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Meaning and Textuality

Meaning and Textuality

Frank Collins
Paul Perron
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  • Book Info
    Meaning and Textuality
    Book Description:

    Rastier proposes a theoretical framework for the semantic description and typology of texts, establishing a critical debate among various streams of research before arriving at a synthesis of literary semiotics, thematics, and linguistic semantics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6483-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)

    This English edition sees the light a few years after the original, and the author cannot decently be moved by his past rashness, nor can he call upon the reader to note how much progress he has made since. I shall simply say that I have modified this work very little, not that I did not wish to but because the translators worked more quickly than anticipated. I did not have time to profit from Quintillian’s wise maxim that the pen accomplishes as much when it excises as when it adds. I have thus added a few paragraphs. Some of...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    Words, sentences, and texts remain the objects of distinct disciplines separated by academic rather than by scientific boundaries. Lexicology and syntax still fall within the realm of linguistics, but the study of texts is generally turned over to other disciplines, such as poetics, semiotics, hermeneutics. Though a restricted form of linguistics, centred on morphosyntax, still dominates, I wish to demonstrate, on the one hand, that a text cannot be reduced to a series of sentences, and on the other, that it constitutes not only the empirical object, but also the real object of linguistics.

    A. Without underestimating their contribution I...

  5. Symbols and Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Part 1: Interpretative Semantics and Forms of Textuality

    • 1 On the ‘Objectivity’ of Meaning
      (pp. 3-8)

      The way of treating textual meaning naturally depends upon the type of objectivity that one assumes it has. It conditions the very possibility of the existence of a scientific semantics, if one admits that in order for a discipline to be considered a discipline, it must have not only a problematics and methods, but also an object.

      A. Even though anyone can have the impression of gaining access to the meaning of a text, we know that the linguistic content is not an immediate given.¹ It is only because of recent cognitive research linked to the automatic treatment of language...

    • 2 Difficulties of Avant-Garde Hermeneutics
      (pp. 9-18)

      Up to the end of the eighteenth century, the hermeneutic problem was set out within the context of exegesis. As P. Szondi has shown, literary hermeneutics grew out of religious hermeneutics.¹ Freudian psychoanalysis² was another profane (or at least secularized) hermeneutics that developed. These two hermeneutics have converged into a neo-Freudian, Lacanian current that over the past decades has overshadowed most debates on the interpretation of literary texts.

      Let us here start with the hermeneutics that calls itself post-structuralist,³ since it developed theses that are still very much alive and that have steered research on textuality away from a rational...

    • 3 Situations of Interpretation and Typology of Texts
      (pp. 19-32)

      Since the meaning of a text is immanent to an interpretation situation, and types of texts are determined by typical situations, the interpretative paths that allow for the (re)construction of textual meaning are determined by thetypeof the text. Various hermeneutics do not allow one to consider this matter in its generality, as they focus on a determined type of text (especially literary, religious, legal). Linguistics, on the other hand, when it examines the text, considers it as a stage of language¹ and confines itself to generality, at the risk of delegating the study of textual types to neighbouring...

    • 4 Thematics
      (pp. 33-40)

      Thematics gives an account of invested contents and of their paradigmatic structures.

      Before continuing, I must redefine the notion oftheme, which supplanted that of topos after the dismemberment of rhetoric. This notion remains imprecise;¹ in general, a theme is a lexeme used as a generic denominator. For example, a thesis on the theme ofwaterin the novelist Bosco’s work² will exploit the occurrences ofriver,sea,pond, etc. Obviously, the results would be different if the theme of theriveror even ofliquidhad been chosen. Each theme conceived of in this manner owes its existence solely...

    • 5 Dialectics
      (pp. 41-52)

      This semantic component accounts for the succession of intervals in textual time, as well as for the states that occur and the processes that take place. Most notably it deals with aspectual phenomena. The construction of thematized graphs at the mesosemantic layer is a precondition for describing the dialectic component of a text. Indeed, their nodes representactants¹ andprocesses, and their connections, the case relations that articulate them. Sememes or semic molecules originate in the nodes of these graphs. By this, thematics is articulated along with dialectics at the mesosemantic level: the semantic features of the actant are obviously...

    • 6 Dialogics
      (pp. 53-61)

      Whereas dialectics was based on the succession of temporal intervals, dialogics is based on modalities. Without favouring any in particular, I retain all of the semiotic modalities: ontic, alethic, epistemic, deontic, boulestic, and evaluative (de re, de dicto).¹ These general semantic categories do not merge with the modal systems of natural languages, even though they make it possible to describe them. They are the universals of the theory.

      Modal logics that have proliferated since the twenties are extremely interesting for linguists (see, for example, Martin, 1987), for whom Boolean logic readily loses its fascination. However, to my knowledge, except in...

    • 7 Tactics
      (pp. 62-67)

      The tactic component accounts for the linear organization of the semantic units. Tactics is concerned with the planes of expression and of content, considered either separately or together. But since the units of these two planes do not correspond necessarily term for term, they are organized in differentiated linearities. I shall now examine the tactics of content.

      A. Although the Saussurian tradition has established the idea that a language is a system of signs, it does not follow that linguistics needs to be constructed around the concept of sign.

      By declaring the test of commutation to be fundamental, structuralism has...

    • 8 The Interaction of the Semantic Components
      (pp. 68-72)

      A. Let me specify briefly how the semantic components interact.¹

      Two of them have to be present in every text: thematics and tactics. A text having a minimal semantic structure, which could be reduced to a simple enumeration, even to the simple repetition of a word,² would still be the result of interaction between these two components.

      In addition to this extreme case, five other types of binary interactions between components must be identified.

      But also, three types of ternary interactions: 1-2-4; 1-3-4; 2-3-4.

      In the case of a text organized in terms of these four³ components, it is questionable...

  7. Part 2: Essays in Textual Semantics

    • 9 Moon, Diana, Hecate
      (pp. 75-100)

      A few days before his death, Etienne Jodelle (1532–73), a notoriously unrecognized poet, dedicated this sonnet to Maréchale Claude-Catherine de Retz:

      Of stars, forests, and Acheron honour,

      Diana, on high, middle and lower World presides,

      And her horses, her dogs, her Eumenides guides,

      To enlighten, hunt, cast death and horror.

      So great is the brilliance, the hunt, the consternation

      One feels under your beauty bright, fleet and deadly,

      That lofty Jupiter, Phoebus, and Pluto readily

      Deem diminished, lightning, bow and terror.

      Your beauty through its rays, snares, and frights

      Enchants the soul, captures, grips, and torments:

      Make me glow,...

    • 10 Goddamn! They Sure Made Short Work of the Blanquette of Veal!
      (pp. 101-131)

      Textual semantics can contribute something to didactics. In order to illustrate this I decided to study a short text and to test my thinking concerning ‘lisibilité’ in a school setting.¹

      As we know, the exercise known as ‘explication de texte’ is brought to us as part of a long tradition. Instructions from the French Ministry of Education put strict limits on the length of the text under study: ‘an explicating reading applies a detailed scrutiny to a text that is necessarily short (at the most twenty lines of prose or verse).’ The meaning discovered, these guidelines say, is the effect...

    • 11 Daddy Hen
      (pp. 132-167)

      Old man Toine was known for miles around, big Toine, Toine-ma-Fine, Antoine Mâcheblé, who was called Brûlot, the taverner of Tournevent.

      He had made the little hamlet famous, the hamlet that was hidden away in a fold in the gully that went on down to the ocean, a poor peasant hamlet with ten Norman houses surrounded by ditches and trees.

      They were there, those houses, huddled up against each other in that grass- and gorsecovered ravine, behind the curve in the small valley that was the source of its name, Tournevent (turn-trie-wind). They looked as if they had sought shelter...

    • 12 The White Care of Our [Sail-]Cloth
      (pp. 168-184)

      Translators’ note:On page 33 of Robert Greer Cohn’sToward the Poems of Mallarmé(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980) we read: ‘Mallarmé was asked, in 1893, to offer a toast at a gathering of young writers. The result was this “sonnet de circonstance,” a miniature crystalline marvel, which Mallarmé placed at the head of his collection as a sort of introduction.’

      The poem was entitled ‘Salut.’ The translation provided here is based on that of Cohn, and is presented in the side-by-side format he used on pages 33–5 ofToward the Poems… The reader is referred to...

    • 13 Referential Impression or the Sun and the Shepherdess
      (pp. 185-214)

      Thematics, more particularly the theory of isotopies, allows us to handle the problem of referential impression.² To illustrate this I have chosen Apollinaire’s ‘Zone,’ from which I take all my examples, with no claim to describe it.³

      The translation that follows is based on William Meredith’s, inAlcools: Poems 1898–1913, New York, Doubleday, 1964. [Translator’s note: The original text has been reestablished without punctuation; see 252–6 for French original.]


      In the end you are weary of this ancient world

      Shepherdess o Eiffel tower the flock of bridges is bleating this morning

      You’ve had enough of living in...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 215-260)
  9. Glossary
    (pp. 261-266)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-272)
  11. Name Index
    (pp. 273-276)
  12. Subject Index
    (pp. 277-281)