Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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Dan Green

"If it's not referential, it's not language."

Well, now you've defined the whole debate out of existence. You can do that if you like, but it's patently obvious that when, e.g., Silliman wants to call attention to the signifier he's not suggesting that words lose their relationship to their established meanings. The effort is to work against those established meanings by calling attention to the signifier. You can say that this isn't possible all you want, but that doesn't make it so.

Matthew Merlino

Well no, it's very possible to call attention to the signifier. But there's nothing radical or new about it. All sound devices call attention to the signifier. All linebreaks and stanza forms call attention to the typography. But all that is different than Silliman's claim that "the new sentence is the first prose technique to identify the signifier [language itself]. . . as the locus of literary meaning."

What does that even mean? Every prose stylist with a sense of rhythm and balance and shapeliness knows that the signifier is important in shaping the meaning of a sentence. And what are those brackets there? In no sense is the signifier the same as language itself. Language is a signifier and a signified, unless you buy the Derridean claim that all signifieds are simply more signifiers, a claim that seems roundly disproven to me.

And how can putting a spotlight on the physical shape or sound of letters work against a word's established meaning? If I write, "The dog is white" or "tHe DOG is WhiTE," I'm saying the same thing, even if the latter calls attention to the letters and their shapes. (Of course, "THE DOG IS WHITE" says something a bit different, but only because the conventional way of reading all caps is as a shout.) Even if I write, "Th dg s whte," I don't think I'm changing the meaning of the sentence. I'm just leaving out some vowels.

Dan Green

The brackets are mine. I inserted them in case there were readers of the post who didn't exactly know what it means to talk about "signifiers."

"But there's nothing radical or new about it."

I said that myself. There were writers of prose fiction doing it before Silliman formulated his notions of prose poetry.

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