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Article

Sean Pryor

If poetics customarily deals with generalities, history seems to insist on particulars. In the 21st century, various literary critics have sought to manage these competing imperatives by developing an “historical poetics.” These critics pursue sometimes very different projects, working with diverse methodologies and theoretical frameworks, but they share a desire to think again about the relation between poetics and history. Some critics have pursued an historical poetics by conducting quantitative studies of changes in metrical form, while others have investigated the social uses to which poetry was put in the cultures of the past. Both approaches tend to reject received notions of the aesthetic or literary, with their emphasis on the individual poet and on the poem’s organic unity. Much work in historical poetics has focused instead on problems of genre and reception, seeking the historical significance of poetry in what is common and repeated. Sometimes this work has involved extensive archival research, examining memoirs, grammar books, philological tracts, and other materials in order to discover how poetry was conceived and interpreted at a particular time. These methods allow critics to tell histories of poetry and to reveal a history in poetry. The cultural history of poetic forms thus becomes a history of social thought and practice conducted through poetry. For other critics, however, the historical significance of a poem lies instead in the way it challenges the poetics of its time. This is to emphasize the singular over the common and repeated. In this mode, historical poetics aims both to restore poems to their proper historical moment and to show how poems work across history. The history to be valued in such cases is not a ground or world beyond the poem, but the event of the poem itself.

Article

Benjamin Fortson

South Picene was the Sabellic language spoken in east-central coastal Italy by a people who called themselves Safinús (Sabines, see Sabini). Examples of the language are found on about two dozen inscriptions, which date mostly from the late 6th centurybce, with a few from the 4th. Almost all are funerary texts for warriors on monumental stelae. The South Picene alphabet was not fully deciphered until the mid-1980s by Anna Marinetti. Her work revealed texts of considerable linguistic and cultural interest. Several are poetic, most famously one that reads, postin viam videtas tetis tokam alies esmen vepses vepeten, meaning approximately “along/behind the road you see the toga/covering of Titus Alis, buried (?) in this tomb.” Its bipartite alliterative phrases and its run of three heptasyllables, each structured 2×2×3, are reminiscent of the Saturnian. Given the paucity and often poor preservation of the remains and difficulties with their interpretation, South Picene morphology and syntax can only be sketched, but it appears to be of the typical Sabellic type; noteworthy is a 3rd person plural, perfect ending in -úh, apparently from *-ont.

Article

Poetics  

Jonathan Culler

The term poetics designates both a field of study and the practice of a particular author or group of authors. Aristotle’s Poetics, the most important work of literary theory in the Western tradition, undertakes to describe in systematic fashion the major forms of literature, the components of each, and how these elements contribute to the effects desired. Aristotle proceeds on the assumption that there is a comprehensive structure of knowledge attainable about poetry, which is not the experience of poetry, but poetics. Such a poetics treats literature as an autonomous object of knowledge, whose major genres or forms it seeks to analyze. This is an explicit poetics; but we also speak of the poetics implicit in the work of an individual writer, or of a group of writers, or of the literature of an era, as in The Poetics of Dante’s Paradiso, or even The Poetics of Postmodernism, which focus on the characteristic techniques, compositional habits, and ways of treating subjects in the literary practice under consideration. As the latter title indicates, the term poetics is used even when the literature treated does not include much poetry. Poetics can be distinguished from literary history, in that it focuses on literature as a system of possibilities rather than as a historical sequence or a practice in history, although categories from poetics will be important for any study of the evolution of literature. In literary theory, poetics is set apart for concentrating on intrinsic characteristics of literature as a system, as opposed to treating it as a phenomenon to be explained in social, historical, economic, or psychological terms. Poetics is particularly distinguished from hermeneutics or interpretation, in that it does not attempt to determine the meaning of literary works but asks how they function: What are characteristics of different literary genres and their constituents? How do their various elements work together to produce the effects they do for readers? Many contributions to the theory of literature can be seen as contributions to poetics, insofar as they try to explain the nature of literature and describe some of its major forms, even if they are presented as arguments about the literary practice of a particular period or literary mode. Western poetics begins with Aristotle, whose poetics is based on drama: literature is defined an imitation of action, in which plot is central. In Chinese and Japanese cultures, by contrast, foundational poetics have been drawn from lyric poetry and have focused on affect and expression rather than on representation. In the history of Western poetics mimesis has remained fundamental, despite changes that, from time to time, treat literature as the expression of the experience of the author or the attempt to create certain experiences for the reader.

Article

Asian American poetry flourished in the first two decades of the 21st century. In 2004, the Asian American literary organization Kundiman hosted their inaugural workshop-based retreat at the University of Virginia, connecting poets from the United States and North America across generations. (The retreat continues to be held annually at Fordham University and has included fiction writers, as fellows and faculty, since 2017.) The first year of Kundiman’s retreat coincided with the publication of Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, edited by Victoria Chang, which introduced emerging poets Kazim Ali, Cathy Park Hong, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Srikanth Reddy, and Paisley Rekdal, among others, to a broader audience of readers and critics and, at the same time, urged a reassessment of the contemporary poetry field. Both events signaled an emergent generation’s desire to find community and acknowledgment for their work. Not only were these goals accomplished, but the collectivization of young Asian American poets and critical attention from universities and other cultural institutions also evinced how powerfully the impact of a previous generation of Asian American poets had been felt. That generation arguably began with the publication of Cathy Song’s Yale Younger Poets Prize–winning book Picture Bride in 1982 and grew to include Marilyn Chin, Li-Young Lee, Garrett Hongo, and Agha Shahid Ali, whose work can be found in Norton anthologies of poetry and various other canon-defining projects. The critical and cultural acceptance these poets enjoyed at the end of the 20th century blazed a trail for Asian American poets of the 21st century, who increasingly balance the lyric conventions of emotional expressiveness and imagistic language with audacious political subjectivity. In doing so, Asian American poets of the 21st century have opened up conceptions of lyric, particularly regarding voice, to incorporate questions of identity, immigration and migration, and American cultural experience. Contemporary Asian American poets frequently reimagine the lyric tradition through a distinctly Asian American political imagination.

Article

In the history and prehistory of human societies, poets, prophets, and seers (the word vates can cover all three) have often been virtually indistinguishable from one another. From time immemorial, their respective activities overlap and interpenetrate to such an extent that prophets (or mantics or seers) and poets have been closely associated and tend to completely coalesce in many of their functions and modalities. The Sanskrit word kavi (like its Latin cognate vates) embraces both. A certain strand of ideology running through the Bible (at least as interpreted by classical rabbinic texts) aims to drive a wedge between God-inspired prophecy and humanly created poems. Nevertheless, the Hebrew word nabi for “prophet” means “bubbling forth, as from a fountain,” so the vocabulary of the Hebrew Bible, too, is naturally apt to suggest the creative fecundity of verbal imagination. In fact, Amos, Isaiah, Elisha, and Ezekiel frequently produce parables, proverbs, and even love songs. In primordial cultures, with only minimal social stratification and differentiation of roles, long before any specific mantles as either prophet or poet can be identified and donned, a figure like that of the shaman or even the wizard (Merlin, for example) is often emblematic of a certain undecidability between religious revelation or spiritual experience and creative imagination and invention. Of course, in modern cultures, with their highly differentiated social roles, theological revelation and poetry are typically seen as distinct and often even as opposed to each other in crucial respects. Yet the two still need to be understood together as reciprocal and symbiotic in their origins, aims, and purposes. Throughout subsequent history, the deepest intents of literary and religious practices remain inseparable from each other in their myriad manifestations within our cultural traditions and institutions; they thus stand to be illuminated by such a juxtaposition. Poetry and prophecy together comprise the common matrix of some of the oldest and most fundamental modes of expression of humanity across cultures.

Article

Tragedy  

Alberto Toscano

From Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Poetics onward, tragedy has loomed large in the genealogy of literary theory. But this prominence is in many regards paradoxical. The original object of that theory, the Attic tragedies performed at the Dionysian festivals in 5th- century bce Athens, are, notwithstanding their ubiquitous representation on the modern stage, only a small fraction of the tragedies produced in Athens, and are themselves torn from their context of performance. The Poetics and the plays that served as its objects of analysis would long vanish from the purview of European culture. Yet, when they returned in the Renaissance as cultural monuments to be appropriated and repeated, it was in a context largely incommensurable with their existence in Ancient Greece. While the early moderns created their own poetics (and politics) of tragedy and enlisted their image of the Ancients in the invention of exquisitely modern literary and artistic forms (not least, opera), it was in the crucible of German Idealism and Romanticism, arguably the matrix of modern literary theory, that certain Ancient Greek tragedies were transmuted into models of “the tragic,” an idea that played a formative part in the emergence of philosophical modernity, accompanying a battle of the giants between dialectical (Hegelian) and antidialectical (Nietzschean) currents that continues to shape our theoretical present. The gap between a philosophy of the tragic and the poetics and history of tragedy as a dramatic genre is the site of much rich and provocative debate, in which the definition of literary theory itself is frequently at stake. Tragedy is in this sense usefully defined as a genre in conflict. It is also a genre of conflict, in the sense that ethical conflicts, historical transitions, and political revolutions have all come to define its literary forms, something that is particularly evident in the place of both tragedy and the tragic in the dramas of decolonization.

Article

Thomas H. Ford and Joe Hughes

Rhetoric was—or is, and the uncertainty here is to the point—an unstable but hegemonic assemblage of categories, practices, doctrines, and institutions that endured from classical antiquity through to modernity. Rhetoric underwent radical transformations over this period of nearly three thousand years, entering into complex relationships with its discursive and educational others, including literature, philosophy, theology, and science. Rhetoric has variously been the pragmatic art of verbal action; the teachable (and so saleable) skill of persuasive speaking; an elite training in literary forms and genres inherited from ancient Rome and Greece; a set of protocols governing textual production and reception; the antiquarian collection of ornate and artificial modes of phraseology; a transcendent spirit of linguistic articulation and creation; and a branch of instruction in professional communication. This article presents five scenes—sometimes more tightly focused, sometimes more diffuse—drawn from the long history of rhetoric: a moment of rhetoric’s inception, in Syracuse in 466 bce; of its Christianization, in Milan, 387; of linguistic productivity, in Cambridge, 1511; of rhetorical transcendence, in Basel in 1872; and of social composition, in Minneapolis, 1968. In each of these moments, rhetoric’s conceptual, discursive, and institutional relations with literature were transfigured. They were scenes in which rhetoric was retied, so to speak, into a series of new knots with literature and philosophy. Other scenes and other itineraries would no doubt generate different stories—other knottings of rhetoric and its others.

Article

Qiana M. Cutts and M. Billye Sankofa Waters

Poetic inquiry, an increasingly popularized form of arts-based research, is an expressive and evocative method and methodology, where the lines of responsibility and roles assumed of a researcher mandate that the researcher is a social science and expressive artist. It is defined broadly as a reseach process and research product. As a process, poetic inquiry is the foundation of or central component to research endeavors where poetry can be the data source, the analytical and interpretative lenses, and/or the presentation. As a product, poetic inquiry results in poems singularly constructed by the researcher or participants or collaboratively crafted with both researcher and participants using notes, transcripts, memos, documents, texts, and so on. While all research is the interpretation of one voice through yet another voice, poetic inquiry offers the opportunity for participants to truly speak for themselves. The emergence of poetry within arts-based research is connected not only to the overall increase in arts-based practices but also to broader epistemological and theoretical insights such as those posed by postmodern and post-structural theory. As such, feminist and other politically motivated researchers may be interested in the transformational possibilities of poetry, as poetry can be a vehicle through which the patriarchal suffocation of research can be challenged. Thus, many researchers utilizing poetic inquiry focus on race, gender, identity, social justice, etc. As with any research, there are methodological and quality-related criticisms of poetic inquiry. However, poetic inquiry researchers acknowledge poetic inquiry is subjective, emotional, complex, connected, and sometimes messy in that it is constantly evolving, influencing, and being influenced by the social world. The quality of poetry used in and presented as poetic inquiry is more of a concern than a critique as arts-based researchers steer clear of promoting the minimized accessibility of poetic inquiry that would be the result of poetic elitism. Nevertheless, poetic inquiry researchers must consider the quality of their poetic inquiry work. They should study the craft of poetry, be aware of the traditions, understand the techniques, and engage in reflection prior to and while conducting any research project. There are a number of considerations to be had regarding the future directions of poetic inquiry. First, poetic inquiry continues to grow and bear fruit. If researchers are to employ convincingly poetic inquiry, they cannot be bound by draconian definitions. Poetic inquiry is not a welcome all for poorly constructed poetry; however, advocating for tightly bound definitions of work that is intended to be exploratory, evocative, and expressive would debilitate the field. Next, while there are some generally accepted and expected practices, there is no mandated linear process one must employ in poetic inquiry. The continued evolution of the poetic inquiry process is expected. Finally, the impact of poetic inquiry has been increasing steadily for at least 15 years as researchers have become more interested in engaging, questioning, refining, and adopting poetic inquiry. A journal dedicated specifically to defining, exploring, and presenting poetic inquiry could further this impact.

Article

epic  

Philip Hardie

At the summit of the ancient hierarchy of genres, epic narrates in hexameter verse the deeds of gods, heroes, and men The authority of Homer, the name given to the composer of the Iliad and the Odyssey, ensures that the forms and conventions of the Homeric poems are determinative for the whole of the Greco-Roman tradition of epic. From an early date, the production and reading of epic poems was accompanied by intensive scholarly and critical activity. Over the centuries, numerous epics were written on both legendary and historical subjects, as the genre responded to changing aesthetic and ideological conditions. In Rome, Virgil’s Aeneid successfully established for itself an authority comparable to that of the Homeric poems, and all later Latin epics place themselves within a Virgilian tradition. Epic in Greek and Latin continues to flourish in late antiquity, when Christian writers appropriate its forms to propagate their own messages and praise their own heroes.

Article

Sebastian Matzner

The term metonymy denotes a literary trope, that is, a specific form of defamiliarized expression, which indirectly refers to what is at issue. Metonymy achieves this by way of exploiting an already existing association between the term (or terms) used metonymically—the metonym—and the term (or terms) implicitly at issue. Metonymy thus differs from metaphor, among other things, in that it does not invoke an underlying analogy or similarity between what is said and what is at issue. In both ancient and modern criticism, metaphor received significantly more attention than metonymy (partly owed to the fact that the poetic effects of metaphor tend to eclipse those of metonymy, partly because of the stronger appeal of the logical dimension at the heart of metaphor). As a result, metonymy—though widely used—is often ill-defined as a critical concept. Today, it features in literary-aesthetic, diachronic-etymological, (post-)structuralist, and cognitive criticism. Ancient literature, both Greek and Latin, is rich in metonymic usages, albeit with varying degrees of poetic intensity; the pattern is one of relatively few intense outcomes, and relatively many less intense ones. Prominent among the general literary-aesthetic effects of metonymy’s semantic shifts are the creation of a poignantly condensed impression of what is at issue; a change in focalization by zooming out onto a higher plane or zooming in on newly foregrounded micro-level aspects; and movement between the concrete-material and the abstract-conceptual dimensions of what is at issue.

Article

The most discussed and cited works of Asian American writing in literary studies include mainly novels, memoirs, short fiction, essays, and plays. To use Sau-ling Wong’s terms Necessity and Extravagance, the study of prose narrative has become a Necessity in the establishment of an Asian American literary canon, while poetry appears to occupy the status of the Extravagant—not excluded, but not as important or basic as prose. However, considering Asian American studies through the framework of not just poetry as a genre but also the poetic as a mode leads to some fresh understandings of canonical narratives, as well as criticism and theory. The power of poetry and the poetic do lie in their alignment with Extravagance, especially in their play with rules and expectations of language, convention, and form. Poems by Asian American writers point to the underside of play, the ways in which play can threaten minority subjects. At the same time the poems enact their own forms of play, through literary allusion and figurative language, for example. Asian American poetry and the Asian American poetic harness the energies of recreation and enjoyment to build and repurpose literary and discursive forms that articulate racial, ethnic, and gendered perils and promises.

Article

Prosody  

Meredith Martin

Prosody refers, most broadly, to versification and pronunciation. Historically, prosody referred to the branch of grammar that contained versification as a subsection, but since the late 19th century literary scholars and poets have interchanged versification and prosody, while linguists use prosody to refer to pronunciation. Since the beginning of the 20th century scholars have also referred to prosody as a “poetics,” or a system of meaning-making, and do not directly engage in analysis of meter but rather use the term prosody to signify any aspect of literary style or figurative language that might contribute to the affective register of verse-form. The philological register of prosody may use versification in order to make a claim about how a verse-form reflects a national, historical, or even ethnic character, a practice that began in earnest during the mid-18th century and persists into the 21st century, though with some critical distance. Because the measure of verse is subjective and historically contingent, debates and discussions about prosody are a constant and tend to repeat. There is no one progress narrative of prosody, writ large, but the progress narrative of poetry within prosodic discourse is one of its main tropes. That is, while there are theories of prosody that posit progression, there is little agreement about the evolution or even naming of prosodic systems. Each history of prosody therefore posits a new theory. Thus, the theory of prosody might always be seen as the proliferation of conflicting theories about prosody, in no way limited to one national language; in fact, theories of prosody from other languages applied to English are much older and more robust than theories of prosody that derive from only English—for instance, measuring English by Latin prosody, or French, or German, and so on. Despite the proliferation of conflicting theories, scholars who work on prosody nevertheless agree broadly that, like the subject of grammar under which prosody was historically a subset, prosody is a set of interrelated features in language that, according to how you measure these features, either appear to adhere to a particular system or do not. Also, scholars agree that, like grammar, prosody as an interpretive system often hovers between the prescriptive and the descriptive. In the conflicts over theories of prosody, adherents to one system attempt to convince adherents to another that theirs is superior, and these debates and conflicts continue unabated in linguistic prosodic criticism. Those who practice literary prosodic criticism in the 21st century tend to adopt a system of verse-measure with little interest in its history, or even with what linguistic prosodic critics might call a sharp disregard for its inaccuracy. Linguistic prosodists—who have made significant advances in the field—are sidelined by the momentum of a literary history that has rendered their ongoing work too specialized for general use. There are also those who believe that prosody—or, rather, specific paralinguistic features of prosody—exists, like grammar, in particular bodies, to be awakened or cultivated by a particular kind of reading or hearing ear or a particular kind of feeling body. Trends in cognitive science have influenced one strain of theorizing about prosody as a form of subconscious knowledge in no way dependent on the cultural formations that may have organized sonic features into recognizable systems. Historical prosodists, those who study the history of thinking about prosodic form but also practice prosodic reading, posit that prosody is culturally contingent and, along with phenomenology, might be better considered as a part of cultural criticism rather than a privileged key to poetic meaning. Finally, where prosodic theory happens is a live question. Whether discourse about prosody (or meta-metrical discourse, as in Gascoigne or the various grammars discussed here) is prosodic theory or whether poets writing in a variety of prosodic forms (whether interpreted by critics or not) posit prosodic theories in their practice is at the heart of what many mischaracterize as a divide between historical prosody and other theories of reading. This divide is artificial, but the fact is that disagreements about what and how prosody means have led to a variety of approaches to the study of prosody in poetry, and despite this disagreement prosody is nevertheless taught in most academic settings as if it has an agreed upon past, present, and future.

Article

Latina/o environmental justice literature, prompted by organizing against environmental racism and for ecologically linked social responsibility, emerges in the late 20th century, but environmental justice literary interpretation and critical theory examines texts from any period of Latina/o literature, engaging the nexus of nature, culture, and environmental degradation and justice. Latina/o environmental justice literature includes many genres (fiction, poetry, nonfiction, memoir, testimonio, and performance art, to name a few) and has umbilical connections to a large body of lived experience, longstanding theory and praxis, traditional environmental knowledge (TEK), and environmental justice movement activism. This body of literary poetics that followed the emergence and naming of the environmental justice movement in the 1980s had precursors in the cultural poetics of the civil rights movement and related struggles for justice, equality, nonviolence, feminisms, human rights, and environmental protection. Antecedents to Latina/o environmental justice literature are found in oral literature, pre-Columbian texts, and subsequent Latina/o writing. Definitions of environmental justice within the context of the burgeoning environmental justice movement in the latter decades of the 20th century contribute to interpretations of the literature from this period forward. The last decades of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century saw environmental justice themes emerge in many genres, and Latina/o literature made significant contributions to the broader field. Studies of cultural poetics of environmental justice contributed to that diversity. Contemporary environmental justice literary scholarship summarizes past approaches, traces ongoing work, and offers future directions—redefining and rebirthing environmental justice and climate justice poetics, given global warming and resulting climate change.

Article

Richard Hunter

Greek discussion of unified organic form, as both a biological principle and a literary virtue, has been very influential in Western criticism. What survives before late antiquity of that Greek tradition as applied to literature is, however, relatively sparse; crucial above all are the Homeric poems and ancient discussion of them, together with some passages of Plato and Aristotle. The fact that the bulk of later surviving criticism derives from rhetorical teaching, heavily indebted to the Isocratean tradition, means that much greater prominence is given to the closely related ideas of variety (poikilia) and the avoidance of monotony over the course of a long work, and to the arrangement and ordering (taxis) of narrative than to “unity”; there is no standard term for “unity” in Greek criticism.Homer announces the subject of the Iliad as the wrath of Achilles, which wrought terrible destruction upon the Greeks, but, however dominant the story of the wrath and its consequences, the scope of the poem is clearly not limited to that subject. Reflection upon the Iliad stands at the beginning and the heart of ancient discussion of unity, and it is the Iliad that shows why “unity” and “variety” are entirely compatible in ancient criticism.

Article

The influence of Hellenistic Greek poetry on Roman poetry can hardly be overestimated. Latin poetry is from its beginnings based on scholarly appreciation of the literary production of the Greeks, and it was from the perspective of the literary and scholarly activity of the Hellenistic period that the Romans viewed Greek literature as a whole. The fragmentary nature of early Latin poetry means that the first stages of the *reception of Hellenistic poetry at Rome remain obscure. It is possible that *Livius Andronicus employed the work of Hellenistic commentators on Homer in translating the Odyssey and that *Naevius and *Accius knew and imitated the Argonautica of Apollonius. The Annales of *Ennius provides better evidence. When he proclaims his originality, presents himself as dicti studiosus (“a student of language”) proud of his stylistic superiority over his predecessors, and describes his poetic initiation, he has in mind *Callimachus(3)'s Aetia, although the exact nature and extent of his debt remain unclear.

Article

John North and Fay Glinister

Pompeius Festus was a man of whom nothing is known except that he produced a shortened version (epitome) of the Lexicon of Verrius Flaccus, a massive dictionary of Latin as it was in the time of Augustus Caesar. Festus probably wrote in the 2nd century ce, and his epitome survives only in part, even the extant part being damaged. A still briefer version (an epitome of the epitome) was produced in the time of Charlemagne by Paul the Deacon; that version does survive in full. The single damaged manuscript was discovered in the 15th century, first published early in the 16th, and subsequently worked on by a succession of first-rate scholars. Its contents are mostly rare or poetic words rather than everyday ones; but Festus illustrates his entries with quotations from the Latin of the middle republican period, thus preserving texts, etymologies, religious and political antiquities and much other valuable information. The words are arranged alphabetically, but unlike a modern dictionary, the alphabetization only reaches to the second letter, so that looking words up as we do today must have been a long and painful job.

Article

Children’s literature is a dynamic entity in its own right that offers its readers many avenues for pleasure, reflection, and emotional engagement. As this article argues, its place in education was established centuries ago, but this association continues today in ways that are both similar and different from its beginnings. The irony of children’s literature is that, while it is ostensibly for children, it relies on adults for its existence. This reciprocal relationship between adult and child is, however, at the heart of education. Drawing on a range of scholars and children’s texts from Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, this discussion canvasses some of the many ways in which children’s literature, and the research that it inspires, can be a productive and valuable asset to education, in that its imaginative storytelling is the means by which it brings the world into the classroom and takes the classroom out into the world.

Article

Jillian R. Cavanaugh

Linguistic anthropology is the study of language as social action. Linguistic anthropologists study how people use language, and how, in using language, people are also defining and displaying who they are, enacting their membership in particular groups, and bringing various types of truths into being. Language, then, is a set of practices that people engage in every day in numerous forms, which helps to define their positions in their families, communities, workplaces, schools, and even nation-states. How one speaks is not only who one is—it is what one does. This is possible because language is multifunctional, that is, it works in many different ways to connect people, convey meanings and feelings, move people to action, and define who they are. The major functions of language are the referential function, the emotive function, the conative function, the poetic function, the phatic function, the metalinguistic function, and the indexical function, which often overlap when people use language and are shaped by language ideologies, that is, the beliefs and attitudes that shape speakers’ relationships to their own and others’ languages, mediating between the social practice of language and the socioeconomic, historical, and political structures within which it occurs. Language use is part of what makes humans human, and as anthropologists, focused on how humans live and make sense of each other and the world, language should always be part of what anthropologists attend to and investigate.

Article

Daniel Tiffany

Lyric poetry is an ancient genre, enduring to the present day, but it is not continuous in its longevity. What happens to lyric poetry and how it changes during its numerous and sometimes lengthy periods of historical eclipse (such as the 18th century) may be as important to our understanding of lyric as an assessment of its periods of high achievement. For it is during these periods of relative obscurity that lyric enters into complex relations with other genres of poetry and prose, affirming the general thesis that all genres are relational and porous. The question of whether any particular properties of lyric poetry endure throughout its 2,700-year checkered history can be addressed by examining its basic powers: its forms; its figurative and narrative functions; and its styles and diction. The hierarchy of these functions is mutable, as one finds in today’s rift between a scholarly revival of formalist analysis and the increasing emphasis on diction in contemporary poetry. As a way of assessing lyric poetry’s basic operations, the present article surveys the ongoing tension between form and diction by sketching a critique of the tenets of New Formalism in literary studies, especially its presumptions about the relation of poetic form to the external world and its tendency to subject form to close analysis, as if it could yield, like style or diction, detailed knowledge of the world. Long overshadowed by the doctrinal tenets of modernist formalism, the expressive powers of diction occupy a central place in contemporary concerns about identity and social conflict, at the same time that diction (unlike form) is especially susceptible to the vocabularistic methods of “distant reading”—to the computational methods of the digital humanities. The indexical convergence of concreteness and abstraction, expression and rationalism, proximity and distance, in these poetic and scholarly experiments with diction points to precedents in the 18th century, when the emergence of Anglophone poetries in the context of colonialism and the incorporation of vernacular languages into poetic diction (via the ballad revival) intersected with the development of modern lexicography and the establishment of Standard English. The nascent transactions of poetics and positivism through the ontology of diction in the 21st century remind us that poetic diction is always changing but also that the hierarchy of form, figuration, and diction in lyric poetry inevitably shifts over time—a reconfiguration of lyric priorities that helps to shape the premises and methods of literary studies.

Article

Lara Harb

The Arabic language has a rich history of literary criticism and theory, starting from the 8th century ce up to the 21st century. This literary criticism and theory engages with a poetic tradition that dates back to pre-Islamic times. The inquiry into literary quality was motivated by an interest in evaluating poetry, a general concern with eloquent speech, whether in verse or prose, and by the desire to articulate the beauty of the Quran. The transmission of Aristotle’s Poetics into Arabic also spurred interest in the poetic, particularly in Arabic philosophy. The study of eloquence crystallized into a standardized science by the 13th century ce, with branches focusing on (1) the role of syntax in literary beauty (the science of meanings); (2) simile, metaphor, and metonymy (the science of elucidation); and (3) rhetorical figures (the science of rhetorical figures). The aesthetic developed in the early criticism of the 9th and 10th centuries was concerned with articulating the merits of an idealized classical style of pre-Islamic poetry, from which the “modern” poets of the early Abbasid period diverged. This classically oriented aesthetic was dominated by a concern with the truthfulness and naturalness of poetry, typical of the style of the “ancients,” on the one hand, and the limits of unrealistic imagery and affected artificiality, which characterized the more ornate modern Abbasid style, on the other. This binary outlook shifted after the 10th century, however, to an aesthetic of wonder. A theory of aesthetic experience began to develop, therefore, which was based on the ability of poetic language to evoke wonder in the recipient. As a result, wonder-enhancing characteristics such as strangeness, the unexpected, and the rare became essential components of aesthetic judgment. Moreover, the ability of language to make meaning manifest in ways that allow for an experience of discovery and hence wonder, became the foundation of aesthetic inquiry in post-10th century Arabic literary theory.