CODA Language Poetry and Neo-Cratylism

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


Whenever linguisticity and social vision are conjoined in poetry— whenever “a more than ordinary consciousness of how to do things with words” takes the world as well as language as its object (Kramer 14)—impulses toward Cratylism will inevitably arise. These impulses may be resisted, they may be entertained playfully as tropes, they may become temptations difficult to avoid, but the very fact that they arise will in itself be noteworthy, an indication of the poet’s desire to act on the world by acting on language. Not all poets whose projects would impinge on the social experience these impulses. Those who conceive of poems as tools to be wielded in the ordinary course of fulfilling their responsibilities as citizens, who conceive of poetry as exhortation, denunciation, testimony, or document, will not feel the need for a perfect or more natural language in order to complete their work (though the fantasy of such a language will often be expressed even then, as in Adrienne Rich’s “Cartography of Silence,” which begins with “lies” but concludes with “these words,…/ from which time after time the truth breaks moist and green” [16, 20]). But those who demand more of their poems, who look to poetic language as in itself transformative, will find Cratylic formulations immensely attractive. Even where dreams of social renewal are not explicit, the desire to make writing a meaningful act in its own right will reveal itself to be implicitly Utopian—a desire for plenitude in language that slides easily into a desire for plenitude in everyday life.


Political Practice Language Writing Social Vision Political Program Social Renewal 
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© Carla Billitteri 2009

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  • Carla Billitteri

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