Acoustic Metaphor for Textuality

19 January 2006 at 6:03 pm Leave a comment

Another example of a newly developed conceptual metaphor based on modern science can be seen in Wai Chee Dimock’s PMLA essay titled “A Theory of Resonance,” which won the first annual Dactyl Foundation award for literary theory/criticism (see the October 1997 issue, pp. 1060-1071).  She suggests that “The semantic fabric of the text, like the fabric of the universe, can be theorized as a space-time continuum. . .”  She wants to account for the passage of time and its effect on the meanings of words and texts, to privilege this as a reality and a beneficial effect of contextual change over time.  Such an approach would treat  texts as a “diachronic objects:  objects that extend across time” and would be called “diachronic historicism,” the key concept of which is resonance

“This primarily aural and primarily interactive concept offers a helpful analogy for the phenomenon of semantic change.  Modeled on the traveling frequencies of sound, it suggests a way to think about what. . . I call the traveling frequencies of literary texts:  frequencies received and amplified across time, moving farther and farther away from their points of origin, causing unexpected vibrations in unexpected places”

Dimock wants literary critics to “draw inspiration from modern physicists:  from their subtle analysis of motion in terms of  space-time continuum” and invokes Einstein “to articulate something like a ‘kinematics’ of the text, theorizing the text’s continuous movement through time.”

Given my previous posts, it is obvious why this essay fascinates me.  Dimock’s essay presents an organizing metaphor for the various movements in late 20th century literary criticism:  reader-response theory, deconstruction, textual analysis.  This becomes obvious when you see the ways that she characterizes the “text”:  “its tendency to fall apart, to pick up noise, to break out in a riot of tongues”; “each text becomes different from itself, suffers a semantic sea change, acquires a freight of new meaning”; “[s]emantically elastic, stretched by a growing web of cross-references, often to the point of unrecognizability, a text cannot and will not remain forever the same object”; “I want to argue that noise is beneficial. . . .”


Entry filed under: metaphorical concepts, philosophy, science.

“A Topological Style of Thought” “Interpretive Energies” and Energonomics

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