this interpretation is not true either. In order to get at what
the text tells us, we would have to transcribe the text as it is in the
original version of Petrarch (rewritten at least nine times, as the Canzoniere
that we possess is, actually, its ninth edition). Therefore we can really
see that there are different discourses in dialogue within one and the
same text (cf. Bahtin 1987, Barthes 1988). The classical approach to analysis
would be the different levels of the text: literal and rhetorical, or
the content and the expression, or message 1 and message 2 .One level
is what it says and the other is how it says it. Yet Foucault observes
that it would be banal to distinguish between “what is said” and “how
it is said” , because the saying, the “utterance” (énonciation),
is what constitutes a “content”, a “referent”, or an “object” of discourse.(Cf.
White 1979: 82). This would make any interpretation a betrayal of
the text. It would actually mean that if there was just one word that
got lost in the text, it would mean another thing. Yet we could take turns
and read out Petrarch’s text in different ways, stressing different words
at different readings (for example according to the patterns as indicated
in the text in Italian). The outcome would be different. Foucault
would probably say that they are then different texts. We would in theory
get an infinite number of different texts. Possibly they are different,
but they would be variants of the architext which would then not be an
object of analysis. It is in the architext that presence is maintained
despite differences in variants. At present we content ourselves with
comparing just two different readings and postulate the difference of
discourses: one which stresses the voice of reason and the other which
stresses the voice of the sweetness of the song.
2.2. Let us now leave the dialogue or conflict of discourses and
study the second characteristic which interests us - that of the primary
role of the signifier in the key offered by Lacan in “The Insistence of
the Letter in the Unconscious”. Lacan proves the incessant sliding of
the signified under the signifier [S/s] drawing on various examples. He
declares the insufficiency of the linearity of the chain of discourse
and stresses the importance of the other dimension - verticality. He now
proceeds similarly with Jakobson on the two poles of metonomy and metaphor.
Metonomy is based on the signifier to signifier connection, metaphor springs
from two signifiers, one of which has taken the place of the other in
the signifying chain. Lacan then turns to the theory of Freud and posits
metaphor on the pole of Verdichtung or condensation as a structure of
the overlapping of signifiers. He likewise posits metonomy on the pole
of Verschiebung , or displacement . Now there follow the 2 famous
f(S....S`) S ~ S (-) s - for metonomy, whereby
stands to a signifier (~) and their relation is patent in the signifying
chain (like in the synechodochical example of boat represented by
vail, by which boat/boat = vail/boat ), so that the second signifier
is maintained adjacent with the first one it represents in creating the
original thought, or ideally both vail and boat are preserved as signifiers
in their relation to the object (boat).
f(S`/S) S ~ S (+)s for metaphor, whereby
signifier substitutes the first one, whereas their relation is latent,
and the + stands for the leap over the line between the signifier and
the signified, i.e. pancake for full moon marks the condensation
of the first signifier (moon) by the second one (pancake), whereas moon
as a signifier is not there in its relation to the object (moon), but
concealed under the second signifier pancake which has taken the place
of the first one in the signifying chain.
After this rather complicated interpretation of Lacan’s interpretation
of metaphor and metonomy we return to Petrarch’s sonnet. We shall first
concentrate on three paronomasias suono, sono, sogno in verses 1, 4, 14.
Here we deal again with both, differences and similarities. As signifiers
on the level of reason, they are clearly different, u and g in the “suono”
and “sogno” being clearly the differentiating phonemes. There is however
the similarity of sound, presented by the presence of
s o n o in all of the three entities and which here plays
its role, as these are the words which create the unison of melody, especially
the rhyming of “suono” and “sono” in the first stanza, but also “suono”
and “sogno” as the last word of the first and last line respectively.
As to the similarity of sound and the difference of “literal” (that is
out-of-this-text) meaning, we deal with the case of a metaphoric chain
of superimposing signifiers which incide in the signified, so that it
begins to slide. It is as if the subject who postulates his being /sono/,
also refers to his being sound /suono/ and dream/sogno/. To this rather
hardy reading we may find support in stressing some other melodious
alliterated signifiers like favola fui, pietà perdono, vaneggiar
vergogna, me medesmo meco, conoscer chiaramente etc. despite the out-of-this-text
difference in their signified. It is interesting to note that there are
semantic units in the text which are clearly polyphonic (cf. Bakhtin,
Barthes), such as favola which suits either positive or negative interpretation
from the point of view of the code, etc.
Or if we turn to by now classical interpretation of a text following different
levels of analysis (literal and rhetorical, morphological and syntactical,
phonetical and semantical), we would also find support in the afore-mentioned
abundance of semantic units in favour of love and the sweetness
of singing it. The vain hopes and vain sorrow are expressed in a very
elaborate form which revert the lament of the futility of all hope and
all sorrow. It is the elevated style itself which counterfeits the seeming
vainess of all worldly reasoning.
What we have here observed as an example of the sliding of the signified
under the signifier only confirms the afore-mentioned statement of the
dialogue of different discourses in “one and the same” text. The different
stressing of the same signifying chain, actually the whole text either
in the key of reason or sentiment creates the effect of the sliding of
macrosignified or the meaning. Thus in an attempt at a reading on the
macrotext level we might say that there is the triumph of sentiment and
the defeat of reason, if we read in the key of stressing the sound similarity
of the melody. Yet it is not the same sentiment which has been denied
by the Poet. It is an archisentiment which comprises both reason and sentiment
of the microtext level. The conflict seems to be overcome on the
macrotext level. Yet it remains on the microtext level. For we cannot
get rid of what the text enables in reading it in the key of reason, that
is stressing the difference in the “meaning” or what the poet says explicitly
according to the traditional analysis. Moreover, if we tried to figure
out the structure of the archisentiment or archireason, we would at once
have to deal with another binary approach. Because if we declare that
vainness is good because it is sweet in melody, it would just be another
kind of reason, a reverted one, but still reason, for in order to explain
we would have to reason and show why it is good.
2.3. To demonstrate that the macrolevel shifts out of the sphere
of interpretation, let us also have a look at Sonnet 3 in Petrarch`s Canzoniere.
Era il giorno ch’al sol si scoloraro
per la pietà del suo fattore i rai;
quando I’ fui preso, e non me ne guardai,
ché I be’ vostr’occhi, Donna, mi legaro.
Tempo non mi parea di far riparo
contr’ a‘ colpi d’Amor; però m’andai
secur, senza sospetto; onde I miei guai
nel comune dolor s’incominciaro.
Trovommi Amor del tutto disarmato,
et aperta la via per gli occhi al core,
che di lagrime son fatti uscio e varco.
Però, al mio parer, non li fu onore
ferir me de saetta in quello stato,
a voi armata non mostrar pur l’arco.
It was on the day when the rays of the sun grew pale out of compassion
for his Maker that I was captured, and I did not defend myself against
it, for your beautiful eyes, Lady, bound me.
It did not seem to me a time for protecting myself against blows of Love;
therefore I went secure and without suspicion; and so my sorrows began
in the midst of the common grief.
Love found me quite disarmed, and the way open through my eyes to the
heart, my eyes which have become the gate and passageway of tears.
So I see it, it did him no honour to wound me with his arrow while I was
in that state, and not even to show his bow to you, who were armed.
(Trans. by Minta, p. 27)
If we start again from the conception of the dialogue of different discourses
we may trace an oscillation between the two levels of (1) universal -
moral - normative and (2) individual - amoral - abnormal.
from sonnet 1 we here deal not with sound metaphoricity but with visual
metaphoricity. The signifying chain depends on the analogies of
rays of the sun
and the eyes of the Lady. Yet their function is the opposite. The Sun
turned its eyes away for the sorrow of seeing the death of Christ, but
Laura looks mercilessly at the poet on that very day (for according to
Petrarch he first saw Laura on Good Friday). Opposite is also the effect.
The Suffering of Christ is bad, abnormal, amoral. Yet the turning away
of the Sun in pity and shock is good, normal, moral. The look of the Lady
is also bad, abnormal, amoral, yet it is good (expressed by “be’ occhi”
- “beautiful eyes”). Thus the collective bad is opposed to the individual
good. The collective “bad” is to be read in the key of rationality, the
individual “good” is sensual.
Common grief (comune dolor) is also analogous to Love (Amor). Yet their
function is the opposite. Common grief is universal, good, normal rationally,
though it is sensually bad. Amor is individual, abnormal, amoral (especially
on the day of the death of Christ) rationally, and also sensually bad,
because of the Poet`s participation in the common grief.
The Poet is disarmed against Love. This is rationally, universally, morally,
normatively bad. It is also individually, sensually very bad. Laura
is armed against Love. This is rationally, universally, morally, normatively
good. Yet individually, sensually very bad.
The confusion of good and bad results from the conflict of two different
discourses. Thus it is not that good is bad and bad is good, but what
is rationally bad need not always be emotionally so, what is emotionally
good need not be rationally so. Here rational coincides with normative/universal
and sensual with the individual/ abnormative.
We again deal with both similarities and differences. Differences lie,
here too, in the out-of-text “meaning” as inferred by the different signified.
Thus sunrays need not have anything in common with the Lady’s eyes. Yet
it is in this very sequence by means of analogy Sun/rays and Lady/eyes
(Lady is like the sun and her eyes are like sunrays) that the metaphor
called forth by replacing the second signifier Sun for the first signifier
lady in relation to the object (Lady - Laura) and the second signifier
rays for the first signifier eyes in relation to the object (eyes) is
constructed. It is not exactly the case of metaphor treated above (pancake-moon),
for here we have a metaphor not due to similarity, but mainly due to the
similarity of the relation Sun/rays and Lady/eyes which has a metonymic
structure, and therefore both signifiers remain adjacent in the signifying
chain. That we also deal with a case of metaphor is manifest in many other
examples of the Canzoniere where the signifier rai (rays) are also used
in reference to eyes, and sun in reference to lady Laura. There the second
signifier is, indeed, condensed in the first one and latent only.
And then there is of course the case par excellence of the interplay of
the signifier Laura, lauro, l’aura, oro, aria etc., whereby the signified
begins to slide and we do not know what it is.
In the second stanza of Sonnet 3 we also deal with another metaphor Amor-Death.
Death killed Christ on Good Friday and Amor here is hunting the poet,
Thus if we deconstructed two different discourses from the text, we might
get two (or theoretically infinitely more) variants. One speaks so in
the key of rationality, the universal norm. On Good Friday, when all feel
grief over the death of Chirst, vain worldly Love suddenly turned me away
from my sorrow and caused a new sorrow, entirely different and shameful.
I was not prepared to take this Death of Love into my heart and I do not
think that it is fair, the more so that you yourself, Lady, are well armed
against Amor`s attack.
The other discourse in the key of sensuality, individual abnormality says
the following: On Good Friday, when I was ready to grieve, I all of a
sudden saw your beutiful eyes, Lady, which fell on me like sunrays. Yet
what a grief, my own amongst the common grief, when I discovered that
I alone, not you, fell victim to the murderous Amor.
And just as well we may construct a macrolevel by emphasizing the individual
sorrow for the passion unanswered by Laura, where we postulate the supremacy
of the sweetness of the sentiment as higher than that of reason, especially
drawing it from the last line of the poem: a voi armata non mostrar pur
l’arco. It is bad that you are not wounded, Lady, for I am in love with
you. Yet this is not an object of analysis, for we should begin to reason
and defend it against the opposite macrolevel, derived from the reading
in the key of reason. This would result in the supremacy of archireason,
in which both reason and sentiment of microlevels are overcome, stating
that what happened on Good Friday was the beginning of personal torment
for the poet, to which there is no end. So it is the macrosignifier that
decides the macrosignified, which may transform ad libitum at the merest
change in the signifier - both phonemic and phonetic, which in the
present case was of macrophonemic nature.
2.4. We shall now try to apply the above mentioned methods in a
very brief analysis (and of course an absolutely superficial
one, at least at this point) of Dante’s work. Dante himself is a keen
master of the dialogue of discourses. As Contini and several other researchers
have pointed out, there is the dialogue of Dante-the author and Dante-
the protagonist. Dante the author represents the discourse of the doctrine
of the Church and Dante-the protagonist is the carrier of the discourse
of just an ordinary man. There is also the dialogue of the rational mind
as represented by Vergil and the intellectual-supernatural mind as represented
by Beatrice. There is the dialogue of the discourse of God and the discourse
of man. Dante several times expresses the idea of the inexpressibility
of the supreme truth which is a very clear proof in favour of what has
been stated above about the macrolevel remaining out of the scope of human
analysis. There is also the dialogue of the grotesque and the harmonious,
as to the conflicting discourses of human understanding and divine order.
Dante seems to “resolve” all these conflicts on the metalevel in favour
of the higher truth. Yet when this higher truth is then visible,
as in the last episode of the Holy Trinity contemplating itself , Dante
feels that his word cannot express what he understands. Losing consciousness
- or a dream or a sudden lightning-like revelation - is in fact the tool
of expressing the state of enrapture, the only state of getting to know.
For otherwise he has to state
Qual è la geometra che tutto s’affige
per misurar lo cerchio, e non ritrova,
pensando, quel principio ond`elli indige,
tal era io a quella visiva nova:
veder voleva come si convenne
l`imago al cerchio e come vi s’indova;
ma non eran da ciò le proprie penne:
Just as a
geometre who concentrates to measure the circle and, thinking, does not
find the principle which he needs,
was I in
front of this novel (extraordinary) vision: I wanted to see how the human
image fits the circle and how it is attached to it;
but my wings
were not adequate:
commentaries at hand suggested either “wings” or “capacities” to the “literal”
meaning of “pens” (penne), which is actually of great interest, suggesting
that the word and writing were inadequate.
Well then, Dante’s mind has refused to interprete the structural binarity
of Christ’s essence - his godliness and his manliness. Therefore he proceeds
in the supernatural way:
se non che la mia mente fu percossa
da un fulgore in che sua voglia venne.
A l’alta fantasia qui mancò possa;
ma già volgeva il mio disio e ‘l velle,
sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,
l’Amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.
but my mind
was struck by a lightning in which its desire was fulfilled.
fantasy here was powerless; but already my desire and my will, just
like the spheres which always move, were guided
which move the sun and the other stars.
Hence the fantasy which is the mediator between senses and thought (cf.
Aristotle and St. Thomas of Aquinas) ceases. This is the condition of
those who see in beatitude their own will identified with the will
of God. Dante’s vision and the whole work is completed herewith.
It has often been suggested that with the philosophy of Descartes the
real age of modernism begins. Descartes’ Cogito, ergo sum is seen as a
radical turn in the cultural discourse. Instead of the hitherto reigning
ontological discursivity, the gnoseological discursivity is being introduced.
The emphasis does not lie any more on the discovery and the interpretation
of the reality outside man. From now onwards the point is how man perceives
that reality. Moreover, it is exactly this perception of the reality in
the human mind that determines the nature of this reality. In this respect
the discoveries of modern linguistics and modern literary theory based
on it very much proceed in the same direction. If St. Augustine proceeds
from the res to lay the foundations of his doctrine of the symbolic order,
the moderners proceed from the symbolic order (cf. Lacan) as a necessary
precondition of perceiving res. The mental registration of authentic feeling
causes authentic expression with the poets of the Dolce stil nuovo; the
modern theorists argue that it is language itself which enables the poet
to understand and express himself. Therefore it seems that these two discursivities
on the nature of poetic discourse are only comparable as long and as
far as their methodological differences are born in mind. Because
the modern analyzer may well maintain that the Love who dictates in Dante’s
(or any other poet`s) soul is language itself. But we must remember that
neither Dante nor his contemporaries seem to have ever really thought
so. The question arises: is it at all permissible to analyze old texts
resorting to the modern approach? Perhaps they should be left to be analyzed
only by those researchers who work on the problematics of historical semantics?
It still seems that both approaches prove useful as long as they are not
confused. For historical semantics will surely decide on the nature of
the interpretation on microtext levels. Yet it seems that it would not
solve the problem of dialogism between different dicourses within one
and the same text. The dialogue as such will always remain, as the macrotext
level is not analyzable by means of a discourse on discourse.
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par P. Bec. Paris:
Dante Alighieri. 1975. Divina Commedia (a cura di D. Mattalia). Milano:
Cavalcanti. 1978. Rime (a cura di M. Ciccuto). Milano: BUR.
Petrarca. 1929. Le rime. Torino: UTET.
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de Moyen Age. Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion.
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1987. Teksti probleem lingvistikas, filoloogias ja humanitaarteadustes
üldse. - Valitud
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