Friday, September 07, 2007

"What Would Judy Say"

First, a list of terms I'd like to remember and use but often have a hard time with since etymology is a dark and mystifying labyrinth I often find myself wandering aimlessly in:


"originally and more broadly a method of logical reasoning or argument by denial, a way of telling what something is by telling what it is not, a process-of-elimination way of talking about something by talking about what it isn't.

A useful inductive technique when given a limited universe of possibilities, the exclusion of all but the one remaining is affirmation through negation The familiar guessing-game of "Is it bigger than a bread box?" is an example of apophatic inquiry.

This denotation has generally fallen into disuse and is frequently overlooked, although it is still current in certain contexts, such as mysticism and Negative theology.

An apophatic theology sees God as ineffable and attempts to describe God in terms of what God is not. Apophatic statements refer to transcendence in this context, as opposed to cataphasis referring to immanence.


An anacoluthon is a rhetorical device that can be loosely defined as a change of syntax within a sentence. More specifically, anacoluthons (or "anacolutha") are created when a sentence abruptly changes from one structure to another. Grammatically, anacoluthon is an error; however, in rhetoric it is a figure that shows excitement, confusion, or laziness. In poetics it is sometimes used in dramatic monologues and in verse drama. In prose, anacoluthon is often used instream of consciousness writing, such as that of James Joyce, because it is characteristic of informal human thought.

In its most restrictive meaning, anacoluthon requires that the introductory elements of a sentence lack a proper object or complement. For example, if the beginning of a sentence sets up a subject and verb, but then the sentence changes its structure so that no direct object is given, the result is anacoluthon. Essentially, it requires a change of subject or verb from the stated to an implied term. The sentence must be "without completion" (literally what "anacoluthon" means). A sentence that lacks a head, that supplies instead the complement or object without subject, is anapodoton.

As a figure, anacoluthon directs a reader's attention, especially in poetry, to the syntax itself and highlights the mechanics of the meaning rather than the object of the meaning. It can, therefore, be a distancing technique in some poetry."


I came across the term anacoluthon quite recently in an essay by Celeste Langan on Coleridge, Daniel Schreber, and communication theory, and it occurred to me it might be relevant to Kasey Mohammad's recent posts on catachresis in terms of arrangement or syntax. I suppose that's what happens when you start talking about language and meaning-- terms, definitions, uses start to overlap and resonate. Since I felt unsure about my understanding of these terms and my reliance on Oed/wikipedia definitions, I've been looking around for a better understanding of these rhetorical and etymologically flexible terms. So far, all I've really found are simplistic definitions used for poetry or rhetoric classes. I asked Barrett about anacoluthon and he mentioned that it crops up in a work by Ron Silliman--can't recall the name-- in which it is self-reflexively positioned within a "new sentence" as a definer of the new sentence and as what it purports to define. That is, it is both index and sign, both "inside" and "outside" the poem. Clever, that. Reminds me of conceptual art, or the verbal/visual puns of DuChamp.

Also, and not to step on Kasey's toes here (as if he cares or reads this), I became intrigued by the term and the concept of catachresis, when I came across its use in Judith Butler's Antigone's Claim. I remember being a bit obsessed with Butler's emphasis on Antigone's catachretic speech acts as evidence of the subject's exclusion from, or unrepresentable function within, the legal/political/ social systems and discourses she was both overturning and submitting to. Catachretic meaning(s), then, develop out of the position of the marginalized subject (marginalized as gendered, female, daughter, sister, motherless non-citizen, NoOne), and pushes at the boundaries of the political dimension, a dimension that is rhetorical and poetic as much as it is seemingly contained within a drama about kinship relations. That is, the work, of course, combines dialogue, argument, metaphor, syntax, plot, action, climax, resolution-- all of which unfold precisely in a moment of linguistic, and thus representational crisis. Antigone's claim, --for her brother's body, for the right to legitimately mourn, to chose her destiny, to claim her deed and act of burial-- can only be catachretically stated/represented.

Butler points to Antigone's statement: "Yes, I confess: I will not deny my deed" as not, precisely and crucially, the same as directly claiming the act. To "not deny" is to refuse to "perform a denial" and even as the "Yes, I confess" claims the act, "it also commits another deed in the very claiming, the act of publishing one's deed, a new criminal venture that redoubles and takes the place of the old" (8). This exemplifies the complex condition of language and agency that the marginalized subject exists within. Antigone's tragic insistence on mourning the unmournable--her brother and her nephew--is her "real" claim or, rather, desire, and it is, ultimately, in excess of the (representably) political and social. Yet catachresis is, finally, for Butler--and in opposition to both Hegel's and Lacan's readings of Antigone as a perversion of the public/private dimension or as a symbol of the death drive--a condition of possibility, as it registers the mobility of and in language.

Obviously, Butler's conception of catachresis is primarily rhetorical, not really poetic or, as Kasey (and Anne Boyer) are using it, syntactic, nor is it even, as the standard definitions explain-- metaphorical "abuse." Yet, as a figure of speech/language, catachresis performs a relation to the social and political subject (in public language), which is, I think, a crucial move that a merely "poetic" sense of the term might miss. I suppose my "merely poetic" is unfairly minimizing the significant issue of referentiality and poetic meaning. But I'd like to think that an examination of figures of speech and representability in rhetorical terms can and should be placed alongside poetic descriptions that highlight Jakobson's "message for its own sake," perhaps providing a bridge across critical and discursive gaps. I suppose what I'm trying to say is something like: the separation between the rhetorical and the poetic as methods--as modes of analysis and critical discourses that analyze language and forms in the world--should not be, and cannot be, so strictly separated.

This idea that rhetorical and poetic analysis occupy a blurry boundary resonates, I think, with Butler's argument that the separation of the public/private or the policing of the universal as always and only a public, heteronormative, transparent, rationalized domain that must exclude the private, irrational, particular "other" is ultimately undone by the complexity and mutability of figurative language. As Butler suggests, Antigone "figures the threshold between the public and kinship relations, and her unassimilable act productively haunts the margins within the Law." Catachresis--as an "active trace"--haunts the public domain and its "hasty foreclosures." In a way, Butler is asking, or, rather, I'm prompted to ask by way of thinking through Butler: "where does catachresis take place--what form does it take, what space(s) does it occupy?-- if in some crucial way it depends on the subject who speaks it? Where are "the margins within" located and what are the ways in which we come to know who occupies them ?

Butler on Hegel and the law:

"Hegel has clearly identified the law for which Antigone speaks as the unwritten law of the ancient gods, one that appears only by way of an active trace.... A law for which no origin can be found, a law whose trace can take no form, whose authority is not directly communicable through written language. If it is communicable, this law would emerge through speech, but a speech that cannot be spoken from script and, so, certainly not the script of a play.... Thus the figure of this other law calls into question the literalism of the play, Antigone: no words in this play will give us this law, no words in this play will recite the strictures of this law.

"Does [Antigone], as Lacan suggests, 'push to the limit the realization of something that might be called the pure and simple desire of death as such'? And is her desire merely to persist in criminality to the point of death? Is Lacan right that 'Antigone chooses to be purely and simply the guardian of the being of the criminal as such' or does this criminality assert an unconscious right, marking a legality prior to codification on which the symbolic in its hasty foreclosures must founder, establishing the question of whether there might be new grounds for communicability and for life?" {55 Butler}.

And, further on: "The encrypted word that carries an irrecoverable history, a history that, by virtue of its irrecoverability and its enigmatic afterlife in words, bears a force whose origin and end cannot fully be determined."

Notice that the "encrypted word" and Antigone's encryption or living burial are conflated here in order to suggest that Antigone's future, the future of the play entitled Antigone-- and her "enigmatic afterlife" as a subject-- is uncertain.

And, finally, i want to remember how figuration is so crucial to all this. What do we mean exactly, by a subject that "figures" and "figurative language"? Is figuration an act?

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