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America! - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
America!
The other day I spent a delightful hour in Eric's office watching various internet goodies he'd collected to show me and other passers-by. The highlights were the "America: Fuck, yeah!" clip by South Park's Trey Parker and one by Dennis Madalone, The former was obviously intended to provoke the pleasures of irony, despite the best efforts of the irony-deprived -- check out the way the America: Love It or Leave It site frames the clip -- to turn it into the video equivalent of that Lee Greenwood song. The latter, by contrast, is sincerely sincere.

Mark Morford's always excellent San Francisco Chronicle column today does a superb job of conveying the feelings that flood me when I watch the Madalone. And he writes more edgily than I do. What interests me now, though, is the way that Morford's column underscores the complexities of consumption. One person can enjoy the Parker video as a sincere expression of patriotism. Another can regard the Madalone as high camp. Intention, as we have a way of remembering to forget, does not stick to the cultural goods it motivates. The glue dries out faster than a bowl of fruit in the desert sun.

I've been teaching my "Literary Analysis" class about the distinction between metaphor and metonymy lately. The other day, I confessed that, even though there's a cut-and-dried response I want to see on their final exams, there's a way in which that distinction will, if you think about it hard enough, blur into befuddlement. We spent some time on Tuesday talking about that most famous of twentieth-century poems, Ezra Pound's "In A Station of the Metro":
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
One student claimed that another instructor, one with a far richer relation to poetry than I possess, had argued that the second half of the poem was an example of metonymy. Another, who had taken a class with that same instructor, insisted that the word "faces" was his example of metonymy. I wasn't sure what to say, not wanting to contradict the argument of someone so learned, but committed to preserving my original distinction for the purposes of my students studying for the final exam. In the end, I tried to explain that too much attention to anything has a way of dissolving the lines that separate it out from other phenomena. Sometimes this dissolution is productive. Other times it merely confuses.

I mention this classroom conundrum because I think that the distinction between irony and sincerity functions an awful lot like the one between metaphor and metonymy. The harder people insist on their sincerity, the easier it is for others to perceive the irony in their insistence. The more boldly a text signals that it is ironic, the more likely that someone will miss the point. And then there's my realization, based on personal experience, that the sort of person who is given to responding ironically to the world is probably just concealing a sincerity to painful too express.
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Comments
From: batdina Date: April 29th, 2005 03:09 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

in a station of the metro

here's my oddity for the day: I quoted this poem to my father last night, misremembering the first line, but definitely knowing the second. I shared it last week with *my* students, who weren't convinced you could do anything meaningful with just a line or two of verse.

The first time *I* studied Pound was with J Breslin. You?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 1st, 2005 12:33 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: in a station of the metro

He actually didn't teach Pound the year I had his class. Weird. I never had it taught in a class, come to think of it.
amnesiascope From: amnesiascope Date: April 29th, 2005 09:39 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I think transmission error is most likely the case, here, rather than your students having conveyed accurately the argument of your colleague. I think it's pretty clear that the second line is metaphor. "Faces" could be construed to be metonymy, but to construe it thus doesn't yield so much a different reading of the poem as a new conversation about either a) the fact that ordinary language functions metonymically (which can then open onto the whole question of naming and its relation to attributes) or b) metonymy can be folded into metaphor, which can allow us profitably to bring in Nietzsche's notion of naming as a kind of violent "making equal" of the radically incommensurable singularities that constitute the flux of becoming.

But those faces are still petals on a wet, black bough.

God, I'm exhausted from bargaining with the University!
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 30th, 2005 02:39 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

meta/meto

I'll just repeat here what I said to Charlie in the office about the metaphor /metonymy distinction: regardless of what's happening with "faces" (a metonymy for people or bodies? Actually I don't think so--it's not the apparition of people, it's actually the apparition of faces that matters--"faces" is literal, not metonymic or metaphoric), the second line is BOTH metonymic and metaphoric. Here's how: it's metonymic if you consider the visual dimension (that is, the faces in the crowed (which are presumably white/pink on a dark background) visually resemble petals on a black bough). This is metonymy because it's based on the contiguity of visual resemblance; that is, the contiguity involved depends on the way in which two things that look alike "touch" one another in the sensory medium of vision). And it's metaphoric for the obvious reasons--because of the clash between modernity and nature (which itself depends on both lines already being the subject of an initial subtending metaphor, so that in this sense the "faces in the crowd" are actually metaphoric as well, since they stand in for civilizaiton, the city, the general crowdedness of modernity, the degree to which individuals in that situation are caught up in collectivities they do not choose to belong to; the petals/bough are metaphoric insofar as they stand in for nature more generally.

Then there's the (metonymic) resemblance between "petals on a wet, black bough" as a visual image and Japanese/Chinese paiting, which layers the whole damn thing with another metaphor, whose short version is East/West and whose longer version is "the aesthetic perception made possible by the experience of modernity in the metro" vs. "the aesthetic perception commanded by Eastern visual art" -- and the larger poem is therefore a metaphor (not a metonym) for something like "the comparative experience of aesthetic perception, which allows one to renew the relationship between tenor and vehicle." In short, it's a metaphor for a new experience of metaphor (and the irony is that the metaphor so achieved is metonymically produced).

If you're thinking that all this resembles too much Paul de Man's reading of Proust in Allegories of Reading, then you're probably right.

And sorry if it makes no sense but it's hard to think of editing comments.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: April 30th, 2005 04:52 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: meta/meto

That's pretty convincing, though I agree with amnesiascope that the obvious, easy reading has to be in favor of metaphor. Interesting to ponder, though, isn't it?
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