LINGUOPOETICS AND TIMBRE
report at the annual conference Akhmanova Readings '97
Held at the University of Moscow
Andrei Lipgart & Marklen Konurbayev
Lipgart: We all know how multifarious Professor Akhmanova's interests have been. Even during the last years of her life in spite of her great age she had been actively working and supervising the investigations in so many fields of philology that for an ordinary scholar this enormous and diversified research would seem shapeless and intractable.
It was not so with Olga Sergeevna. It is scarcely possible to name the direction which was most attractive to her, but it is quite easy to enumerate the fields, the directions of philological investigation she was most willingly contributing to during the last years. It was theory of linguistics generally (the relationship between language and thought, language and speech and so on), functional stylistics and LSP, Timbrology and Linguopoetics).
To some of us it appeared paradoxical and even painful. After all, what else could be said about LSP, for example? By that time the above mentioned directions of study had been there for the better part of at least twenty years, innumerable dissertations on the corresponding subjects had been defended, including the doctoral ones, and we often asked ourselves: is it possible to develop them still further, is there any room for fundamental research if everything had been so convincingly shown already?
Such questions greatly amused, or - depending on her mood - greatly irritated Olga Sergeevna. She would immediately react and explain in her inimitable style that the scribes and Pharisees should not be allowed anywhere near the University and that scientific investigation is endless by definition. She would say a lot more, of course, but the idea would be roughly the same: philological investigation is an incessant quest for meaning. It is a quest that can be finished with each particular scholar when his life comes to an end, but this quest will continue so long as there remain people genuinely interested in the subject.
Konurbayev: Olga Sergeevna was fortunate to have had plenty of pupils and to have founded a philological school in the proper sense of the word; the representatives of this school continue to work in the specified directions even after their teacher's death and explore the questions which have so far remained unanswered.
One of such problems is the relationship between Timbre and Linguopoetics, the way the aesthetic artistic qualities of a literary text should be rendered when reading this text aloud, and this is the subject we are going to tackle today: Timbre and Linguopoetics.
Generally speaking, Timbre is not something connected with imaginative writing exclusively. It is a characteristic of any text, but giving its unambiguous definition that would satisfy everybody is not an easy task. There exist various approaches to Timbre even within our school, and the matter is complicated still further by the fact that Timbre is also an object of study in acoustics, psychology (psycholinguistics), experimental phonetics and so on. Being well aware of all these difficulties and having no time to discuss them at length today, in our report we still cannot do without some definition of Timbre. Our understanding of it can be formulated in the following way:
Timbre is a minimum of prosodic parameters inherently present in any text, which are indispensable for its adequate understanding and are necessarily reproduced during its oral performance.
Among these parameters most important are:
Logical and emphatic stresses are included in the ultimate list of parameters because it is through them that one sees (and hears) the main ideas of a text, which would otherwise be buried in the monotony of the descending scale.
The role of the resonators is slightly different. They make the already logically and emphatically marked text still more colourful and expressive; in the traditional understanding of the term, they endow the text with qualities of Timbre 2.
That is briefly what I can say about the definition of Timbre the way I see it.
As I have said in the definition, Timbre is an inherent property of any text, and not only of imaginative writing. Studying the Timbre of scientific prose, legal documents, colloquial speech or any other functional style presents a considerable problem. But, as Olga Sergeevna used to repeat, everything is relative, and the most intricate aspect of timbrological research is connected with studying the acoustic side of texts of verbal art. All timbrological investigations are based on the functional-stylistic description of texts, and in connection with imaginative writing one cannot say anything about Timbre without an extensive preliminary research which is usually done in the course of the linguopoetic analysis of a literary text.
Lipgart: Hence the natural question to ask: what is the relationship between the two, between Timbre and Linguopoetics?
As we all know, one of Olga Sergeevna's main principles was to begin with clarifying the concepts under discussion. The working definition of Timbre has already been adduced; now it is time to give a definition of Linguopoetics.
Here the situation is not much simpler than with the definition of Timbre, and for this reason I will allow myself a digression. As can be seen from the joint report of Velta Janovna Zadornova and Yulia Flyagina, within our linguistic school there exist various ideas concerning the basic theoretical points. It is not the time and the place now to enter on prolonged discussions, and
I would only like to say in passing that none of us should pretend that he or she can utter objective and absolute truth, and that here we only speak about our views on, and our approaches to, some problems.
Having made these reservations I will return to the question of definition and suggest our understanding of Linguopoetics:
Linguopoetics is a branch of philology studying the relative value and the functions of stylistically marked linguistic elements in rendering the artistic content and in creating the aesthetic effect a text of verbal art produces.
We insist that it is only the stylistically marked linguistic elements (in the broadest understanding of the term) that can contribute to creating the aesthetic effect, while others fulfil only the communicative function and remain on the level of the 'packing material', " “", to use Academician Shcherba's terminology.
The discrimination between the two, the aesthetically relevant elements and the packing material, is carried out in the course of the linguostylistic analysis, but at this point Linguostylistics stops. As it has been shown in a number of publications, in literary texts the stylistically marked linguistic elements display their aesthetic potential unevenly: sometimes they just add expressivity to the narration, sometimes they make the reader really contemplate over the corresponding utterance, while in still other cases the metasemiotic potential of these elements is foregrounded, and consequently some additional metaphorical associative planes appear. These finer and more subtle discriminations cannot be done by Linguostylistics which simply has no categories for that; assessing the relative value and the function of the stylistically marked elements of a text belongs entirely to Linguopoetics.
At the same time Linguopoetics has enough of its own sorrow as it were: being primarily a linguistic discipline it should not venture at an exhaustive analysis of all the aesthetic qualities of a text. The aesthetic effect a text of verbal art produces is not confined to language and here both the content and the structure, the composition of a text matter greatly. Discussing these subjects within what is essentially a linguistic investigation is methodologically admissible, but here a philologist, a linguopoetician should be very careful; otherwise he might slip inadvertently into a discussion which is outside his competence and province.
Konurbayev: Now that the essential concepts are defined it is time for us to turn to the main problem and to try and find out what is the relationship between the two, between Timbrology and Linguopoetics:
- what, if anything, comes first,
- what aspects of timbrological investigation are of particular importance for Linguopoetics, and vica versa,
- what aspects of Linguopoetics are essential for Timbrology?
Olga Sergeevna would be murderous if we started to consider these highly involved theoretical problems without giving examples and illustrations. That is why now we haste to introduce the material - a poem by Christina Rossetti so far not very popular at this Department; a text which as we hope would help us to express our ideas with sufficient clarity. This is a lyrical poem, and its main subject is just Love, not Timbre or Linguopoetics:
from Songs for Strangers and Pilgrims
If love is not worth loving, then life is not worth living,
Nor aught is worth remembering but well forgot;
For store is not worth storing and gifts are not worth giving,
If love is not;
And idly cold is death-cold, and life-heat idly hot,
And vain is any offering and vainer our receiving,
And vanity of vanities is all our lot.
Better than life's heaving heart is death's heart unheaving,
Better than the opening leaves are the leaves that rot,
For there is nothing left worth achieving or retrieving,
If love is not.
I have just shown you the way I hear this text. But why do I hear it this way? Are there any objective indications in the text that it should sound the way I have read it? Am I to use here some particular timbre which is appropriate to such kind of poetry? These are the questions to be regarded here, and they have got little to do with an individual interpretation of a text.
Lipgart: Although I hear this text a bit differently, I do not think that variation within philological reading might lead to breaking some invariant and that the differences would be that conspicuous and significant. Of course, in reciting poetic texts - like in singing pieces from operas, for example - there is always room for individual subjective perception: great artists recite Hamlet's monologue differently, and great divas also suggest their interpretations of some musical pieces, for otherwise the connoisseurs would not compare, say, Maria Callas in Bellini's "Norma" with Montserrat Caballe singing the same part.
All this is true, but here we would like to make absolutely clear that at the moment we are not concerned with the individual. On the contrary, we seek the general and the unifying in the hope that after a sufficient amount of knocking it will eventually open us. Now it is my turn to read the same text: If love is not worth loving, then life is not worth living, Nor aught is worth remembering but well forgot; For store is not worth storing and gifts are not worth giving, If love is not;
And idly cold is death-cold, and life-heat idly hot, And vain is any offering and vainer our receiving, And vanity of vanities is all our lot. Better than life's heaving heart is death's heart unheaving, Better than the opening leaves are the leaves that rot, For there is nothing left worth achieving or retrieving, If love is not.
Konurbayev: I believe that our reading - let us call it philological reading - was practically identical. We have deliberately tried to avoid any attempts at histrionically performing the text, for here the Callas-Caballe-like competition would be completely out of place. Nevertheless I think everybody would agree that on the whole my colleague sounded more expressive. Is it because he sees some inherent properties of the text which I have failed to observe, or is it still something subjective? To answer this question we shall have to consider the text more carefully.
We have read the first two lines in the same way: If love is not worth loving, then life is not worth living, Nor aught is worth remembering but well forgot;
Lipgart: Not exactly, I am afraid. I made a pause before 'forgot' and in general paid greater attention to the rhythm: If love is not worth loving, then life is not worth living, Nor aught is worth remembering but well forgot;
I have also tried to emphasise the semantic contrast in the coming two lines: For store is not worth storing and gifts are not worth giving, If love is not; while with you it was more levelled out, as it were, more monotonous.
Konurbayev: I understand what you mean. In my rendering, really, there was more of the glide down than in your reading: For store is not worth storing and gifts are not worth giving, If love is not;
Very much the same applies to the coming three lines, in which I specially stressed only the words 'idly', 'hot', 'vainer' and, probably, 'lot' - simply because it occurs in a rhythmically strong position in the end of the line before the full stop: And idly cold is death-cold, and life-heat idly hot, And vain is any offering and vainer our receiving, And vanity of vanities is all our lot.
Lipgart: On my part, I tried to make the semantic contrast more vivid, and that is why more stresses were introduced: And idly cold is death-cold, and life-heat idly hot, And vain is any offering and vainer our receiving, And vanity of vanities is all our lot.
In the last stanza the difference between the two readings remained the same: more stresses and more pauses in my case, more levelling and less contrasts in your performance: Better than life's heaving heart is death's heart unheaving, Better than the opening leaves are the leaves that rot, For there is nothing left worth achieving or retrieving, If love is not.
Konurbayev: I remember reading it the following way: Better than life's heaving heart is death's heart unheaving,
Better than the opening leaves are the leaves that rot, For there is nothing left worth achieving or retrieving, If love is not.
So with you we had more stresses and pauses and consequently greater expressivity, while with me it was more levelled out as regards both the stresses and the pauses. Now that the discrepancies are shown, it is time to think of their nature. If we were to interpret it using the descriptive timbrological approach I would say that in my case it was the lyrical-elegiac timbre, while you tried to keep on the dramatic side. But this explanation in fact elucidates little, if anything at all, because then we should discuss the genre properties of this text and start using literary critical terminology which is in general far from perfect, and which is simply a mess when it comes to genres. Do you think there is some other way of explaining the differences we have just observed?
Lipgart: If the traditional timbrological explanations seem to be of little help, why not try the linguopoetic interpretation? It could be done on the basis of the generally respected three-level analysis, beginning with the semantic level, then rising to the metasemiotic one and then turning to the metametacontent of the text. But in our case I think we should cut the long story short and work in accordance with the principle of 'inverse directionality' suggested by Olga Sergeevna during the last days of her life and elaborated in my graduation paper in 1992. This principle consists in a scholar first formulating the main idea of the text and then seeing how it is revealed on the linguistic level, thus arriving at a better understanding of the interplay of the content and the form. In a sense it resembles the philological circle of Leo Spitzer, but the latter proceeded from the main stylistic feature, while with us it is the content that comes first. So, what is this text about and what are the stylistically marked and aesthetically significant, linguopoetically relevant elements raising the text above the merely communicative piece of writing?
Konurbayev: . On the semantic level this text presents no difficulties - maybe, with the exception of the rather unusual adjectives 'heaving' - 'unheaving'. To be more exact, these are adjectivized participles I of the verb 'to heave' which has the meanings "lift or drag something with great effort" and "rise and fall regularly". A more sophisticated reader influenced by the line 'And vanity of vanities is all our lot' would probably remember in this connection that in the Books of the Old Testament one sometimes comes across phrases like 'for an heave offering of the Lord' (Numbers, 31:29,) and 'the heave shoulder and the wave breast' (Leviticus, 10:15, "). All this gives a definitely biblical colouring to the poem, but its main idea, to my mind, is pretty obvious: nothing under the sun is of any value if love is not.
Lipgart: Now the question is, how is this idea expressed? It is a poem written in iambic hexameter with the regular alteration of the rhymed lines with feminine and masculine clausulae in the first and the third stanzas, where the semantically meaningful fourth lines ('If love is not') violate the basic metrical pattern and contain only two stressed syllables. The violation of the basic pattern is also seen in the second stanza which lacks the fourth (or rather, the first) line and in which we observe two masculine clausulae and one feminine. There is a caesura in the lines with the feminine clausulae which either emphasises the contrast between the parts it separates from each other ('If love is not worth loving, then life is not worth living') or marks a pause between the semantically similar parts ('For store is not worth storing and gifts are not worth giving') or - still another variant - prepares the reader to the gradual growth of the dramatic tension, as it were, like in 'And vain is any offering and vainer our receiving'.
That is all I can say about the poem in terms of the theory of versification.
Konurbayev: As for the other levels of the linguostylistic organisation of the text, I have little more to say, for the main peculiarities have already been mentioned in connection with the metrical patterns. Lexical contrasts in the text arise from bringing together either pairs like 'store is not worth storing' within the repeated morphological pattern 'a noun versus gerund', or the attributive word combinations of a possessive case of a noun plus adjective plus noun type ('life's heaving heart' and 'death's heart unheaving') or the attributive word combination 'the opening leaves' versus the noun plus an attributive phrase 'the leaves that rot'; the amount of lexical similarities (though sometimes there lurks a slight contrast even there) - the amount of such similarities is less considerable, they are to be found, I believe, only in the lines with 'vain', 'vainer', vanity'.
All this makes the poem rather expressive and metasemiotically marked and helps the author to present the main idea in this highly original form.
I think we both paid attention to these contrasts and that there can be no other opinion as for the general idea of the text which we both tried to render in our reading. Very naturally, there are shades of expressivity which have been retained or reproduced by us differently, or rather, to a different extent, and here the question of timbre comes in.
Lipgart: Of course it does, it does come in, only not as a separate question but as something connected with the further detailing, the further amplification of the linguopoetic analysis which in your case was not entirely in keeping with the principle of inverse directionality.
What I mean here is this. It is well known that theory of versification had existed since time immemorial and that through centuries it has developed a tongue-twisting terminology which when used aimlessly confounds the ignorant, appals the free and with great efficiency makes mad everybody else. The same applies to the subtle morphosyntactic and lexical descriptions and to drawing parallels between texts in connection with the possible allusions. To make all this priceless material work we should think of handling it more carefully and analysing it in closer connection with the main idea of the text the way we see it. Then perhaps this question of timbre would really become clearer to us.
True, in the first stanza we observe the semantic contrasts and morpho-syntactic parallelisms marked off by the above mentioned caesurae and clausulae. Variation in the way we stress the words of the same root involved in these patterns (love - loving, gifts - giving and so on) is understandable, and I am ready to admit that maybe I have overdone the thing and have been over-emphatic, like a teacher in the classroom explaining something obvious to a group of not terribly bright students.
If the same patterns were retained in the coming two stanzas my emphatic rendering of them would be simply ridiculous, and monotony and dispassionate alienation would be the only correct way of reading the text; whatever the amount of illustrations to the main idea, semantically and metasemiotically they would have been the same, and hence there would have been identity on the level of the linguopoetic function and the linguopoetic value of these elements.
But it is not the case.
As my colleague has rightly remarked, these patterns are я_not retained in what comes next. Instead of 'And death-cold is idly cold, and life-heat is idly hot, And any offering is vain and our receiving is vainer' or something of this kind (I deliberately destroy the rhythm to give you an idea of what the pattern should have been), we have here inversions throughout. The absence of the first (or the fourth) line and the use of the 'vanity of vanities' quotation altogether breaks the pattern which has been just being formed in the previous stanza. As a result in these three lines the use of the stylistically marked linguistic elements changes as compared to the first stanza. Their linguopoetic value is different because here their display their aesthetic potential to the utmost, the global foregrounding takes place; as for the linguopoetic function, here an obvious gnomic dimension appears. Hence the increase of logical stresses, the greater articulateness and the greater dynamism of enunciation. All these would be misplaced in the first stanza, where one cannot speak seriously of a global foregrounding and where the linguistic function is confined to mere expressivity.
The same applies to the third stanza. Although its structure is much closer to that of the first one, still the dramatic tension here does not decrease. Its opening line - 'Better than life's heaving heart is death's heart unheaving' - is literally overloaded with semantic contrasts (life's - death's, 'heaving' - 'unheaving'), and for this reason one cannot be lulled by the restoration of the previously violated pattern.
In the next line ('Better than the opening leaves are the leaves that rot') the basic lexical contrast finds no morphological parallelism which again leads to breaking the pattern. In the last but one line ('for there is nothing left worth achieving or retrieving') the musculine, instead of the usual feminine, caesura is used, which also contributes to the same. Thus, in the last stanza the stylistically marked lexical, morphological, syntactic and rhythmical elements display their aesthetic potential to the full extent, and against this background the possible understanding of this text as a dispassionate leisurely contemplation over the nature of things in general begins to look a bit inadequate.
I hope you have noticed that the linguopoetic analysis of the first seven lines I have suggested is based on our linguostylistic description of the material. The one additional point here is that I have tried to assess the linguopoetic function and the relative value of the linguistic elements under discussion. All this is meant to help me justify my kind of reading, to choose an appropriate timbre, and I cherish the thought that it has got little to do with the lunacies of an impetuous and imperious school teacher.
Konurbayev: If we had time, we could also turn to the facts of Christina Rossetti's biography, to the letters she had written to various people and show that dispassionate alienation is completely out of keeping with her views on life and her active attitude to it. But this, I am afraid, would lead us too far in the maze of the historical information, and at the moment we shall confine ourselves to a more strict linguostylistically based analysis. In this case we should simply say that the linguopoetic investigation we have conducted does not justify the dispassionate alienated manner of reading, and for this reason the actual oral representation, the Timbre with which the text is read becomes closer to that of an ode or a hymn, a passionate glorification of Love.
Now let us try to sum up what we have said about Timbre and Linguopoetics. Our discussion has shown Linguopoetics comes first and predetermines the Timbre, because it is only through analysing the text and its thematic-imaginative content that one comes to an understanding of what it should sound like. I think there is some sense in this, but what shall we do then with the idea that it is the oral form that comes first? That first we hear something in our inner speech, and then render it orally when reading a text aloud?
Now that I think of it, the situation is rather clear. When we say that the oral form of language comes first we mean that it had appeared before the written one. But this has got nothing to do with understanding texts - it does not matter whether they are written or oral, because here the content, the ideas come first, and only then we begin to think of the corresponding oral form. .
Lipgart: When we say that to show our understanding of a text we should read it we mean that it is a good way of checking the understanding of the content, which takes place before the actual timbrological interpretation and which is done simultaneously only in some exceptional cases, with readers of Olga Sergeevna's level, who could see the general content, the linguopoetics of a text during the first reading and immediately show it with the help of the oral representation. But even Olga Sergeevna did not mind reading and re-reading some passages like the unforgettable piece from Ecclesiastes ("Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth"), and then she would frankly admit that during the first reading she simply failed to appreciate its beauty, and that great efforts on the part of some of her pupils were required to make her pay attention to this text, to see its linguopoetics and then to arrive at a satisfactory oral representation of this masterpiece.
Konurbayev: We could have finished our joint report at that, just stressing once again that in the complex relationship between Timbre and Linguopoetics the latter comes first, and that all further timbrological research is based on the results of the linguopoetic analysis of a text. We would remind our listeners once again of the importance of the objectivity factor and try to push the subjective, the Callas-Caballe thing as far back as we possibly could. This would be logical and correct if we took part in an ordinary conference, but as the 17th of December is a special day we decided that we have the right to display some emotions too and not to pretend that we totally ignore the human and the subjective side of art. That is why we shall conclude by reciting one more poem - not to illustrate the above theoretical points, but to commemorate our late teacher to whose blessed memory this annual conference is dedicated
Looking back along life's trodden way
Gleams and greenness linger on the track;
Distance melts and mellows all today,
Rose and purple and a silvery grey,
Is that cloud the cloud we called so black?
Evening harmonizes all today,
Foolish feet so prone to halt or stray,
Foolish heart so restive on the rack!
Yesterday we sighed, but not today
Those of us who knew Olga Sergeevna remember that her evening was not entirely cloudless, especially her last months.
But even then sometimes the black cloud would be gone, and we could witness the moments of wonderful, almost divine harmony in her soul.
Today we stop for a while, we look back at the years spent with our teacher, and we see, we do see the gleams and greenness on the track along which she was leading us.
And then we look forward, and we start moving on, with Olga Sergeevna's unforgettable image in out mind's eye. And we hope that one day we shall see the same gleams and greenness on the untrodden way that lies before us.
Department of English Linguistics, Room 1046, Tel: + 7 (095) 939-2036, Fax: +7 (095) 939-51-14 E-mail: email@example.com