The Aesthetic Use of Syntax: Studies on the Syntax of the Poetry of E. E. Cummings
Cureton, Richard Dozier
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- The Aesthetic Use of Syntax: Studies on the Syntax of the Poetry of E. E. Cummings
- Cureton, Richard Dozier
- Date of Publication
- Department of Study
- Degree Granting Institution
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Degree Name
- Degree Level
- Language, Linguistics
- On the theoretical level, this dissertation develops, illustrates, and documents an 11-point typology of syntactic aesthetic effects which provides a working theoretical model for the study of the aesthetic use of syntax. Following Leech and Nowottny, it is argued that these effects represent the various ways authors and speakers use syntax to "particularize" (perceptually, emotively, and conceptually) the informational content of a text of discourse--these effects being the syntactic realizations of more general aesthetic effects (i.e., iconicity, focus, emphasis, pace, tension, surprise, ambiguity, development, parallelism, transcendence, and stance) which can also be produced at other levels of linguistic structure (phonetic, orthographic, morphological, or semantic) or by other aspects of literary form (e.g., poetic line, metrical structure, or narrative perspective).
- It is argued that, by providing a direct link between linguistic structures and aesthetic functions, this theoretical model can serve as a much-needed corrective to the overly formal analyses of literary syntax in linguistic stylistics while providing a productive supplement to the overly content-oriented analyses of literary syntax in the mainstream of literary research and pedagogy. This theoretical model, it is maintained, provides a framework within which one can make statements about, not just the formal, but the aesthetic styles of speakers and authors across historical periods, literary genres, and levels/aspects of linguistic and literary structures--thus making a truly aesthetic rather than merely formal poetics possible.
- On the practical level, the dissertation applies this theoretical model to the analysis of several previously unexamined aspects of E. E. Cummings' syntax--demonstrating that a broad range of Cummings' syntactic deviations produce poetically significant aesthetic effects. Chapter 2 examines how Cummings exploits the semantic constraints on English derivational morphology (un-, -ingly, -fully, -lessly, -ly and the nominal conversion of quantifiers, pronouns, verbs, and function words) to populate his transcendental poetic "world" with dynamic, personal, self-conscious, unique objects and individuals--regardless of normal referential distinctions; Chapter 3 provides a semantic analysis of Cummings' much discussed line "he danced his did"--demonstrating that the conversion of did to a noun and dance to a transitive verb leads to complex, poetically productive ambiguity; Chapter 4 illustrates Cummings' use of fifteen types of syntactic icons (icons of existence, substance, complexity, spatial contiguity, inclusion, inversion, symmetry, disorder, fusion, occurrence, movement, temporal contiguity, simultaneity, interruption, and intrusion) through which he perceptually "presents" the thematic content of his poems; Chapter 5 explores the ways in which Cummings exploits the semantic constraints on the order of prenominal modifiers in English to convey his poetic epistemology which asserts the abnormal centrality of the projective, unique, close, immeasurable, subjective and value-laden attributes of objects; and Chapter 6 analyzes how Cummings orchestrates the syntax in one poem ("supposing i dreamed this)") to simultaneously produce five different aesthetic effects which support the thematic content of the poem. In conclusion, it is argued that, taken together, these five studies demonstrate the critical power of this aesthetically-oriented approach to the analysis of literary syntax while at the same time laying the foundation for a reevaluation of the aesthetic purpose and success of Cummings' unique syntactic style.
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