Philosophy and the Poetic Imagination
by E. Lepore & M. Stone, 2012
We spend our days
Talk Write and
Through a burgeoning array
Of forms and
But MOST of US
Rarely STOP to THINK
Or how come
It all seems to happen naturally
Or the merely
Sometimes confront these
But it is a job
To linguists and
That's a willful mangling of the first paragraph of a nice piece over at the New York Times on poetic interpretation, by Rutgers Cognitive Scientists Ernie Lepore and Matthew Stone. The article centers on a cute analysis of some found poetry, which is used to make a broader philosophical point about the role of interpretation in communication.
Found poetry? That's what I was attempting above. A well known example is the wonderful but well worn poetic reworking of Rumsfeld's speeches at Slate. The reason Lepore and Stone discuss the found poetry genre is that it invites us to contrast minimal pairs of straight texts and poeticized versions of the same texts, and thus gives a vivid demonstration of something much more general, the alternative interpretations open for a given text, and the active role that reading and interpretation plays in giving any text meaning.
All rather postmodernist, no? Denying an inherent objective meaning to a text, so that the deconstructing observer can make Derridean hay? Or perhaps you hear an Eco of late 20th century semiotics? But actually, neither are really what Stone and Lepore are getting at: their point, I take it, is that the way we process language contains both the possibility of artistic reinterpretation, and the possibility of precise, scientific communication. The active-ness of interpretation that is obvious when processing poetry, and which can recast any utterance in a way the speaker never intended, is the same active process that is needed in order to figure out what the speaker actually does mean.
Well, I'll leave you to make of the NYT piece what you will. But before you go read it, perhaps you'd like something better than my meager attempt at the found poetry genre? I can do no better than offering you one of this year's internet sensations, a piece of found linguistic brilliance that merits a sociolinguistics conference all by itself, Sweet Brown's "Ain't nobody got time fo that":
p.s. Your favorite (but, ideally, short) bits of found poetry are welcome as comments.
(Hat tips for links: Moni Kiraly, Nic Kaczorowski.)