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This article is taken from PN Review 92, Volume 19 Number 6, July - August 1993.


DESPITE THE BASIC reference to Plato's Cratylus, my purpose in these essays has been neither philosophical nor linguistic, but literary. Highlighting the question of the shaping of poetry has allowed investigation of both detailed and general consideration of the visual in relation to the verbal. Attention to letters,

accents and items of punctuation has shown that they participate in the overall economy of an attitude which specifically assumes and requires that notions of form and content are inseparably wedded. Such an attitude is crucial to the maker of poems when forms are not predetermined by tradition. Invention works interactively on a form-content continuum which produces that tingle of excitement by which the grateful reader recognizes poetry.

By putting into relief an aspect of modern poetry which has, in my view, been insufficiently acknowledged by critics, I would not of course wish to suggest that it is more than an approach which supplements (but does not supplant) those which exist. It cannot of itself, however much it may help us to comprehend both certain well known instances and an underlying trend over 150 years, be the sole mode of analysis or the sole criterion for evaluation. Its value resides in the extent to which it makes us more alert and attentive to the textures and motivations of modern French poetry.

Towards the end of his study of jokes and their relation to the unconscious (volume VIII of his Standard Works), Freud uses the phrase ...

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