Language in Literature
by Roman Jakobson
"In poetic language, in which the sign as such takes on an autonomous value, this sound symbolism becomes an actual factor and creates a sort of accompaniment to the signified." -- Roman Jakobson
Roman Jakobson views poetics as a part of linguistics. The functions of language are several, including: referential in the sense of cognitive or denotative purpose; emotive as expressive of the speaker's attitude; conative in the imperative sense; phatic as dialogue is used to prolong communication; meta lingual as foundational for and outside discourse; and, poetic by focusing on the message for its own sake. In Jakobson's view one can say that the meaning collapses into the form. The mental image (or direction of your interest, mind-set) toward the message as such, focuses on the message for its own sake and this is the poetic function of language. Samuel R. Delany makes a similar argument in an essay in his collection, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction.
“Roman Jakobson was one of the great minds of the modern world,” Edward J. Brown has written, “and the effects of his genius have been felt in many fields: linguistics, semiotics, art, structural anthropology, and, of course, literature.” This book is a comprehensive presentation in English of Jakobson’s major essays on the intertwining of language and literature.
Jakobson reveals himself as a critic who revealed the avant-garde thrust of even the most worked-over poets, such as Shakespeare and Pushkin, and enabled the reader to see them as the innovators they were. Jakobson takes the reader from literature to grammar and then back again, letting points of structural detail throw a sharp light on the underlying form and linking thereby the most disparate realms into a coherent whole. In his essays he also demonstrates a search for a fully systematic, nonmetaphysical understanding of the workings of literature: Jakobson made possible a deep structural analysis that did not exist before.
Among the essential items in this collection are such classics as “Linguistics and Poetics” and “On a Generation That Squandered Its Poets” and illuminations of Baudelaire, Yeats, Turgenev, Pasternak, and Blake, as well as pieces on Shakespeare and Pushkin. The essays include fundamental theoretical statements, structural analyses of individual poems, explorations of the connections between poetry and experience, and semiotic perspectives on the structure of verbal and nonverbal art. This is a basic book for contemplating the function of language in literature and it is an important contribution to poetics and literary theory.
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