Permanent Difficulty: Against Thematic Significance

  • Davide Castiglione


The five poems analysed in this chapter are by Pound, Stein, Howe and Bernstein, and go further in the pursuit of difficulty: typical RIDs include admissions of helplessness, acknowledgments of iconic chaos or nonsensicality, very erratic interpretations. Besides intensifying some of the challenges common in the typology of transient difficulty, they undermine interpretability itself by renouncing or deconstructing textual schemas. This shows in a systematic deployment of discourse and syntax LIDs, with a loss of importance of lexical and semantic LIDs: this is explained by the fact that in this typology language is neither a vessel for plain communication (like in accessible poems) nor for oblique communication (like in transient difficult poems); by contrast, language is generally used against or irrespective of its communicative function.


  1. Adamson, S. (1998). The Literary Language. In R. Lass (Ed.), The Cambridge History of the English Language, 3, 1476–1776 (pp. 539–653). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Adamson, S. (1999). The Literary Language. In S. Romaine (Ed.), The Cambridge History of the English Language, 4, 1776–The Present Day (pp. 589–692). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bernstein, C. (1987). The Sophist. Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bernstein, C. (1992). A Poetics. Cambridge, MA, US: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Biber, D., & Conrad, S. (2009). Register, Genre, and Style. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Biber, D., Finegan, E., Johansson, S., Conrad, S., & Leech, G. (2002). Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Harlow: Longman.Google Scholar
  7. Brooke-Rose, C. (1976). A Structural Analysis of Pound’s “Usura Canto”. Jakobson’s Method Extended and Applied to Free Verse. The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
  8. Castiglione, D. (2017). Difficult Poetry Processing: Reading Times and the Narrativity Hypothesis. Language and Literature, 26(2), 99–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cummings, E. E. (1998 [1935]). No Thanks. New York: Liveright.Google Scholar
  10. Davies, M. (2008–). The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA): 560 Million Words, 1990–Present. Available online at
  11. Diepeveen, L. (2003). The Difficulties of Modernism. New York and London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Dillon, G. L. (1978). Language Processing and the Reading of Literature. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Eliot, T. S. (1939). Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. London: Faber.Google Scholar
  14. Fabb, N. (2010). Is Literary Language a Development of Ordinary Language? Lingua, 120, 1219–1232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fish, S. (1980). Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Fowler, R. (1971). The Languages of Literature. Some Linguistic Contributions to Criticism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  17. Freeman, M. (2005). Poetry as Power: The Dynamics of Cognitive Poetics as a Scientific and Literary Paradigm. In H. Veivo, B. Petterson, & M. Polvinen (Eds.), Cognition and Literary Interpretation in Practice (pp. 31–57). Helsinki: Helsinki University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Fromkin, V., Rodman, R., & Hyams, N. (2014). An Introduction to Language (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  19. Furlong, A. (1995). Relevance Theory and Literary Interpretation (Unpublished PhD thesis). University of College, London.Google Scholar
  20. Graesser, A. C., Hoffman, N. L., & Clark, L. F. (1980). Structural Components of Reading Times. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 19(2), 135–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and Conversation. In P. Cole & J. L. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts (pp. 41–58). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  22. Halliday, M. A. K., & Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. (2004). An Introduction to Functional Grammar (3rd ed.). London: Arnold.Google Scholar
  23. Harley, T. A. (2008). The Psychology of Language (3rd ed.). London: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  24. Jakobson, R. (1960). Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Style in Language. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  25. James, W. (1890). The Principles of Psychology. New York: Holt.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jeffries, L. (1993). The Language of Twentieth Century Poetry. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Leech, G. (2008). Language in Literature. Style and Foregrounding. Harlow: Pearson Longman.Google Scholar
  28. Levin, S. R. (1977). The Semantics of Metaphor. Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Lopez, T. (2006). Meaning Performance: Essays on Poetry. Cambridge: Salt.Google Scholar
  30. Martel, Y. (2001). Life of Pi: A Novel. New York: Harcourt.Google Scholar
  31. McHale, B. (2004). The Obligation Toward the Difficult Whole: Postmodernist Long Poems. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.Google Scholar
  32. Mellors, A. (2005). Late Modernist Poetics: From Pound to Prynne. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Menninghaus, F. (1999). In Praise of Nonsense: Kant and Bluebeard. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Middleton, P. (2010). Open Oppen: Linguistic Fragmentation and the Poetic Proposition. Textual Practice, 24(4), 623–648.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Milojkovic, M. (2013). Is Corpus Linguistics Bent on Self-Improvement? The Role of Reference Corpora 20 Years After the Advent of Semantic Prosody. Journal of Literary Semantics, 42(1), 59–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Moen, H. S. (2010). Chi È Questa?—‘Who is She?’ Transformation, Displacement, and Narrative Refraction as Structural Procedures in The Cantos of Ezra Pound. extual Practice, 24(2), 287–312.Google Scholar
  37. Nadel, I. B. (2007). The Cambridge Introduction to Ezra Pound. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Neel, E. (1999). The Talking Being Listening: Gertrude Stein’s “Patriarchal Poetry” and the Sound of Reading. Style, 33(1), 88–106.Google Scholar
  39. Perloff, M. (1985). The Dance of the Intellect: Studies in the Poetry of the Pound Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Perloff, M. (1991). Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  41. Perloff, M. (2003). Review of Bed Hangings by Susan Howe. Common Knowledge, 9(2), 341–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Quartermain, P. (1992). Disjunctive Poetics: From Gertrude Stein and Louis Zukofsky to Susan Howe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Riffaterre, M. (1984 [1978]). Semiotics of Poetry. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  44. San, D. (2005). Hiatus of Subject and Verb in Poetic Language. Style, 39(2), 137–152.Google Scholar
  45. Steiner, G. (1978). On Difficulty. In G. Steiner (Ed.), On Difficulty and Other Essays (pp. 18–47). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Stockwell, P. (2009). Texture—A Cognitive Aesthetics of Reading. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Tartakovsky, R. (2009). E. E. Cummings’s Parentheses: Punctuation as Poetic Device. Style, 43(2), 215–247.Google Scholar
  48. Toolan, M. (2001 [1988]). Narrative: A Critical Linguistic Introduction. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  49. Wallot, S., O’ Brien, B., Haussmann, A., Kloos, H., & Lyby M. (2014). The Role of Reading Time Complexity and Reading Speed in Text Comprehension. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(6), 1745–1765.Google Scholar
  50. Watson, D. C. (2005). Gertrude Stein and the Essence of What Happens. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Wolfreys, J. (1998). Deconstruction. Derrida. Basingstoke: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Yaron, I. (2002). Processing of Obscure Poetic Texts: Mechanisms of Selection. Journal of Literary Semantics, 31(2), 133–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Davide Castiglione
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of English PhilologyVilnius UniversityVilniusLithuania

Personalised recommendations