Language limits : the dissolution of the lyric subject in experimental print and performance poetry

Pieterse, Annel (2012-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In this thesis, I undertake an extensive overview of a range of language activities that foreground the materiality of language, and that require an active reader oriented towards the text as a producer, rather than a consumer, of meaning. To this end, performance, as a function of both orality and print texts, forms an important focus for my argument. I am particularly interested in the effect that the disruption of language has on the position of the subject in language, especially in terms of the dialogic exchange between local and global subject positions. Poetry is a language activity that requires a particular attention to form and meaning, and that is licensed to activate and exploit the materiality of language. For this reason, I have focused on the work of a selection of North American poets, the Language poets. These poets are primarily concerned with the performative possibilities of language as it appears in print media. I juxtapose these language activities with those of a selection of contemporary South African poets whose work is marked by the influence of oral forms, and reveals telling interplays between media. All these poets are preoccupied with the ways in which the sign might be disrupted. In my discussion of the work of the Language poets, I consider how examples of their print poetics present the reader with language fragments, arranged according to non-syntactic principles. Confronted by the lack of an individuated lyric subject around whom these fragments might cohere, the reader is obliged to make his/her own connections between words, sounds and phrases. Similarly, in the work of the performance poets, I identify several aspects in the poetry that trouble a transparent transmission of expression, and instead require the poetry to be read as an interrogation of the constitution of the subject. Here, the ―I‖ fleetingly occupies multiple, shifting subject positions, and the poetic interplay between media and language tends towards a continuous destabilising of the poetic self. Poets and performers are, to some extent, licensed to experiment with language in ways that render it opaque. Because the language activities of poets and performers are generally accommodated within the order of symbolic or metaphoric language, their experimentation with non-communicative excesses can be understood as part of their framework. However, in situations where ―communicative‖ language is expected, the order of literal or forensic language cannot accommodate seemingly non-communicative excesses that appear to render the text opaque. Ultimately, I am concerned with exploring the manner in which attention to the materiality of language might open up alternative understandings of language, subjectivity and representation in South African public discourse. My conclusion therefore considers the consequences when the issues opened up by the poetry – questions of self and subject, authority and representation – are translated into forensic frameworks and testimonial discourse.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: My proefskrif bied ‘n breedvoerige oorsig van ‘n reeks taal-aktiwiteite wat die materialiteit van taal sigbaar maak. Hierdie taal-aktiwiteite skep tekste wat die leser/kyker noop om as vervaardiger, eerder as verbruiker, van betekenis in ‘n aktiewe verhouding met die teks te tree. Die performatiewe funksie van beide gesproke sowel as gedrukte taal vorm dus die hooffokus van my argument. Ek stel veral belang in die effek wat onderbrekings en versteurings in taal op die subjek van taal uitoefen, en hoe hierdie prosesse die die dialogiese verhouding tussen lokale en globale subjek-posisies beïnvloed. Poëtiese taal-aktiwiteite word gekenmerk deur ‘n fokus op vorm en die verhouding tussen vorm en inhoud. Terwyl die meeste taalpraktyke taaldeursigtigheid vereis ter wille van direkte kommunikasie, het poëtiese taal tot ‘n mate die vryheid om die materaliteit van taal te gebruik en te ontgin. Om hierdie rede fokus ek selektief op die werk van ‘n groep Noord-Amerikaanse digters, die sogenaamde ―Language poets‖. Hierdie digters is hoofsaaklik met die performatiewe moontlikhede van gedrukte taal bemoeid. Voorts word hierdie taal-aktiwiteite met ‘n seleksie kontemporêre Suid-Afrikaanse digters se werk vergelyk, wat gekenmerk word deur die invloed van gesproke taalvorms wat met ‘n verskeidenhed media in wisselwerking gestel word. Al hierdie digters is geïnteresseerd in die maniere waarop die inherente onstabiliteit van linguistiese aanduiers ontgin kan word. In my bespreking van die werk van die Language poets ondersoek ek voorbeelde van hul gedrukte digkuns wat die leser voor taalfragmente te staan bring wat nie volgens die gewone reëls van sintaks georganiseer is nie. Die gebrek aan ‘n geïndividualiseerde liriese subjek, waarom hierdie fragmente ‘n samehangendheid sou kon kry, noop die leser om haar eie verbindings tussen woorde, klanke en frases te maak. Op ‘n soortgelyke wyse identifiseer ek verskeie aspekte wat die deursigtige versending van taaluitinge in die werk van sekere Suid-Afrikanse performance poets belemmer. Hierdie gedigte kan eerder gelees word as ‘n interrogasie van die proses waardeur die samestelling van die subjek in taal geskied. In hierdie gedigte bewoon die ―ek‖ vlietend ‘n verskeidenheid verskuiwende subjek-posisies. Die wisselwerking van verskillende media dra ook by tot die vermenigvuldiging van subjek-posisies, en loop uit op ‘n performatiewe uitbeelding van die destabilisering van die digterlike ―self.‖ Digters en performers is tot ‘n mate vry om met die vertroebelingsmoontlikhede van taal te eksperimenteer. Omdat die taal-aktiwiteite van digters en performers gewoonlik binne die orde van simboliese of metaforiese taal val, kan hul eksperimentering met die nie-kommunikatiewe oormaat van taal binne hierdie raamwerk verstaan word. Hierdie oormaat kan egter nie binne die orde van letterlike of forensiese taal geakkommodeer word nie. Ten slotte voer ek aan dat ‘n fokus op die materialiteit van taal alternatiewe verstaansraamwerke moontlik maak, waardeur ons begrip van die verhouding tussen taal, subjektiwiteit en representasie in die Suid-Afrikaanse publieke diskoers verbreed kan word. In my slothoofstuk oorweeg ek wat gebeur as die kwessies wat deur die bogenoemde performatiewe taal-aktiwiteite opgeroep word – vrae rondom die self en die subjek, outoriteit en representasie – binne ‘n forensiese raamwerk na die diskoers van getuienis oorgedra word

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