9.670 simplicity & complexity: dialogue

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Mon, 1 Apr 1996 19:28:53 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 670.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Glenn Everett <geverett@UTM.Edu> (42)
Subject: Re: 9.664 simplicity and complexity

To this discussion of formula versus commentary let me add an alternative
concept: dialogue. The terms used so far--formula (in the non-scientific
sense) and commentary--both bear the connotation that they are of an order
below or above or upon the REAL text. If we refer to the "formula" of a
work, that implies that the work can be reduced, or that we are representing
only a part of the whole work. Commentaries are by definition commentary
upon a text, or the Text. The quotation from Foucault certainly privileges
that other text:

>> And yet commentary is directed entirely towards the enigmatic,
>> murmured element of the language being commented on: it calls into
>> being, below the existing discourse, another discourse that is more
>> fundamental and, as it were, 'more primal', which it sets itself the
>> task of restoring. There can be no commentary unless, below the language
>> one is reading and deciphering, there runs the sovereignty of an original
>> Text.

But I would see both Willard McCarty's posting and this response not as
commentary but as dialogue.

To take further issue with the passage from Foucault: He assumes that the
criticism is attempting to get at the real or underlying Text, which is
"more primal" and "sovereign." Most criticism, however, takes the text
under consideration on its own merits. If we talk of something underlying
the text, we usually talk about a theme or a motif; and, just as in music, a
theme can be elaborated, inverted, and modulated, so too in literature.
Foucault would seem to imply that, because the Odyssey and Tennyson's "Enoch
Arden" have similar themes, that to say so is to attempt to "call into
being" that "more fundamental" text. Why? Are the sources upon which
Shakespeare based his plays more primal and fundamental than _Hamlet,_
_Lear,_ and _The Tempest_, or somehow sovereign over them? The variations
are often more interesting than the simple theme, and the most delightful
creations are those which cannot be reduced to more fundamental discourse
without loss. William Faulkner addressed our endless conversation in his
Nobel prize acceptance speech: "when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged
and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and
dying evening, . . even then there will still be one more sound: that of
[man's] puny and inexhaustible voice, still talking." That passage is worth
quoting exactly because it is irreducible, and our commentary upon it might
merely be intended to spell out what Faulkner has left elegantly implied.

Glenn Everett
Academic Affairs Faculty Fellow
University of Tennessee at Martin