Using a Net to Catch the Air: Poetry, Ineffability, and Small Stones in the Shoe: A Lecturish
Though poetic techniques of repetition, circularity, and elision, this text, a lightly-edited script of the lecture delivered for The Comparison Project, is intended to trouble linguistic description and its limits through performative methods while also discussing concepts of linguistic description and its limits, particularly as they relate to poetry and reference. If the word “ineffable” is taken to refer to that which cannot be described, and if we accept that what is considered an adequate description varies based on the discipline asking the question, there is a way in which the determination of adequacy for description is pre-determined by the rules of what is deemed an appropriate mode of description for that inquiry. Even a single word, for some, can be considered a description. Even before Wittgenstein’s famous take on language games became influential among poets for its perspective on this problem, certain poets were exploring—through their use of language (including usage that might be taken to indicate a tenuous or tentative relationship between word and referent) as well as through their comments on the possibilities of language—the limits of language’s ability to describe at all, using words to create a new description while also troubling the concept that words can adequately describe. That is, because the rules of adequate description for poetry offer possibilities that other types of description do not, some poets and poems pose, through certain poetic techniques, a challenge to the notion of description, in spite of each poem’s utter dependence on it.
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