Some Comparative Aspects of Traditional and Modern Poetics While
Reading Early Italian Poetry

Ülar Ploom, Interlitteraria, Tartu, Estonia

....I’ mi son un che, quando
Amor mi spira, noto, e a quel modo
ch’ e’ ditta dentro vo significando.
(Dante, Purgatorio XXIV, 49-54)
(... I’m the one who when
Amor stirs me, takes notice, and in the way
he dictates in the soul, signify.)

“The object of the human sciences is not language (though it is spoken by men alone); it is that being which, from the the interior of language by which he is surrounded, represents to himself, by speaking, the sense of the words or propositions he utters, and finally provides himself with a representation of language itself.”
                  (M. Foucault, The Order of Things, p. 353.)


1.  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             1
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.

Tot jorn melheur et esmèri,         8
Car la gensor sèrv e còli
Del mon /.../

Each day I improve and I get more refined,/ for I serve and hold in respect the most gentle lady of the world /.../

Tan l’am de còr e la quèri           22
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.

The torture 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 the current.

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 creates meaning.

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,          21
                  che prende - nel possibile intelletto,
                  come in subietto, - loco e dimoranza.
                  La nova - qualità move sospiri,               50
                  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 place/.../.
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.                                     


Contemplation 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).

The subject 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
           my heart in the time of my first youthful error, when I was in part another
           man from the one I am now:

           for the varied style in which I speak and lament, between vain hopes and
           vain sorrow, wherever there is someone who understands love from
           experience 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
           time, and for that I am often ashamed of myself;

           and of my delirium shame is the fruit, and repentance, and the clear
           recognition 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 dream.
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 formulae

                           f(S....S`) S ~ S (-) s  - for metonomy, whereby

the signifier 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

the second 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.

Differently 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, also unarmed.
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        133
                            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:

Here all 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.        145

but my mind was struck by a lightning  in which its desire was fulfilled.

The high fantasy here was powerless; but  already my desire and my will, just like the spheres which always move, were guided

by Love  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.


Anthologies des troubadours. 1975. Textes choisis, présentés et traduits par P. Bec. Paris:
      Bibliothèque médiévale.
Dante Alighieri. 1975. Divina Commedia (a cura di D. Mattalia). Milano: BUR.
Cavalcanti. 1978. Rime (a cura di M. Ciccuto). Milano: BUR.
Petrarca. 1929. Le rime. Torino: UTET.
Minta, S. 1980. Petrarch and Petrarchism. The English and French translations. New York: Barnes &
       Noble Books.

                                     References to Old Poetics

Aristotele. 1986. Opere: retorica, poetica. Bari: BUL.
Faral, E. 1924. Les arts poétiques du XIIe et du XIIIe siècle. Recherches et documents sur la   technique littéraire de Moyen Age. Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion.
Horatius. 1971. Luulekunst. - Rooma kirjanduse antoloogia. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat.

                                    References to Modern Theories

Bahtin, M. 1987. Teksti probleem lingvistikas, filoloogias ja humanitaarteadustes üldse. - Valitud
        töid. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat.
Barthes, R. 1988. The death of the author. - Modern Criticism and Theory edited by D. Lodge.
        London and New York: Longman.
Bowie, M 1979. Jacques Lacan. - Structuralism and Since. From Lévi -Strauss to Derrida. Edited,
         with an Introduction, by John Sturrock. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Culler, J. 1979. Jacques Derrida. - Structuralism and Since, op. cit.
Culler, J. 1982. On Deconstruction. Theory and Criticism after Structuralism. Ithaca, New York:
         Cornell University Press.
Derrida, J.1988. Structure, sign and play in the discourse of the human sciences. - Modern Criticism
         and Theory, op. cit.
Foucault, M. 1994. The Order of Things. An Archeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage
         Books Edition.
Kristeva, J. 1983. Histoires d’amour. Paris: Edition Denoël.
Lacan, J. 1988. The insistence of the letter in the unconscious. - Modern Criticism and Theory, op.
White, H. 1979. Michel Foucault. - Structuralism and Since, op. cit.