[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

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

Since I posted on the Festschrift for Ruqaiya and Mike replied there has
been no discussion on verbal art or "Visions of Johanna" on the list. True,
I have received several posts off list to the effect that my critique of
the Dylan song was philistine and motivated by Marxism. So...well, dear
reader, to make a short story long...I went and listened to the song for
the first time (yes, Henry, red-faced, I do confess it; I wrote without
ever having heard the tune, having simply read the lyrics as verbal art).

Now that I HAVE heard the song, I find that the music strongly confirms my
reading of the lyrics. The original "Blonde on Blonde" version, with
Dylan's characteristic auctioneer howl in lieu of tonic stresses, defiantly
draws attention to the inability of the singer to carry a tune. This does,
in fact, resonate with the symbolic articulation, the self-disgust, the
coyness of referring to the singer in the second person ("When you are
trying to be quiet") in the third person ("the boy in the hall") and even
in the first person (in the lines about Johanna), and the meanness of the
demeaning language about poor Louise. The 1990s version, if anything, is
even more self-loathing and misogynistic in its alternatingly grouchy and
smirky delivery.

So far we have verbalization, and even symbolic articulation, but no clear
theme, and the drug-inspired imagery of the last stanza, which one of the
posts I received points out that I omitted, certainly does not help any
clear theme emerge. Ruqaiya Hasan points out that this existence of a
verbalization and a symbolic articulation is a characteristic of "literary
text" as opposed to "literature text": for example, the speeches of Burke,
the letters of (Samuel) Johnson, and the pamphlets of Defoe, as opposed to
the plays of Shakespeare, the novels of Richardson, or "Robinson Crusoe".

It's not just a matter of fiction vs. non-fiction, since Shakespeare's
histories are not strictly fiction (nor are the speeches of Burke strictly
non-fiction). It's that with literature text, but not with literary texts,
you "free up" the wording, and hence the symbolic articulation, which makes
it possible to renegotiate Saussure's "unwritten contract" to realize
meaning X by wording Y. Hence you can create entirely imaginary meanings,
and renegotiate Rousseau's unwritten contract, by creating imaginary
contexts instead of canonically realizing extant ones.

That's why I think that a biographical reading is not much good in the case
of true literary texts. True literature texts contain imaginary characters,
and the themes of the literary text emerge despite the speakers' best
intentions and against their stated wills.If this happens with Burke's
speeches, or Johnson's letters, or Defoe's pamphlets we attribute it to
their ineptness and not to their genius (or, charitably, to divine
inspiration, demonic possession, or mind-altering substances).

But "Visions of Johanna" is probably not a literature text at all but
rather what Ruqaiya would have called "literary text", so perhaps some
biographical reading is relevant after all. Joan Baez believes that Dylan
is contrasting the seedy self-indulgence of his honeymoon with his first
wife in the Chelsea Hotel with the life of political commitment that
Joan/Johanna had shared with him. Hence her reply to him:


And in this we see what Ruqaiya Hasan defiantly called "the
social-therapeutic function of verbal art".

David Kellogg
Macquarie University

On Wed, Feb 17, 2016 at 1:26 PM, mike cole <mcole@ucsd.edu> wrote:

> 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.
> Mike
> 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