Monday, July 12, 2010

Poets and Songwriters: Are We Stretching the Categories of Thought?

One of the key facts in the analysis of thought via our language seem to be 1) usages that are agreed to be correct but are in fact meaningless or impossible and 2)usages that seem to be forbidden or at least sound funny to the ear. In the first category we may place Chomsky's famous: Colorless green tides sleep furiously. In the latter category we have constructions that Pinker discusses in The Stuff of Thought like "Tex nailed the board with posters" or "The thunder is crying the baby." It occurs to me that both these categories seem to generate really excellent poetic lines, so much so that Pinker's examples which are supposed to sound odd to native ears actually begin to sound pleasing to me from a writer's perspective.

But there is something more here maybe. Putting a string of words together in a syntactically correct but perhaps meaningless way as in Colorless Green Tides, can just be nonsense. How much I like it as poetry would be determined by the images linked together. As for stretching proper construction given the semantics something different seems to be at play. To say the thunder is crying the baby is semantically meaningful, it is arising out the same facts as "the thunder made the baby cry" but somehow heightening what is happening and making it odd as well as setting out a different view of causality and life.

As for Tex nailing the board with posters, that sounds like an angry and excessive thing to do.

I think this needs to be seriously looked at. I need to find actual examples of poetry and song that do these things, rather than noting examples that seem poetic.

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