Rhyme The Superreader And The Superpoem

Dryden's notion of rhyme as the only audible record of the existence of the English line is subtly elaborated in his admission that this new technique includes effects entirely absent from its classical predecessors: 'in the help it brings to memory, which rhyme so knits up, by the affinity of sounds, that, by remembering the last word of one line we often call to mind both verses' (1663, 7). His economic diagnosis is significant for three reasons. First, he argues that this crucial element of English verse form is capable of produc-ing an extra-syntactic pattern of meaning. In doing so he anticipates an entire tradition of modern analysis, beginning with Lanz and reemerging in Jakobson, Wimsatt, Wesling, and countless other close readers and literary linguists. Second, he is the only Restoration/eighteenth-century commentator to acknowledge that a coincidence of sound can have a productive signifying function. Third he presents us with a further clue to why the couplet proved to be the most popular medium in a period so committed to the ideals of clarity and transparency: the 'knitting up' of two consecutive syntactic patterns would be far easier to control and negotiate than would the more complex networks of progress and interference in the stanzaic formula. These three, potentially paradoxical, points hold the key to our understanding of rhyme as the most problematic test case for how different readers and analysts have responded to the effect of the double pattern.

We will start with the peculiar distinction between the modern perspective and the apparently unimaginative readings of our eighteenth-century predecessors. We have already considered Wimsatt's seminal essay on 'One Relation of Rhyme to Reason' (1944) and we should note that it anticipates Jakobson's more widely celebrated formula for the poetic function. Wimsatt gives emphasis to rhyme as the 'wedding of the alogical with the logical'; 'the arrest and precipitation of the logical in sensory form'; and the 'ikon in which the idea is caught' (p. 163). For alogical and sensory we might substitute the paradigmatic-metaphoric axis. Here connections can be made between elements of language that, in the logic of the non-poetic text or the syntagmatic chain, have no rational corresponding function. And with the 'arrest and precipitation of the logical in sensory form' we might recall the, 'projection of the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis of combination'. The most problematic correspondence between the two critics occurs in, 'the phonic equivalence of rhyming words prompts the question of semantic similarity or contrast' (Jakobson) and 'the ikon in which the idea is caught' (Wimsatt). Neither of them fully addresses the following questions: can we assume that every instance of rhyme will produce a correspondent doubling of the signifying function of language? If so, how will this continuous doubling of semantic interfaces be naturalised by the reader?

Wimsatt, dealing with the Popian couplet, claims that its tight syntactic formula allows rhyme to give emphasis to relations between words in a close or extended semantic range or at parallel or dissimilar parts of speech. The following are from The Rape of the Lock:

One speaks the glory of the British Queen And one describes a charming Indian Screen

Do thou Crispissa tend her fav'rite Lock Ariel himself shall be the guard of Shock

From 'British Queen' to 'Indian Screen' from 'Lock' to 'Shock', here is the same bathos he more often puts into one line —'when husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last'.

Again we find that Jakobson's formula is closely anticipated. In each instance the reader's expectation of what will follow the main verb in the syntagmatic chain is disrupted by the poet's unusual deployment of the paradigmatic axis, and rhyme foregrounds this process. Wimsatt acknowledges that in most couplets this conflict between the combinative and selective axes will not occur, but he does not explain how the reader would respond to the use of rhyme as a signal to less disruptive uses of language. The problem raised by such intensive analyses is of whether the reader should maintain such a degree of attention to interfaces within the double pattern throughout a single reading of the poem. This issue was addressed in what has become one of the most widely discussed disagreements in literary linguistics. Jakobson collaborated with Claude Lévi-Strauss in a description and explication of Baudelaire's sonnet 'Les Chats', and Michael Riffaterre in his essay 'Describing Poetic Structures: Two Approaches to Baudelaire's" Les Chats"' (1966) challenged the fundamental assumptions upon which such, by then familiar, interpretations were grounded. Riffaterre's case is as follows: he acknowledged that Jakobson's and Lévi-Strauss's approach (see above pp. 12-13 for Jakobson's similar treatment of a Shakespeare sonnet) was precise and correct and that they had successfully identified the grammar of poetic language, but he claimed that their structural model was an entirely inaccurate account of the reader's experience. He argued that by giving roughly equal attention to how each conventional element of the double pattern, primarily metrical structure and rhyme, interacted with its counterpart in syntax, grammatical deviation or metaphoric play, they had created what he termed a 'superpoem', which exists but which bears no resemblance to the real experience of reading it. In short, he insisted that although textual foregroundings could be identified in practically any part of a poem only a small number of these will register as functions of the reader's understanding of what the poem means. He answered Jakobson's creation of the superpoem with his own invention of the 'superreader'. This individual would stand outside the addresser-addressee relation of the communicative circuit and by various means select and emphasise particular elements of the poetic function. This process of selection would be governed by the superreader's awareness of how contact and context relate to the intrinsic structure of the poem. Riffaterre shifted the emphasis away from the reader/ addressee as a functional participant in the communicative circuit toward a more powerful individual who could actually determine the relations between the intrinsic and contextual elements of Jakobson's two models of communication. And we might here recall the decision taken by most readers to naturalise Eve's textual patterns as evidence of their speaker's unreliability. This is due as much to our broader contextual awareness of scripture— Eve eats the fruit first and is consequently regarded as more culpable than Adam—as it is to our response to the intrinsic features of the text.

The relation between modern and eighteenth-century perceptions of rhyme provides us with an intriguing test case for Riffaterre's notion of the uncertain balance between the reader's competence and the textual features of verse.

Wimsatt in a later essay on Pope posed the question of why an ethos so dedicated to order and transparency was so addicted to the use of 'so barbarous and Gothic a device as rhyme'? Translated into the terms and methodology of post-Saussurian linguistics, why is it that a discourse such as the Augustan couplet, committed to the preservation of clarity and transparency and the disclosure of the signified, should depend upon a device that foregrounds the random correspondences within the materiality of language, its signifiers? Wimsatt left the question unanswered, but I shall propose a solution.

With the single exception of Dryden, Restoration and eighteenth-century critics regarded rhyme as a metrical necessity which should not contribute the signifying properties of the poem (see Bradford, 1992, Chapter 6). William Cockin (1775) clarifies this collective opinion. Rhymes, he argues, 'as they are interruptedly perceived, appear accidental blemishes of a different style, arising from an unmeaning recurrence of similar sounds' (139). Joseph Priestley (1777) acknowledges the attraction of 'imagining' a correspondence between sound and sense: 'But since this is wholly the work of the reader's imagination a writer doth not need to give himself trouble about it' (292). Priestley cautions the poet against creating an effect of 'double attention' (far more manifest in rhymed than in unrhymed verse) which would cause 'the mind to be drawn off from an attention to the subject' (268).

One is struck by the precise polarisation between eighteenth-and twentieth-century views. Edward Stankiewicz (1961) regards the 'different style' and its maintenance of a 'double attention' as anything but 'unmeaning'.

Successful rhyme is illogical and canny, striking and familiar, prominent and subsumed; it provides the condensed formula of poetic language; identity and variation, obligatariness and freedom, sound and meaning, unity and plurality, texture and structure (16).

If we accept that our response to a parole is determined and conditioned by our awareness and command of its langue, then we must also concede that Stankiewicz's, Jakobson's and Wimsatt's notion of a poetic grammar was far more complex and flexible than it would have been two centuries earlier. In short it is possible that the extension of a particular langue is capable of transforming the signifying properties of a parole that had been created at an earlier stage in its development, and the twentieth-century superreaders had witnessed textual foregroundings by Romantic and modernist poets that would not have been permitted in the eighteenth century. But as well as our experience of a far more complex langue of precedents and divergences, our difference from the eighteenth-century reader manifests itself in one other crucial way. From the sixteenth century to the present day the ideal of the poem as a speech act has, both for critics and poets, held prominence over its status as a static, written, text; but in practice, more specifically in critical practice, reading as attendant upon the spatial, graphic dimensions of the text has superseded performance. This was Riffaterre's point. Jakobson and Lévi-Strauss could give attention to each minute instance of conflict within the double pattern because they had a commanding perspective upon the printed text, a perspective that would be lost to the hearer of an individual performance. For the eighteenth-century reader meanings generated outside the communicative circuit of the speech act were invalid. They were in Cockin's terms 'interruptedly perceived'—in a modern context the Wimsatt/Jakobson readings of rhyme would only become apparent if we stopped the film to analyse the stills. For Cockin, Priestley and their contemporaries, meaning could only be generated in relation to the register of a single performance of the text. Again we come upon reasons for the promotion of the closed couplet above the stanzaic form in this period: the signifying mechanism of the couplet poem is progressive and accumulative; it imparts to the double pattern the element of cohesion of the non-poetic single pattern of syntax. It marginalises the complex effects of progress, interruption, delay and return of the stanzaic form, and it consequently comes closer to bypassing the refractory functions of textuality and unites the addressee/listener with the addresser/ speaker.

The speech-writing relationship has over the past two decades functioned as the centre-point for a phenomenon that is variously termed post-Saussurian linguistics, poststructuralism and deconstruction (see Culler, 1982, 88-110 for a fuller explanation), but what has not been considered in any detail are the implications of the reexamination of this relationship for our conventional perceptions of what poetry is and of how it can be interpreted. Derrida was responsible for arguably the most significant developments of post-Saussurian linguistics in his uncovering of the contradictions and paradoxes that underpin Saussure's contention that 'the object of linguistic analysis is not defined by the combination of the written word and the spoken word: the spoken word alone constitutes the object' (1959, 23-4). Derrida, particularly in Positions and Of Grammatology, sought to show that the accepted opposition between speech and writing is in fact a sub-element of a more powerful condition of representation that he called archi-ecriture or 'archi-writing'. I do not have the space to examine fully Derrida's methods and their consequences, but it is clear that poetry operates as a test-case for the validity of the concept of archi-writing.

Jakobson's second diagram of the communicative circuit shares with all other abstract definitions of the poem and the poem's effects the Saussurian precondition that 'the spoken word alone constitutes the object'. This seems logical enough since the poetic function involves, in various ways, the foregrounding of the phonic signifier in metre, rhyme, line endings, etc. Riffaterre's challenge implied but did not consider fully the curious dependence of the conventional element of the double pattern upon a system of referrals and differences that is more closely associated with writing. Ingarden's concept of the poetic function as something that 'fools' the reader should be recalled here since it would defy plausibility to claim that the complex interweavings of the system of poetic conventions (the iambic pentameter and the rhyme scheme of the sonnet for example) and the situation of the utterance, the speech act, could come into being at a single moment in response to a particular event, image, memory, or emotional challenge. The fact that is generally accepted but which remains absent from the practices of naturalising poetry is that the complex sound patterns of verse effectively invalidate the ideal of the poem as an aesthetic realisation of words issuing from the speaker as the spontaneous and nearly transparent signs of his present thought.

The problem for the superreader—who we can now safely identify as a combination of twentieth-century reader and critic, in short 'us'—is that we face a paradoxical relationship between the protocols of naturalising poetry and the idealised and still very powerful precondition that poems are speech acts. Hollander's notion of a conflict between the receptive faculties of eye and ear is grounded upon a distinction between the written and the spoken text: 'the ear responds to the dimension of natural experience, the eye to that of convention'. A reading based on a combination of these two perspectives corresponds closely with Riffaterre's concepts of superreader and superpoem. The complex formal totality of the superpoem only becomes apparent to a reader who is able to consult a copy of the printed text. The ability of readers such as Ricks and Hollander to mediate between the dimension of natural experience (speech, verse instance, transparency) and convention (writing, verse design, textual refraction) is a function of their command of the printed text and their consequent freedom to stand outside the consecutive, vocal register of effects. This model of close-reading is the practical manifestation of a much more complex system of archi-writing. To understand this we should return to Jakobson's two diagrams of the communicative circuit.

Diagram 2 is clearly predicated upon the ideal of the poem as a speech act, while diagram 1 indicates the process through which we recognise the circumstances in which a particular speech act takes place (contact) and its linguistic type or genre (code). These two models betray respective allegiances to speech and writing. But by 'writing' I do not simply refer to the silent, black and white graphics of the text in question. Writing, as Derrida argues and Hollander confirms, is a function of our mental and interpretive langue. To explain: when we encounter any linguistic event, spoken or written, we carry with us a complex framework of linguistic, cultural, political, social and situational expectations. For instance we already know about the ideological-gendered paradigm of 'Eve' before we encounter her speech acts in Paradise Lost, and it is clear that eighteenth- and twentieth-century critics are, in different ways, conditioned in their expectation of what rhyme should do before they encounter its actual use. So, although we might be able to decode the grammatical-semantic features of a speech act at the moment of utterance or performance, we also fit this apparently instinctive process of explication into a much broader, spatial, framework of predetermined paradigms. The acoustic speech act is ratified and contextualised in its relation to the spatial collage of other texts, stylistic precedents and interpretive expectations that constitute our mental dictionary or index. In short the spoken is in constant tension with the written. As we move further through the development of the English poetic langue we will find that this tension between the internal features of the text (spoken) and its broader contextual and situational relations (written) increases.

The only constant feature in this shifting relationship between text, response and interpretation is the presence of the double pattern. The objective of most eighteenth-century critics and poets was to stabilise the relationship between its cognitive and conventional dimensions. This would minimalise the reader's awareness of any potential for division between two separate compositional and interpretive codes and consequently create the impression of a single enunciative act. As such the eighteenth century remains as an aberration in the history of poetic form from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. I will substantiate this claim in three closing points.

1 The metaphysical poets created a continuous disjunction between the poem as speech and its function as a contrived synthesis of devices and effects. The reader is consequently obliged to shift uneasily between Jakobson's two diagrams.

2 The Romantics, as we shall see, reinterpreted the Augustan ideal of poetic transparency but at the same time introduced an even more complex tension between text and context, speech act and artifice, diagram 1 and diagram 2.

3 Milton set the precedent for an uncertain relation between the two elements of the double pattern, verse design and verse instance, writing and speech, text and presence. The Augustans effectively marginalised this threat but it would be drawn upon both by the Romantics and, more significantly, by the modernists.

To summarise, the Augustans represent the single generic/ historic school of poets and critics who attempt to marginalise the disruptive function of the double pattern. They sought to situate poetry as a stable annex to the agreed author-text-reader relationship of the particular speech act to and the similarly agreed functional purpose of the prose essay.

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