Epilogue "Present. A Poetics" (Excerpt II)

II. Experimental Poetics=Science (of con-temporary) fiction

Poetics is language to the second power. It examines literature as the laboratory of language. Unlike in film, for instance, changes in language cannot be traced along any external history of technology (montage, soundtrack, color film, digital image). But how does language itself develop, and how does poetics follow the developments of language?

Structural poetics, with its central categories of code and message, which we have already resorted to several times, has approached this question through the various functions of language. According to Jakobson, the "poetic function of language" [Roman Jakobson, "Linguistics and Poetics," Language and Literature, Krystyna Pomorska and Stephen Rudy, eds., Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987, 62-94, here 69ff] consists in the fact that it puts itself into a dynamic relation with itself. [Srtictly speaking it is a 'putting-oneself-into-relation-with-oneself.'] It would, however, be a misunderstanding to see this as a pure end in itself. Rather, the recursive moment of language is to be grasped in its functionality; indeed, it is what creates the capacity of language to develop for and in its usage. The object of poetics is that function of language in which it reflects its "tool being" (to use the terms of the speculative realist Graham Harman). [Graham Harman (Tool Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects, 2002, 35ff.) stresses Heidegger's analysis of the tool rather than his concept of the thing, which has received so much attention in the aesthetics of productivity] It pursues its own operations, and invents tools.

There is a difference between the message's self-reference to language in the lyric and the fictional literature considered by our poetics. This difference is formed by the code's reference to the message, which is produced in language use. The fictional use of language is marked by the fact that it shifts references, thus making it possible to perceive meaning. If we are emphasizing the affinity between poetics and grammar, this should not be understood as an ostensible disregard for the semantics of literary works, but on the contrary as a transcendental poetic insistence on the conditions that make sense possible. The perceptibility of meaning is not to be seen as a doubling of representation within language–as a stage inherent to language–but can be traced back to the fact that grammar encompasses processes of poiesis, of significance both below the level of semantics (in morphology) as well as above the level of semantics (through syntax).

The systematic distinctions between poetic shift, deictic shift, and temporal shift, which we delineated in the second chapter, consequently establish three forms of shifting, which define a 'poetics of fiction.' A poetics of tense leads us to understand novels as experiments in language at the lowest threshold of our perception of meaning, where language encounters the automatic quality of reading; in this sense it is also always a poetics of reception. Poetic reception of literary prose follows the shiftings of tense–and because tenses are deictic categories, this involves a deictic shift. We have identified this fiction-triggering shifting of reference as what triggers the perception of meaning. The semiotic effect of narrative fiction is achieved in this shifting. This is in contrast to the phonetic compression of semantic forms characteristic of the poetic language function in poetry. Understood in this way, a poetics of tense is nothing more than a generalized theory of narrated fiction: a poetics of the truth of time produced in the reading of tenses.

Inasmuch as poetics produces a truth (of time), it must also be possible to formulate it as a method of achieving (particularly literary theoretical) truth. Based on our work on the poetics of the present tense, four methodological guidelines for an experimental poetics can be emphasized: first, an experimental aspect of inventing concepts; second, the aspect of an experimental poetics of reading; third, the arrangement of experiments in analogy to scientific practice; and fourth, the aspect of a literary historical empiricism to be gained through experimentation.


Excerpt from: Avanessian, Armen; Hennig, Anke: Present. A Poetics, Berlin 2012. PDF