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[Xmca-l] Re: "Visions of Johanna" as Verbal Art

Super reading, David

Your description of "theme" and knowledge you are reading FilmForm put me
in a frame to see theme exemplified by the title of Eisenshtein films with
single words that appear to be themes- Strike, Battleship Potemkin, the
unity that emerges from. And is "more than" the sum of its parts.

Or so I was thinking while reading.

On Tuesday, February 16, 2016, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com> wrote:

> Larry (sorry for the long post--but I know you are a dogged reader!):
> I think I mentioned, somewhere on this list, that amongst Ruqaiya Hasan’s
> many contributions to cultural historical thinking and theorizing was her
> work on verbal art. As it happens, there is a major event going on here in
> Sydney in memory of Ruqaiya, and today was the workshop on Ruqaiya’s model
> of verbal art as “second order semiosis”, or “patterns of patterns”.
> Let me give a vulgar interpretation of her model that would probably have
> made Ruqaiya scream, but which I think it consistent with using her model
> in a pedagogical (not a research) context. Then I’ll apply it to two works:
> Larry’s “Visions of Johanna” and a poem by the late Mahmoud Darwish,
> “Nothing Pleases Me” (exhaustive texts follow this exhaustingly long post
> below)
> You, Larry, must judge, although dare to hope my analysis will nudge. I
> want to nudge you away from a purely subjective interpretation one way or
> the other and in the direction of my preference. (Notice that I do not
> consider my own preference purely subjective—let’s see if that is a piece
> of arrogance I can justify!)
> The first layer of Ruqaiya’s model is verbalization. In Barthes,
> “verbalization” is simply represented by “signifier” and signified”, which
> then becomes a signifier for a higher signified. Ruqaiya does the same
> thing in a crucially more complex and more interesting way: she represents
> verbalization as three layers (sound/spelling, vocabulary/grammar, and
> semantics/pragmatics), and these three layers then become the verbalization
> for two more layers, “symbolic articulation”, which are the patterns of
> wording patterns, and “theme”, which are consistent patterns in the
> symbolic articulation (patterns of [patterns of patterns]).
> In the layer of verbalization, “Visions of Johanna” repeats. In fact, many
> of the wordings are chosen for their soundings: the “tail” of the line is
> repeated, and the head is varied, both at the level of the word (“deny
> it”/”defy it” ) and the clause (“doin’ our best to deny it”, “temptin’ you
> to defy it” ). This, and the ending of each verse with “Visions of
> Johanna”, produce a kind of insistence, which is reinforced at the level of
> vocabulary/grammar by a monotony of syntax (declarative after declarative,
> all by the same person) and at the level of meaning by a monotony of
> speaker (the same speaker says the same thing again and again, namely that
> his current girlfriend and the lively life around them pleases him but he
> misses Johanna, who had something more ethereal about her).
> In the layer of verbalization “Nothing Pleases Me” varies. There is
> repetition but it is not at the level of sounding/spelling; instead it is
> at the level of meaning: all of the speakers are displeased with life. The
> reasons for their displeasure are different: the first man is dissatisfied
> with the radio and the papers and the citadels far away on the hills. The
> mother has recently buried her son; the archaeologist has chosen the wrong
> profession, and the soldier is afraid at the front but even more so in the
> barracks. Even the bus driver seems displeased—with the passengers.
> The next layer of Ruqaiya’s model is “symbolic articulation”. Concretely,
> the imaginary situation, the imaginary speakers, and the imaginary problems
> of the work. It’s not just this—as Jonathan Webster (City Uni Hong Kong)
> pointed out today, it’s really almost any instance of “foregrounding” in an
> artwork—the problem is that describing it this way doesn’t set verbal art
> apart from verbal non-art, whereas describing it as an imaginary setting of
> the scene, a creating of characters, and a posing of problems.
> The symbolic articulation of “Visions of Johanna” is really the same as
> “Gone With the Wind”. That is, the speaker is making love to one person and
> dreaming of another. But what was despicable and in the end unforgiveable
> in “Gone With the Wind” is presented as somehow admirable and wonderful in
> “Visions of Johanna”, because of course the speaker in this case is a man.
> The symbolic articulation of “Nothing Pleases Me” is, among other things,
> death: death on the radio, death in the newspapers, the faraway citadels, a
> mother bereaved, a soldier besieged, an archaeologist excavating bones that
> are not her own or those of anyone she knows, and finally the speaker who
> is weary of life and just wants to get off at the station.
> The final layer of Ruqaiya’s model is “Theme”. “Theme” is title. It’s not
> just title, but the title is probably the part of the verbal artwork where
> you get closest to an explicit linguistic statement of the overall
> “thesis”, the “motif”, the “Central Entity” and the “Orienting Event”
> (Carmel Cloran) of the work as a “Rhetorical Unit” (that is, as a unit
> somewhere between a clause and a whole text in size).
> “Visions of Johanna” is a nominal group. The overall thesis appears to be
> memories of a beautiful woman (memories of my old girlfriend) or perhaps
> the ecstatic visions of a saint (visions of Teresa of Avila). The central
> entity is “visions”, and “Johanna” is a rankshfted (subordinated) verbal
> group, leaning us a little towards the former interpretation (because the
> latter interpretation would suggest “Johanna’s Visions”). The orienting
> event is a mental process—seeing, or sensing.
> “Nothing Pleases Me” is a clause. The overall thesis appears to be a
> negative: I love nothing, I like nothing, I am not getting what I want, and
> I am not wanting what I get. The central entity is the grammatical Subject
> of the clause, namely “nothing”. The orienting event is also a mental
> process, namely “pleasing”.
> Now, the thing that makes verbal ART into art and not just more
> verbalization is this. In normal verbalization, the selection of patterns
> is conventional, in the sense that there are canonical ways of realizing a
> given context as wordings and a given wording as a sounding or a spelling.
> With verbal art, the patterns at one level are actually able to free
> themselves from convention, and create their own ways of realizing context
> and their own imaginary contexts.
> As David Butt (one of Ruqaiya’s students) said yesterday, the patterns of
> patterns have the power to “renegotiate our contract with culture”, because
> although you didn’t really agree to believe in God or ethereal love at
> first sight or the citadel on the hill when you were born, verbal art has
> the power to help you renegotiate each and every one of those beliefs). The
> condition for doing this, however, is that patterns at one level have to
> reinforce and not degrade or distract or disperse patterns at another.
> With “Visions of Johanna” we have lots of patterns at the level of sounding
> that make little sense at the level of wording (Is “it” the same in “deny
> it” as in “defy it”?). We have patterns at the level of wording that rather
> contradict what the poet is trying to say at the level of meaning (for
> example, we do not get a single “Vision of Johanna” although we are told
> that they have conquered the poet’s mind and blotted out everything else;
> instead, for us, Louise blots out Johanna). As with so much Bob Dylan, the
> theme is simply unspoken; the theme is the speaker himself, the seer of
> visions we do not see
> With “Nothing Pleases Me”, the speaker is also in the theme (the “me” of
> “Nothing Pleases Me”) but the patterns of sounding/spelling emphasize that
> we are all differently displeased, including the reader, just as we all die
> alone. And yet there is something in the end that holds us together—the
> bus, the driver, and the trip to the station. Where once again we all part.
> David Kellogg
> Macquarie University
> Visions of Johanna (Bob Dylan)
> in't it just like the night to play tricks when you're tryin' to be so
> quiet?
> We sit here stranded, though we're all doin' our best to deny it
> And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin' you to defy it
> Lights flicker from the opposite loft
> In this room the heat pipes just cough
> The country music station plays soft
> But there's nothing, really nothing to turn off
> Just Louise and her lover so entwined
> And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind
> In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman's bluff with the key chain
> And the all-night girls they whisper of escapades out on the "D" train
> We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight
> Ask himself if it's him or them that's insane
> Louise, she's all right, she's just near
> She's delicate and seems like the mirror
> But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
> That Johanna's not here
> The ghost of 'lectricity howls in the bones of her face
> Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place
> Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously
> He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
> And when bringing her name up
> He speaks of a farewell kiss to me
> He's sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all
> Muttering small talk at the wall while I'm in the hall
> How can I explain?
> It's so hard to get on
> And these visions of Johanna, they kept me up past the dawn
> Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial
> Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
> But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
> You can tell by the way she smiles
> See the primitive wallflower freeze
> When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
> Hear the one with the mustache say, "Jeez, I can't find my knees"
> Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
> But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel
> Nothing Pleases Me (Mahmoud Darwish)
> - محمود درويش "لاشيء يعجبني"
> لا شيءَ يُعْجبُني
> لا شيءَ يُعْجبُني
> يقول مسافرٌ في الباصِ – لا الراديو
> .ولا صُحُفُ الصباح , ولا القلاعُ على التلال
> /أُريد أن أبكي
> ,يقول السائقُ: انتظرِ الوصولَ إلى المحطَّةِ
> /وابْكِ وحدك ما استطعتَ
> تقول سيّدةٌ: أَنا أَيضاً. أنا لا
> ’شيءَ يُعْجبُني. دَلَلْتُ اُبني على قبري
> /فأعْجَبَهُ ونامَ’ ولم يُوَدِّعْني
> يقول الجامعيُّ: ولا أَنا ’ لا شيءَ
> يعجبني. دَرَسْتُ الأركيولوجيا دون أَن
> أَجِدَ الهُوِيَّةَ في الحجارة. هل أنا
> /حقاً أَنا؟
> ويقول جنديٌّ: أَنا أَيضاً. أَنا لا
> شيءَ يُعْجبُني . أُحاصِرُ دائماً شَبَحاً
> /يُحاصِرُني
> يقولُ السائقُ العصبيُّ: ها نحن
> اقتربنا من محطتنا الأخيرة’ فاستعدوا
> /...للنزول
> فيصرخون: نريدُ ما بَعْدَ المحطَّةِ’
> !فانطلق
> أمَّا أنا فأقولُ: أنْزِلْني هنا . أنا
> مثلهم لا شيء يعجبني ’ ولكني تعبتُ
> .من السِّفَرْ
> Nothing Pleases Me
> Nothing pleases me
> the traveler on the bus says—Not the radio
> or the morning newspaper, nor the citadels on the hills.
> I want to cry /
> The driver says: Wait until you get to the station,
> then cry alone all you want /
> A woman says: Me too. Nothing
> pleases me. I guided my son to my grave,
> he liked it and slept there, without saying goodbye /
> A college student says: Nor does anything
> please me. I studied archaeology but didn’t
> find identity in stone. Am I
> really me? /
> And a soldier says: Me too. Nothing
> pleases me. I always besiege a ghost
> besieging me /
> The edgy driver says: Here we are
> almost near our last stop, get ready
> to get off . . . /
> Then they scream: We want what’s beyond the station,
> keep going!
> As for myself I say: Let me off here. I am
> like them, nothing pleases me, but I’m worn out
> from travel.
> -from "The Butterfly's Burden", translated by Fady Joudah (translation
> copyright © 2007 Copper Canyon Press)


It is the dilemma of psychology to deal as a natural science with an object
that creates history. Ernst Boesch