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The Linguistic Moment

The Linguistic Moment: From Wordsworth to Stevens

Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 468
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  • Book Info
    The Linguistic Moment
    Book Description:

    This series of readings, explores the functioning of moments in poems when the medium--language--becomes an issue.

    Originally published in 1987.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5476-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    J. H. M.
  4. PREFACE: Between Theory and Practice
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE From Stevens to Arnold to Wordsworth
    (pp. 3-58)

    In an essay describing the changes in Occidental thought associated with the names of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, Michel Foucault has said: “Interpretation finally became an infinite task. . . . From the nineteenth century on, signs enchained themselves in an inexhaustible network, itself also infinite, not because they rest on a resemblance without edges, but because there is an irreducible gulf and opening.” Foucault relates this opening of an abyss of interpretation to the “rejection of beginning” in Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche. For all three, it is impossible to go back in the activity of interpretation to an unequivocal...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Wordsworth
    (pp. 59-113)

    In the first chapter here, as the first swing of the circular temporal trajectory of this book, I have moved backward, against the stream of time, from Stevens to Arnold to Wordsworth and, with some help from Pater, even back to Plato and before. My movement was like Empedocles climbing to the sources of Etna’s brooks and then beyond, above, or like Wordsworth magisterially commanding the river: “Flow backward, Duddon,” or even like Stevens, in “The River of Rivers in Connecticut,” encountering “an unnamed flowing,” “a curriculum,” “the river that flows nowhere, like a sea,” one (perhaps false) name for...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Shelley
    (pp. 114-179)

    “The Triumph of Life” is so difficult a poem, conceptually, in its play of figures, and in its formal organization, that the reader needs all the help he can get in trying to understand it.¹ One form of help comes by seeing the poem, as many previous readers have seen it, as an interpretation of the work of Wordsworth, the first poet in my sequence of eight. In my attempt to identify the particular form the linguistic moment takes in this poem, however, I shall focus on the relation of Shelley’s work to that of Rousseau. Rousseau is after all...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Browning
    (pp. 180-228)

    If Shelley’s “The Triumph of Life” is in part an interpretation of Wordsworth’s “Immortality” ode, and if Hardy’s work so overlaps Shelley’s that it almost seems the prior writing with which Shelley had to struggle in order to become himself, “The Englishman in Italy,” as other critics have noted, is in part a rewriting of Shelley’s “Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills.”¹ In all these relations of priority and posteriority the linguistic moment, the moment when language becomes problematic and assumes a momentum of its own, is occasioned by the later poet’s implicit critique of a naive taking for granted...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Hopkins
    (pp. 229-266)

    In order to identify the linguistic moment in the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins I shall begin by way of a detour through a passage by Hopkins’ tutor, Pater, and before Pater, through texts from Pater’s not so hidden master, Hegel, then forward in time to Nietzsche. Though Pater seems appropriate enough, Hegel and Nietzsche will no doubt seem unlikely bedfellows for Hopkins, but the three together will establish an essential context for what I have to say about Hopkins. Roman Catholic through and through though he is, Hopkins is a man of the nineteenth century too. His poetry, like...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Hardy
    (pp. 267-315)

    In the chapter on “The Triumph of Life” something has already been said about the paradoxical relation of Hardy’s work to Shelley’s. Hardy sometimes almost seems to be Shelley’s dark precursor, and Hardy’s work offers a double reading of Shelley. It sees him alternately as both idealist and as skeptic. Something of the same sort might be said of Hardy’s relation to Wordsworth. Hardy often affirms as his own a subversion of Romantic pantheism that Words worth himself has already abundantly performed in his own poetry, for example, in Book v ofThe Prelude. Once more the later poet seems...

    (pp. 316-348)

    My topic here is the topography of Yeats’s “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.” This topography is a certain structure of places, in both the spatial and rhetorical senses of that word. The structure incorporates also a non-place, not so much utopian as atopical, a place that is both there and not there. It is a certain crossroads to which all roads lead and yet which can be reached by no road. What can this mean?

    Topography—the word indicates both an arrangement of places that is already there and the activity of graphing them, mapping them, transposing them from the real...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Williams
    (pp. 349-389)

    William Carlos Williams’ poetry scarcely seems to offer any handles to interpretation.¹ The critic at first hardly knows what to say of it, so transparent is it in meaning, so lacking in conceptual words or in anything like the self-commentary characteristic, for example, of Wallace Stevens’ poetry. In Williams’ poems the mimesis is straightforwardly performed, not conceptualized. To put this another way, there seems at first to be no form of the linguistic moment in Williams. The reader, it may be, is reduced to saying how beautiful a poem by Williams is, how admirably delicate its prosody. As in certain...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Stevens
    (pp. 390-422)

    This book begins with Stevens. It has returned to Stevens intermittently throughout. Now I come full circle back to Stevens again in a concluding discussion of “The Rock,” followed by a brief postface on the relation of the linguistic moment to the eternal return. The discussion of the figure of themise en abymecompletes the repertoire of spatial images for temporality. Each chapter has provided a different example, the image of a moving across the landscape toward “something ever more about to be” in Wordsworth, the image of the enveloping scene enveloped in Shelley, and so on.¹

    I begin with...

  14. POSTFACE: Between Practice and Theory
    (pp. 423-434)

    The task of criticism at the present time remains what it has always been: the further exploration, as much by practical essays of interpretation as by theoretical speculation (though of course they always go together), of that coming and going in quest and in questioning of the ground which my preface above identified and which Wallace Stevens pursued, as the chapter just concluded shows. All the readings in this book have been offered as a contribution to the fulfillment of that perennial task of criticism.

    This brings my trajectory back, by a noncircular circle or nonspiraling spiral, to my beginning,...

  15. INDEX
    (pp. 435-445)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 446-446)