The Linguistic Ultimate: Laura (Riding) Jackson and the Language of Truth

  • Carla Billitteri
Part of the Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics book series (MPCC)


The survival of Cratylism into the modernist period and beyond makes clear that Whitman’s linguistic project of renewing society through language was not a peculiarity of his own poetics or historical moment. The long career of Laura (Riding) Jackson provides an equally compelling example.1 From 1925, when she announced herself to the literary world in a bold manifesto calling for spiritual renewal through poetry, until her death in 1991, when she was preparing several manuscripts on language and the human condition for publication, (Riding) Jackson developed and affirmed her guiding belief that individual and collective life achieve their full dignity through language, and that, as a consequence, language provides a natural path to the achievement of the common good. Like Whitman, she conjoined intense research into language with an encompassing social vision. Indeed, her research was far more thorough, sophisticated, and longer lasting than his. While Whitmans surviving writings on language are principally clustered in the mid- to late-1850s, dating from shortly after the appearance of the first edition of Leaves of Grass, (Riding) Jackson spent half a century producing her monumental Rational Meaning. Written with her husband, Schuyler B. Jackson, and published six years after her death, Rational Meanings 400-plus pages (supplemented with another hundred pages of essays) address the logical foundations of words, in part through a polemical review of linguistic theories spanning the ages from Plato to Chomsky.


Ordinary Language Everyday Language Rational Meaning Social Vision Natural Literateness 
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© Carla Billitteri 2009

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  • Carla Billitteri

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