14 July 2013

Mimologiques - IV

Outline of Gérard Genette's Mimologics. This is part IV (and final) in a series;
see part I, part II or part III.

Chapter 13 – The Age of Names
  • The chapter title refers to the working title for "Swann's way" and announces Proust's Name/Word distinction (proper/common nouns), based not only on the different degree of generality, but also on the quality of the evoked images:
    • neutral, transparent and inactive for words, it is
    • muddled (confuse) and intricate for names, via the association with the extra-linguistic representation of the person or place.
  • This "active relation" between names and things is quite complex; it applies equally to real and invented names.
  •  Interesting conclusion:
[…] like Socrates, Marcel successively takes over both roles: the Cratylist hero becomes (and this evolution is one of the lessons of this Bildungsroman) the Hermogenist narrator, which will necessarily have the last word, as the one who "holds the pen". Critique of language, triumph of writing.

    Chapter 14 – The Stakes of Writing
      • Paul Claudel's Cratylism evolved (over almost half a century) from an obvious statement to an intimate conviction held in the face of overwhelming contradicting evidence. Claudel is mostly concerned with mimography, rather than with mimophony.
      • He reconciles mimologism and the linguistic arbitrary by using the same strategy as Sartre, i.e. drawing a distinction between ordinary language (which designates objects) and poetic language (which signifies them) [as we saw in Chapter 12, Sartre introduces the dichotomy between poetic sense and prosaic signification].
      • This artificial character of poetry is at odds with Claudel's admiration for popular language. His mimologism is neither primary (concerning natural language), nor secondary (as for poetry), but rather fictitious (ludic Cratylism, opposed to unavoidable Hermogenism).
      Chapter 15 – Signe: Singe
      • The title is untranslatable (and so is a large part of this chapter).
      • Michel Leiris describes the transition from the child's language to the adult one: children "invent" (or at least justify) their language autonomously, without feeling bound by the existing conventions. In a way, they act as sovereign nomothetes.
      Chapter 16 – Taking Sides with Words
      • The chapter title (Le Parti pris des mots) alludes to Francis Ponge's Le Parti pris des choses (1942), in an already Cratylist move, but also to Ponge's credo: parti pris des choses égal compte tenu des mots ("taking sides with things equals taking account of words", in Morgan's translation).
      • Like objects, words have three dimensions: their image, sound and signification. The latter corresponds to the multiple meanings acquired during the historical evolution of words.
      • One of many examples: Braque recalls Bach and baroque1, while the shape of the capital B resembles a guitar (a recurring element in Braque's paintings).
      Chapter 17 – The Genre and Gender of Reverie
      • Besides his mimophonic Cratylism, Gaston Bachelard contributes an analysis of the metaphorical gender of names, which is for Genette a consequence (and, for other authors, the cause) of grammatical gender.
      • Explaining the gender of a noun is part of the mimological strategy; such an explanation is particularly relevant for languages lacking a neutral gender: how are then inanimates distributed between the feminine and masculine genders? Here, as elsewhere, the "arbitrariness of the linguistic sign" cannot satisfy the Cratylist.
      • Several justifications were proposed over time:
        • phonological: some vowels are more "virile" than others.
        • semantic: corresponding to the active/passive distinction.
        • metaphorical: two components that suggest a sexual relation: the (masculine) sky fecundates the fertile (and feminine) earth.
      • Bachelard was famously interested in the four elements and their analogy to poetic inspiration. He also classifies them according to their gender: masculine (air and fire) and feminine (water and earth).

      Chapter 18 – Mimophony Restricted

      This substantial final chapter is -ostensibly- about the vowel/consonant distinction, but Genette takes the opportunity to revisit some of the themes and authors discussed earlier in the book.
      •  Vowels are to consonants as:
        • matter is to shape (Valéry)
        • color is to shape (in painting)
        • motion is to the body
        • the patient is to the agent (the consonant articulates the vowel, i.e. applies its form to it) and, as seen in the previous chapter, this implies the
        • feminine/masculine distinction
      • Furthermore, some authors consider vowels/consonants as dominant in:
        • primitive/mature languages (or vice versa, as for Hugo)
        • Southern/Northern languages
      • The correspondence of vowels to colors for various authors (before and after Rimbaud)
      • There is an almost universally accepted correspondence between the various vowels and aspects such as small/large or high-/low-pitch (for sounds).
      • Consonants are perceived as "smooth" or "rough" according to their articulation
      •  Once these regularities are established, the Cratylist can ask whether actual languages respect them, in particular in onomatopoeia.
      • The "controversy" between Saussure and Jespersen concerning the origin of words, their mimological value and their longevity.
      • Recognizing the distinction between sounds (phonetically defined) and phonemes (defined by their linguistic function) erodes the Cratylist position, since languages are not composed by sounds (not essentially, at least)! [This reasoning applies to mimophony; I suppose that a completely analogous one can be developed against mimography.]
      •  Returning to the classification given in Chapter 4: A/B/C - the language must be/can be/is mimetic, Genette considers that modern linguistics (represented by Karl Bühler) answers "no" to A and C but gives no definite answer to B, not for lack of arguments, but simply because the object of the debate has changed: the realist and substantialist attitude was replaced by the ideality of the linguistic signifier.

          1. For Genette, this similarity is along the third dimension (that of signification), and not sound-related. In fact, he considers that Ponge hardly ever uses the second "dimension".

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