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This review is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.

THE POET AS COUNTER-AGENT Christopher Dewdney, Alter Sublime (Coach House Press, Toronto) n.p.

In his monograph Parasite Maintenance, reprinted in Alter Sublime, Christopher Dewdney puts forward three propositions: firstly 'that the evolution of language, inextricably bound with the evolution of our consciousness as a species, has diverged from its parallel & dependent status with the human species and has become "animated", i.e. has . . . taken on a life of its own'; secondly 'that special linguistic qualities peculiar to the English language indicate the existence of a "Governor" (in a mechanistic sense) with which the "animated" language acts on the individual, restricting the limits of conceptualization'; and thirdly 'that the specialised use of linguistic inventions by the poet enables him to transcend the domain of the "Governor", through the use of a special neural system singular to the ontogeny of the writer'. Whether Dewdney's model of the neural system is valid or not, the significance of his argument lies in his insistence that poetic use of language, or rather poetic thought, differs not in form but in kind from other uses of language or modes of thought, and that its characteristic is the connection and connections of thought which evade the customary controls over the language. The poet, therefore, Dewdney remarks, is placed 'in the same vanguard of research as physics, molecular chemistry and pure mathematics'.

The argument contradicts a commonly held notion of the place of poetry and has important epistemological and historical implications-it was on a similar basis that Vico raised his philosophy of history. But it ...


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