Linguistic Turns – Performing Postmodern Poetries

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  • 1 Nottingham Trent University
  • 2 University of Salford

The linguistic turn is as old as poetry itself. What Seamus Heaney calls the ‘suggestive etymology of the word “verse”’ (Preoccupations, 1980), has been frequently remarked. Derived from the Latin ‘versus’, a turning, it refers, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, to the turning at the end of each poetic line. The unintentional ambiguities of this last phrase indicate that poetry also represents a different kind of turning, which carries to extremes a process implicit in the slippery duplicity of all language. Pun, paronomasia, metaphor and metonymy, double entendre, the linguistic turning of one thing into another, effect in poetry, as in everyday discourse, a perpetual translation of experience. Etymologically, indeed, the Greek ‘metaphor’ is virtually a synonym of the Latin-derived ‘translation’, a carrying over or across of meanings from one place to another. Such a transfigurative or redemptive function, the conversion of events into the abstract medium of language, creating a new and possibly renewed version of things, has been ascribed to poetry ever since the Renaissance Neoplatonists sought to rescue it from the odium Plato bestowed on it, expelling it from his Republic as a lying discourse, a dangerous corrupter of the truth. Renaissance literary criticism is full of play on the trope of a language that, in Sir Philip Sidney’s famous words, converting and contraverting Plato, substitutes ‘a golden world’ for ‘nature’s world of brass’.

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