Reading Voices: Literature and the Phonotext

Reading Voices: Literature and the Phonotext

by Garrett Stewart

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Reading Voices

Literature and the Phonotext
By Garrett Stewart

University of California Press

Copyright © 1990 Garrett Stewart
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780520070394

"To Hear with Eyes":
Shakespeare as Proof Text

O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land 1

The first phase of my subject is that authorial idiolect, or "style," which has come to be the measure of literary language in English. Acoustically textured to the point of distraction, it is a verbal medium full of a phonemic fury of sound signifying not nothing—but signifying more energetically than any signified requires. This is a sense of the commanding "Shakespeherian Rag" that haunts all our literary writing and reading. When Eliot in The Waste Land spells out, stretches out, the incantatory Bardic name, he does so without the punning "hear" and "ear" which are there, nonetheless, to be read. But how read? The answer is obvious enough to elude most literary study: we listen while we read. Who can doubt it? How, though, to prove it? This chapter will attempt in some measure to close the distance between credence and demonstration.

It remains a humanist truism that literature speaks to us. The work of deconstruction might be understood to have resurrected the dead metaphor of such a notion in order to lay its ghost for good. Literature has novoice. It is text, not talk. But what is left in the wake of this widely successful campaign against phonocentrism? Let's take an extreme case. Who would deny that the rest of us read to ourselves differently from the case of a sighted reader deaf from birth? What then is it that we think we hear, or hear in thinking? Not the author's voice, granted. Yet if literature cannot be fairly said to speak to us, perhaps it speaks through us. Our being there in front of it is the precondition not of its existence but of its function. Or another way of putting our relation to a text: we speak to it, silently, in the loose sense of moving to a beat. A less extreme case. Imagine a cultural context within the use and dissemination of the English language in which the written words of that language, while referring to the same known entities or concepts as they do now for us, are nonetheless quite consistently different in aural quality. Easily done, since thisis of course the case with Elizabethan pronunciation. Readers silently ventriloquize a text according to the linguistic conventions of their time. To borrow from Shakespeare's sonnet 23, the role of the reader is "to hear with eyes." Texts are in this sense not begotten but made, produced in reception. Such is the auditory leeway opened precisely by the lack of literature's inherent voice. This chapter will eventually close in on a very particular and particularly eccentric effect, the transegmental drift: product of a phonemic operation off-center from the graphic signifier that occasions it. To attend to such phonic drifting is to track the smallest node, in effect, of a deconstructed writing's so-called difference from itself.

A "Writerly" Bard?

In Shakespeare's sonnet 15, the speaker, after a sustained contemplation of transience in its organic aspects, summons a specular image, though entirely undetailed, of his beloved young man, promising him, or it (his image), the immutability otherwise stolen from the youth, from any and all youth, by the violence of time: an "engrafting" of new vitality through poetry. I choose this sonnet because it happens to have most of an entire chapter devoted to it, the last and summary chapter, in Stephen Booth's Essay on Shakespeare's Sonnets and to be thoroughly and expertly glossed in Booth's subsequent edition of the sonnets.2 These commentaries constitute a pair of interpretive texts (by any other name) that together mark a kind of watershed in late New Critical readings of our most read poet—and of poetry in general. To begin with, the lyric in question:

When I consider everything that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and checked ev'n by the selfsame sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before  my sight,
Where wasteful time debateth with decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night;
     And all in war with time for love of you,
     As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

Booth's compressed editorial gloss on the syntactic duplicity of the opening lines is more expansively investigated in his Essay . The note in his edition of the sonnets—to the effect that "under pressure of syntactical necessitiesintroduced by Holds, a simple subject-verb-object construction comes to be understood as if it had been 'When I consider that everything that grows'" (SS, 155)—is enlarged upon in the Essay in view of its reading effect, the dynamics of its processing. Shortly after Stanley Fish argues in Surprised by Sin for a cognizance of similar crossed signals in readerly responses to Milton,3 Booth writes that this syntactic self-revision "requires an easy but total reconstitution of the reader's conception of the kind of sentence he is reading" (ESS, 181). There is, however, something more cannily to the point—or is it uncannily?—in Booth's own compression of this issue in his edition: again, "comes to be understood as if it had been." It wasn't, it only seems to have been; the first meaning cannot rest easy, but its necessary revision, in light of our already elapsed experience of the first line, is itself a phantasmal rewriting. If only implicitly, Booth here parts company from Empson. Though sensitized to "double grammar" in the sonnets, the favored Empsonian mode of analysis, Booth would apparently resist the notion that such vacillating syntax is ever finally "resolved" into stability and coherence. Instead of saying that what seemed to be the sense of the first line turns out not to have been after all, Booth intriguingly suggests that what seems in retrospect to be the reconstituted first line is still only an "as if." Retroaction in reading does not recast the original but only rereads it as it would have to have been, but wasn't, in order to permit continuity with the grammar that ensues upon and reroutes it. Rethinking is not revision; the "last word" on a set of lines does not supplant, only subdues, our first impression; what is is not necessarily what was.

To unload these implications from Booth's editorial gloss is to appreciate at how narrow and elusive a range he can detect what he has claimed in his earlier Essay about such snags in the "syntactic fabric" of the sonnet: the fact that they "do not merely describe inconstancy but evoke a real sense of inconstancy from a real experience of it" (ESS, 181). This too is an unusually suggestive phrasing, at least from the hindsight of contemporary discussion. Such double grammar in the sonnets does not mime inconstancy, or even thematize it, but performs it autonomously in the linguistic sphere. At the risk of "double reading" Booth himself—or paraphrasing, that is, from a vantage two decades further along in critical history, what it seems as if he meant—it must nevertheless be remarked that the "real sense" of mutability in the lines has little to do with grammar developing a mimetic analogue of transience based on floral and astral prototypes. Rather, the ephemeral in language is its primary experience, as "real," as material, as any other. Its evocation is at most homologous with the declared themes of the poem, not subordinate to them. In this latter sense, style does not "answer to" theme—except by enacting its counterpart in words.

Just this line of thought also serves to underwrite Booth's attention to Shakespeare's phonemic and syllabic as well as syntactic play in the sonnets. Pursuing this interest, Booth's approach demonstrates as much congeniality, if not direct allegiance, to the Jakobsonian as to the Empsonian tradition, with the former's more systematic commitment to (Booth's phrase) "phonetic and ideational interplay" (SS, 157).4 Such a commitment is ultimately in the service of that iteration-within-difference which Jakobson has elevated to the very definition of the poetic "function," which thereby "projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis of combination."5 Words are not just linked by syntax, by combination, but fastened, again, by that "phonic affinity" (among other features) which intersects and inflects the axis of contiguity. One word is selected over another from the paradigm of alternatives not just to fill a space in the grammar of progression but to secure an equivalence (or resemblance) with some other word previously set in place, as in the aurally looped sequence in sonnet 15 likening, as well as linking, "consider" to "conceit" through the intermediary syllabic matter of "perceive." The paradigmatic principle of comparability thus invades the syntagmatic chain of combination; equivalence dictates contiguity; sameness overtakes difference; language becomes poetic.6 Style in this sense is always a particular intersection of the vertical paradigm of available alternatives with the horizontal sequence into which the decidedly chosen word will be dropped into position. Plotted by such choices in succession, the poetic is the crossing of the contiguous by the interchangeable.

Working back, like Jakobson, to the binary linguistics of Saussure, Michael Riffaterre's more recent investigations into the language of literature also concentrate on pertinent oppositions as they are spread out across the syntactic line.7 For Riffaterre, however, equivalences that cannot simultaneously be pressed into the logic of sequence still address each other in an oppositional play that could never be fully accounted for by the scrutiny of those surface features regularly studied as "style." In essays collected under the title Text Production, Riffaterre demonstrates that it is in fact surface texture's structuring difference from its origin and alternatives, as perceived in the reader's own "production" of the text, that generates what another of his titles identifies not as the "semantics" but as the Semiotics of Poetry . In true formalist manner, style is sidelined by questions of literariness, itself in Riffaterre a kind of binary alternative to literalness: an avoidance of the explicit by figural displacement. True to semiotics, too, literary textuality is constituted by an array of associations that can be traced only through "signs" of meaning, clues, gestures, vestiges. Rather than searching out, as Saussure did,8 the anagrammatical displacements of a Latin verse line—dismemberments of sacred or heroic names to be reassembled in the reading—Riffaterreinstead looks for more obvious systemic disturbances that foreground the unsaid as unsaid, avoided, suppressed. For Riffaterre, "Saussure's stroke of genius . . . was to understand that the text's true center is outside the text and not behind it, hidden away, as victims of the intentional fallacy are fond of thinking" (TP, 76). When Riffaterre himself looks beyond rather than behind the text, however, what he finds is a veiled revelation far less encrypted than Saussure's anagrams. He finds a semiosis mobilized without being literalized. Rather than radiating centrifugally from some occulted core, the text is generated from point to point by its variance from a paradoxically external (and unwritten) center.

The relevance of this notion to Booth's edition of the sonnets grows quickly clear. The editor's scrupulous logging of those contemporaneous proverbs and aphorisms that "underlie" Shakespeare's sonnets, for instance, witnesses to an intertextual pressure which Riffaterre would theorize as the semiotically definitive relation of a given sonnet to its decentered matrix. More specifically, this relation is understood by Riffaterre as a semiotic reaction formation variously characterized in terms of denial, avoidance, suppression, conversion, condensation and displacement, all with their openly courted Freudian associations, including especially the return of the repressed. Already generated by the deflection of some received or proverbial formula, then, the text is further "converted" or "expanded" into readable units by local "actualizations" of this clichid "source."9 We encounter here the phrased, rather than tacit, semiosis of the paragram . "The model I propose for the lexical paragram is thus the expansion of a matrix. Since it is lexical, this expansion occurs in the form of words linked together grammatically, and is not phonetic or graphemic, as in Saussure's paragram" (TP, 77). Evident here is Rifaterre's tacit holding action against exactly the kind of phonemic reading which this chapter finds invited by the Shakespearean text—as the clear (if pulsing) signal of its literariness. The phonotext "produced" in this way, as we are to see, occupies a middle ground between the lexical/grammatical sine qua non of Riffaterre's method and the graphemic free association of an anagram. Between full semantic security and syllabic mayhem, then, lies the domain of phonemic reading.

A Riffaterrean take on the opening quatrain of sonnet 15, for example, might read the mentioned "comment" of the stars (their legibility as a sign system) to reveal the whole figural sequence of astrological reference in the text as the expanded variant of the proverbial notion that we read our destiny in the stars . Where Booth and others have noted the etymological hint of sidereal or astral observation in the sonnet's first verb, "consider" (from con - + sider-, sidus, star), a Riffaterrean semiotics of the text would take this verb as a "lexical paragram" providing for the astrological matrix its first "model" (theguiding prototype of subsequent actualizations) in the etymological sediment of a single syllabic cluster. Though Riffaterre himself does not very often pursue matters even to the level of the syllable, let alone its constituent phonemes, his method would seem to allow for this in principle. The end of sonnet 15 offers a test case ready to hand.

As the text moves into the monosyllabic tread of the closing couplet, one word stands out. The disyllabic verb "engraft" is a horticultural trope that at the same time marks the sonnet's deepest predication: the power of sonnetizing in and of itself. Booth annotates by paraphrase the likely pun on poetic engraphment: "'As time withers you, I give you new life (by writing about you)'" (SS, 158). He goes on to suggest, however, that to become operable the pun needs (intertextual) support from the opening of the next sonnet: "Despite a probable pun on engraft  . . . and its Greek root graphein, 'to write,' . . . a reader presumably does not recognize this first of several traditional claims for the immortalizing power of verse (see sonnets 18 and 19) until the line is glossed by the first quatrain of sonnet 16, which is both logically and syntactically linked with this one." This ensuing quatrain insists that there is "a mightier way" to fight time than with "my barren rhyme," an image whose denial of fructification ("barren") seems to retract what sonnet 15 has proffered with its primary botanical sense of "engraft." It is only the punning double of this phrase, of course, that has instituted the "traditional claims for the immortalizing power of verse" in the first place, those claims which Booth finds suppressed beyond immediate recognition—except through the route of metaphor and its decoding. But the metaphor itself, even if we catch its general application, is not very clearly pointed. The "cutting" by which a graft takes place harkens back in its derivation to the Latin stylus on its way to the Greek root for carve . Booth is surely right in supposing the line to allude to the "practice of replacing the wasted limbs of old trees with slips that grow to be new boughs" (SS, 158). But if this allusion in turn alludes to the speaker's expressed hopes for the marriage and propagation of the young man, then it cannot be the speaker who is to engineer this new grafting of a scion. Not only won't the whole metaphor thereby come to rest where we expect it to, but the apparent transitive grammar of its vehicle is internally unsettled. If the speaker's meaning is that by writing about you I "engraft you new," then this can mean—following Jakobson's treatment of similar ambiguities of the predicate in sonnet 129—either that "I make (by engrafting) you new again" (an adjectivalized adverb) or "I graft you anew " (an adverbalized adjective). In neither case, however, does the figural logic, as governed by the transitive grammar, come quite clear. Does the speaker mean that I cross something with you, or implant something in you, or attach something to you, or otherwise extend you by means of something—or, if you are the sole directobject of the phrase, that I simply ingraft you, however that would come about?

And even in this last case, what could possibly be disclosed as the tenor of that metaphoric vehicle—or of any of the preceding grammatical alternatives, for that matter—except the whole of you in renewal? We are thus thrown back on the verb's punning application, which makes, albeit in its less idiomatic format, more syntactic sense after all. It does so precisely by its near-homophonic collapse of vehicle upon a tenor spelled out at last: the "graft" that is always "graphic" at base. But phonemic too, aurally overdetermined. The closing verb phrase thus manifests climatically in this sonnet—and not, we shall later see, for the first time—that graphonic interplay which will eventually come to dominate this commentary: as a test case for a micro-poetics of style beyond the lexically coded semiotics of poetry. The phrase "I engraft you new" can, in other words, just faintly be heard, be "produced" upon the inner ear of the reader (in what might be termed a paraphonic variant actualized by liaison of the t and tacit elision of an unwritten o ) as the phrase "I engraph t' you new." Or even as "I engraph t(o) you ()new." In either of these latter senses, it is an admittedly scripted communication (I write of but also to you) that exposes, in the very name of an atemporal epiphany, the apostrophic form of the entire sonnet as a textual fiction, a writing without any address beyond itself. Yet this is a scriptive fabrication whose confession comes about only through a phonic pulling against the grain of the very graphic lines that have let such an admission slip.

In his generally admiring review of Riffaterre's semiotic methodology, Paul de Man objected mostly to what he saw as a consistent sheltering of description from the deconstructive fact of sheer inscription.10 This shortcoming is occasioned, on de Man's account, by Riffaterre's failure to attend closely enough to the master tropes of rhetorical analysis: namely, the pervasive catechresis (the alogical strain, paradox, or anomaly) of poetic figuration and the prosopopoeia ("giving face") that attempts to mask or naturalize it. In view of Shakespeare's explicit thematizing in this sonnet of such a giving (and preserving) of face through a nondescriptive engraphment, through sheer apostrophe, it is further worth noting that de Man bases his tropologically oriented critique of Riffaterre indirectly on Saussure's interest in the Greek root hypographein —or "signature"—as an important source for the "hypotextual" variants of Saussure's inscribed anagrammatic ciphers (30). What de Man objects to in Riffaterre's retreat from such an admitted graphological emphasis is that the resulting method subserves without proper qualification "the determined, stable principle of meaning in its full phenomenological and cognitive sense" (30). But how stable is this principle? The burden of the present discussion is that, in the phenomenality of a text when read, cognitionsubtly diverges from direct semantic processing; inked letters enunciated to oneself often take thinking by surprise. A stress on inscription may be one corrective to a semiotics of description, but then so, on the other hand, is an emphasis on reception. The path through a text taken even by a resolute tropological reading, deconstructing all stable reference as it goes, will be phenomenologically impeded at every "turn," or troping, by the phonic as well as graphic materiality of the language in process—impeded, in short, by "text production" at the cognitive (if often subliminal) level. The full implications of this in connection with sonnet 15 we must hold for a few pages longer in abeyance.

Beyond Formalisms

For now, we need to expand still further the critical and theoretical context within which the play of phrasal alternatives in poetry can be addressed. We turn from Riffaterre's paragram (including here the "paraphone" as well) to the frequent stylistic investigations of two very different critics. In their divergent vocabularies and allegiances—the one a leading promulgator of poststructuralist theory in America, the other an inveterate British humanist—Geoffrey Hartman and Christopher Ricks each nurture in their work a sense of potentially subversive lexical free play that resembles Riffaterre's "agrammaticality" as the very definition of literariness. In "The Voice of the Shuttle: Language from the Point of View of Literature," an important essay from Beyond Formalism , Hartman skirts very near to Riffaterre with his idea of an embedded "seed phrase" bursting in various contortions upon the surface of a poetic line.11 Like Ricks as well, Hartman is interested in the layered reticulation of a text (in the root sense of a textured fabric) woven upon a "silence" that will not quite stay put. In Ricks, too, this silence is every bit as "volcanic" as Hartman dubs it (342), and from it may erupt at any turn the rejected or dismembered phrases that might, alternatively, have gone to make it up: the matrix as cauldron. In Ricks's collected essays, The Force of Poetry , the ground of poetic meaning seethes with pressures upon it that do not quite become presences in it, the shimmering surface of a poetic line alive with tremors from beneath.12

Hartman's essay, however, is both narrower and broader at once. It proposes a complex interchange between the "microstructures of literature, entities studied by linguists" (341) and the largest narratological issues of mythic plotting. He moves, for instance, from such "cross-eyed" phonetic structures as chiastic alliteration to the fateful double cross of the Oedipus story. At its most provocative, in fact, his essay describes an even larger trajectory, moving from the space between syllables and words to that breathing space of "indeterminate middles" between "overspecified ends"

(339) which develops as a kind of structuralist definition of human life as plot. One of Hartman's examples of alliterative chiasmus, among several sound figurations he takes up, is the "famous pun" in Paradise Lost, "O Eve in evil hour." What Hartman does not do with this phrasing, this voweling, is instructively continuous with what he does. "To go from 'Eve' to 'evil' is a metaphor on the level of sound" (343), he writes, as if he were directly alluding to Jakobson's notion of echoic substitution in the axis of combination, his "figures of sound." Hartman's gravitation toward a "transformational poetics" of the "zero value" (341) is illustrated here between the bonded phonemic halves of ev/il(l) . What, this particular sound figure of "etiological distancing" (338) asks us to ask, is the direction of causal descent? Which came first: the evil or its namesake? When Hartman suggests that the power of the line derives from the overtones of derivation itself, "the sense of a third term or matrix, a common root from which both might have sprung" (343), his (unmentioned) overlap with the work of Riffaterre (as well as that of Jakobson) could hardly be more direct. What Riffaterre would advance in answer to Hartman's question about the priority of Eve or evil might well be that the whole conundrum is materialized as the variant of a more overtly formulaic teasing with false etymology. The text is produced in this sense as the paragrammatic dodge of a pat aphorism like "The Eve in all evil," as in the comparable (if commonplace) punning of a bromide like "Woman means woe to man." In any case, it should be clear that Hartman is intrigued to read in such a case the projection of paradigmatic equivalences onto syntactically deployed paronomasia in a manner that certainly calls up the "conversions" and "expansions" of Riffaterre's semiotics.

Beyond this, there is in linguistics a more problematic sense of juncture or "zero value" ambiguously negotiated between words, which Hartman hints at but never pursues directly. Illustrating the "language jam in which we are stuck" (343), which is often enacted in poetry as a jamming at intersections, and drawing on Elizabeth Sewell's linguistically imprecise but suggestive notion of the "soundlook" of words (341), Hartman offers as example of junctural irony the title of Wallace Stevens's "Le Monocle de mon Oncle." Comments Hartman: "Technically defined the difference in sound is a slight distortion of quantity but primarily a matter of what linguists call 'boundary' or 'juncture'—here typographically indicated by 'monocle' dividing into two words, 'mon oncle'" (341). Once again, a poetic test case is generated from, in Jakobson's sense, a metonymic projection of sameness in a paronomastic domino play. Hartman's allusions there to the linguistics of "juncture," however, have an even more direct bearing on the present explorations than do his literary examples. Though none of his quotations is strictly ambiguous in its phonemic boundaries, he tangentially invokes a whole range of debate, assummarized in Kooij's Ambiguity in Natural Language , about the functioning of so-called suprasegmental phonemes—namely, pitch, stress, and juncture—to enforce lexical decidability. More so than with a chiming phrasal balance like "monocle" and "mon oncle," the classic problem for phonological "disambiguation" (the problem of telling where one word ends and the next begins) arises with such "minimal pairs" as "an aim" and "a name," "night rate" and "nitrate," "light housekeeper" and "lighthouse keeper"—or, for that matter, our inaugural instance from Austin, "I stink" and "Iced ink."13 Such a phonic crux has sometimes been addressed not only by the general notion of "suprasegmentals" but by the concept of a sliding phoneme of "zero" value, a so-called zero allophone of internal open juncture (19). It is this linguistic feature to which Hartman may be alluding in his mention of "zero values." For many linguists, however, as Kooij observes, this offers a suspect account, a "fiction" (11) designed to rescue segmental autonomy. In the study of adjusted and suspended junctures, one is advised to recall Jakobson's postulate: "From a strictly articulatory point of view . . . there is no succession of sounds. Instead of following one another the sounds overlap."14 In view of this fact, a purer example of junctural value under poetic pressure, one not requiring a footnoted disclaimer like Hartman's ("I am aware that 'oc' and 'onc' contain a different phoneme"[341]), would have been provided by another cryptic Stevens title, "United Dames of America." In this brief poem about political oratory, the title, in its outrageous homophonic spoof of "United Aims of America," becomes a virtual textbook example of ambiguous juncture in a minimal "pairing"—one phrase written, the other (silently) sounded.

We should now be able to return more alertly yet to the linguistically gauged plight of Eve in the garden, at exactly the point where Hartman himself broke off with her. The "zero value" reinvested with force is not just the lexical cipher at the morphemic boundary between syllables, "Eve" elided with "il(l)." Further, there is the actual liaison in speech that overdetermines both ends of the punning phrase. Given that its second vowel in standard pronunciation is //, "evil" can be heard, by an ambiguous but just plausible fricative decoding at the syllabic juncture, as "Eve-ful(l)," the coined adjective tautologically spelling out the line's slippery pun in a more coherent manner than the nonword compound "Eve-ill." At the same time, the last remaining juncture in the phrase, the unstressed border at "evil/hour," elides its nearly voiceless h to form a chiastically voweled close to the phrase: "O Eve in Evil Our ." The ear thereby traces, across the sinuous assonant contortion of the very phrase, the dread lineage of contamination leading from that one evil hour to all our woe: a condensation of the poem's whole theme in a single phonemic lapse. Such shadows cast by one letter on its pertinent opposite, its ghostly afterimage, such phantasmal transformations between v and f for instance, or between h and its silent phantom double, would themselves be included, however, in Hartman's hedging analogy drawn from conjectural physics: "You probably feel as impatient with me, and all this talk about zero values, as Bishop Berkeley with Newton's infinitesimals. He called these entities, calculable only by Newton's theory of fluxions, the 'ghosts of departed quantities'" (347). My very slight "impatience," and I assume that of others, comes simply from Hartman's own, his itch to dart away from a further speculation on the linguistic—or call them semiotic—implications of the stylistic intricacies he puts under such intensive scrutiny. More even than his approach is inclined to tally, zero values count.

Larger questions are certainly at play, and at stake, in the structural, psychoanalytic, and philosophical reverberations of Hartman's essay than in any of the twenty papers collected by Ricks in The Force of Poetry . Yet neither critic pursues his speculations quite far enough for close readings to open upon a principle of textual generation. Ricks, for once, is almost as near to a delimited but genuine theoretical breakthrough as is Hartman. Indeed, Hartman's use of Berkeley's phrase "ghosts of departed quantities" reads like a paraphrase of Ricks evoking the poetic vanishing act of the "anti-pun." Words, phrases, syntactic understandings are momentarily enrolled only to be annulled by context, "surmised and then ruled out" (101). The phenomenon turns up everywhere in Ricks's essays, on writers from John Gower to Geoffrey Hill, being more or less implicit in his previous stylistic considerations of Milton and Keats as well. With Wordsworth's phrase "fleet waters of a drowning world," for instance, Ricks calls attention to the "anti-pun" on "fleet" as noun. The adjectival form of this monosyllabic "variant" (to recall Riffaterre's term) would, according to Ricks, "be careless or perverse if it were not positively (rather than forgetfully or willfully) setting aside the other sense" (101). He garners his characteristic authorial validation for this by quoting Wordsworth's definition of the poetic temperament as the "'disposition to be affected more than other men by absent things as if they were present'" (100). In what might well be taken as a "semiotics of poetry" capacious enough to embrace such contradictory semantic signals, absent definitions in Ricks's readings hover like ghostly revenants over the text, often with a sense of violent irrelevance. They create at once a linguistic siege and its own resistance.

Though Ricks would never put his case in strict linguistic terms, it is as though binary oppositions from the axis of selection bedevil the syntagmatic axis as phrasal impertinences—and must be staved off. In Robert Lowell, for instance, one semantic sense "gains its territory by fighting off" the invasive double. The denotation that emerges "means intensely by meaning the whole thing including its exclusion," a "phantasmal violence" (271) of "potentabsences" and "vigorous spectral combats" (268). Poems "muscular with these ripples of solicited misconstruction," these "warring possibilities" (269), take their part in the "anti-sense" of a "violence-acknowledging non-violence"—a phrase which itself, read (aloud) without the hyphens, aptly enunciates (Ricks leaves us to discover) its own seditious converse. Without for a moment admitting the claims of any tradition of reading other than the line of Empson and Donald Davie, though with a few approving asides about some of Hartman's insights, Ricks is nevertheless very much in phase here with the shared perception in Saussure and Riffaterre that "the text's true center is outside the text." The intertextual variants are generated for him by a tension between legible surface and (Ricks's recurrent word) its indirect "force" of evocation.

Like Riffaterre, too, Ricks tends to minimize the acoustic in his lexical investigations. He is willing to hear a homophonic pun in Gower between "braieth" and "prayeth." And he will homophonically pun himself in assessing Gower's instance of pertinent opposition in the paradigmatic axis as an "air's-breath" difference (10) between plosives. But he does not generally seem alert to the possibility of what I would call the antiphone rather than anti-pun, that antiphonal or contrapuntal phantom latching upon lexical units and breaking down their integrity. If a critic were to grant that there is a phonic slippage of this kind inherent in language, an irresolute and disruptive drifting that destablizes any given constraint upon the bonding of phonemes into words, then that critic would also have to face a fact about (to reverse Hartman's subtitle) literature-from-the-point-of-view-of-language. Such language is in some ways too heterogeneous and dispersive for an author-centered aesthetic like Ricks's, too freakish, eccentric, and insubordinate.


Returning to certain remaining effects in Shakespeare's sonnet 15 that depend on phonemic rather than lexical displacements should draw further into the open an important point of convergence between Hartman's and Riffaterre's respective methods. There is, for instance, the acoustic undercurrent that pulls upon the climactic personification of mutability in the poem: "Where wasteful time debateth with decay / To change your day of youth to sullied night." Again we find a brand of double grammar organizing, or disarranging, the line. Booth notes that idiomatic expectations lead us to imagine at first some contest between time and decay ("debate with " in the sense of "against"), a "false start" that must undergo almost immediate revision when "one realizes that time and decay are obvious allies" (SS , 158). Once more we encounter Booth's implicit reader-response criticism, though tied always to manifest linguistic signals in the text. This time Booth leaves the full upheaval of ourresponse unexplored. The shifting ground of prepositional grammar pulls the foundation out from under the very possibility of opposition; in the blink of an eye we are yanked up short by the recognition, foolish to have forgotten even for an instant, that between time and its own process of decay there is no contest at all—that everything in life colludes with decay, which even as a sound pattern brackets and engorges the next line's "day." Moreover, within the vexed and self-corrective phrase "debateth with" is seeded not only a syntactic irony but an additional phonemic insinuation. For there is in fact a larger phonic frame in place here than that which encloses "day" within "decay," namely the encompassing bracket "DEbateth with deCAY." In Hartman's vocabulary this is a "decontraction" of the syllabic terminals that happens to install yet another "etiologic distancing" between the cause (those inevitably conjoined temporal forces) and the effect (doom). The figuration of decay-as-death is so overdetermined that it further generates a virtual anagrammatic code (graphically in "DEbAteTH with," or again in "DEbAteth wiTH," and phonetically in "DebatETH with" and "DebatEth wiTH"). Over and above this, the genuinely pronounced effect, as it were, the one with more "phenomenal" charge, is the antiphonal hint triggered by the segmental detonation of "debaTETH (debaT/DETH)." Attuned to the text in this way, we can also hear another accordion-like play with phonemes that decontracts a matrix phrase and arrays it upon the lexical surface of the line as a paragram, if not quite an anagram this time. Concerning the phrase "the conceit of this inconstant stay," Booth's edition notes that it "functions like an oxymoron." It also may—may in a given reading—operate as a kind of phonemic pleonasm, its last two words standing thus as a paragrammatic decontraction of "inconstancy." As such, this antiphonal overtone would only foreground by contrast an emphasis on the paradox of a fleeting "stay."

This kind of reading draws on a phonemic patterning evident elsewhere in the sonnet apart from any lexical transformation, though tampering nonetheless with junctural value. An instance: "Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease." If these words abut in silent enunciation with full phonemic distinction, then their very contrast is thus dramatized. On the other hand, the sort of dental "ambiguity" that permits the hint of "death" in "debateth " operates in this case across the lexical segmentation effected by juncture. The chiastic arc of the whole line would in this sense be replayed, if quickly read, in the phonemic hinge between the noun of apogee and the verb of downgrade. No sooner said than done and gone, in this sense the phonemic matter of "height" might be felt to yield on the instant to the verb of its reversal. As with the season of youth it describes, so might the noun "height" itself provide the first impetus of its own undoing. Either way, articulated in full contrast ornudged toward elision, the phrasing could well precipitate a phonemic reading thematically cued by the logic of antinomy within evanescence.

Since such an effect would scarcely be as forceful, even if registered, as "inconstant stay" or "debateth with decay"—in their service as phonemic paragrams for "inconstancy" and "death"—we might rather leave the sonnet with a more emphatic example of microlinguistic compression, a dissonant actualization of arguably the poem's chief and deepest matrix. To hear as much in this opening line will require an exemplary recognition of the interplay between graphic and phonic signifiers in the "Shakespeherian" text: a graphonic tension. This chapter's inductive survey has so far followed out certain common strands uniting the stylistically alert editorial glosses of Booth, the semantic dismemberments and phonic reassemblages of Saussure in his anagrammatic phase, the structuralist stylistics of Jakobson, the formalist literary semiotics of Riffaterre, the renovated New Criticism of Ricks, and the "microlinguistics" of Hartman in that transitional period self-denominated as "Beyond Formalism" but not yet dedicated to the deconstructive enterprise. If these pages have so far succeeded in suggesting how Booth's interest in "phonetic and ideational interplay" could be linked through Jakobson's "figures of sound" to the embedded phonetic patterning of Saussure's studies, how at the same time Booth's deciphering of multivalent syntax derives straight from Empson's explication of ambiguous double grammar, and if these pages have further tracked a palpable connection between the relationship in Riffaterre of paragram to matrix and Ricks's preoccupation with the anti-pun, as well as between Hartman's finessed zero values and the manifold conversions and expansions of Riffaterre's system—if so, then we should be ready to back out of sonnet 15 by way of its first diffusive phrasing: a test of phonemic differentials in their (in every sense) marginal wordplay.

Sonnet 15 may be heard to turn the corner of its first line, to complete its initial grammar, by citing its own theme of mortality under erasure . In this way the first line becomes virtually the sonnet's last word, the inaugural transformation of a primal matrix. Represented in shorthand, the Empsonian ambiguity of grammar has so far been read to go like this: "When I consider (that) everything that grows / holds-in perfection (or holds still in its perfection), . . . then is when I . . ." What might be further said to operate here, at the level of the phonotext, is a phonemic as well as linear "enjambment" which happens to coincide metrically with the onset of the sonnet's next line. The first line runs on, and at its turning, so also—by grammatical doubling and revision—turns the phrase ("grows/Holds") that comprises its enjambment; turns, too, the phonic matter that frames (both internally and externally) the second word of that phrase. Like poetic lines themselves, lexical units are not cleanly sliced off at their borders but spliced together, edging into each otheron the sly, the slide. If the far end of the word "Holds" tends, for instance, to erode toward a semantic ambiguity, it is the other, the near end of the same lexeme, that—more malleable still—leans toward surrendering its aspirated yet all but silent first phoneme. In so doing, it momentarily "sounds," rather than spells out, the most deeply secreted, because in every sense the most hopelessly clichid, seed phrase or matrix from which the poem is generated: the brute truth about all life on earth, which always and inevitably "grows / (H)old(s)." That the poem never mentions growing "old," as it never mentions "death," is exactly the point. The h in "Holds" is functional, yes, but frail, is activated, but barely; it holds its lexeme in place, yet with the least insistence. Like everything the sonnet describes, this phrasing itself is mutable, wispy, dogged by its own negation—holding for a moment only insofar as it does not quite give out to "old." Establishing at the very start its semiotic "model" in the layered ambiguities, both grammatical and phonemic, of the first clause, the sonnet as paragrammatic variant—the sonnet as a conversion and expansion of a nest of timeworn truisms about the work of Time—would now, as we listen back over it one last time, be understood to go like this: "When I consider all growing things, and consider how in growing no thing can more than momentarily hold in—or hold on in, hold to—its own ripeness, how all things must therefore grow hold only to let go—in a word, to grow old —then I write poetry, this poetry, the text of you in youth."

The Shakespearean lyric text is thus dense not only with sonic patterning of all sorts, with lexical and grammatical ambiguity, with loaded rhyme, internal echo, even an anagrammatic streak at times, but dense also with what I have borrowed from Ricks's consideration of the "anti-pun" to call the antiphonal variant, spawned by a phantom enjambment between words. To sample just one more, earlier sonnet on the same theme of mutability, we note that sonnet 12 includes a lament for the cyclic passing of the summer foliage, "Which erst from heat did canopy the herd." The image of a "canopy," veil, or screen returns as an allusive trace in the next line's "summer's green all girded up in sheaves." This sonnet then closes with a tripled ligature that elides the twinned consonants g/'g, t/T , and 's/s across the sequentially enjambed gap between words. The result is again to depersonify the iconographic trope of Father Time—"And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defense"—with an unfigural vernacular truism, the matrix under erasure: nothing gains time (against age and death).

Sonnets are of course, in verbal derivation, "little songs," sonnettes. In phonemic reading, however, enunciation as speech act is not the issue—but pronunciation as a linguistic fact decidedly is. Script, alone, cannot entirely exhaust its energies, and the unsettling excess—the edgy remainder—may operate as a return to differential origins from the seeming fixity of a writtenwording. To isolate this reversion as a convertibility in the literary object itself, a functional ambivalence generated in processing the "object" as "text," is the work of the phonemic reading begun here.

"Porches of the Ear"

As we move from the ambivalent materiality of Shakespeare's lyric lines to a theatrical text whose phonic undulations would be at least to some extent disambiguated in the voicings of any given performance, questions of inflection and pronunciation become more prominent, though not finally determinate. How to do justice to Shakespeare's intonations and accents has long been a debate in the performance aesthetics of his plays. On the evidence of a remarkable parody of such debate in Henry Fielding, we are led to think of it as an "eternal" topos in Shakespeare studies. In the eighth chapter of Fielding's A Journey from This World to the Next , the deceased narrator comes upon Shakespeare, our deathless dramatist, holding court in the otherworld, arbitrating debates over "ambiguous passages in his works."15 The Bard is at one point asked to adjudicate a dispute about the accentual stress and pitch with which Othello's murderous line "Put out the light, and then put out the light," should be intoned, and so interpreted, in performance. A parallel reading of the two clauses is suggested on one side, then an emphatic singling out of the second as "THE light," the light of lights. The narrator himself joins the debate to suggest instead "the light . . . THY light," but he is soon impressed with another reading "very sophisticated in my opinion"; without designating it as such, he is drawn to the idea of a paronomastic slant rhyme: "Put out the light, and then put out THEE, light," where the fuller voicing of the e in "the" elongates the pause between words into a virtual comma, allowing the article to thicken into a homonym for the doomed second person—as if in venomous travesty of a clichi like "light of my life."

The celebrated oratorial richness of Othello's speeches might well have provided further evidence of phonic contouring in this chapter, but it is Hamlet that most exhaustively thematizes the wiles of language, the unction and poison of speech, in company with a texturing sound play that saturates nearly every scene. The "phonetic and ideational interplay" (Booth again) prevalent in the sonnets is every bit as much in evidence, though less often critically glossed, in a dramatic text like Hamlet . Says the Prince, for instance, to Ophelia: "Nymph, in thy orisons / Be all my sins remembered" (3.1.88–89),16 as if the monosyllabic "sin" could be purged by internalization within the very term for its remembrance in benediction. (And even here the paronomasia is not free from the transegmental drift of a widened internal rhyme ["orisons / my sins "] of just the sort the next chapter examines in terminal positions.) More often in this tragedy, however, the role of paronomasia is to encodedirectly some overt and spreading contamination. This play about poison in the ear repeatedly submits its own phonemes to perverse dilutions and admixtures, the syllables split and spilt along the line. Rhetorician himself of these effects, Claudius would have his auditors intuit the leaking virulence of his nephew as the danger of one who would "envenom with his envy" (4.7.103), where the "etiologic distancing," as Hartman would call it, between imputed cause (desire, greed) and effect (pollution) is exposed in compression by the internal echo.

Again on the subject of a poisoning of ears, now literalized, the ghost charges that Claudius is the villain who "in the por ches of my ears did pour / the lepr ous distilment" (1.5.63–64). The syllabic figuration of these lines seems itself concentrated into a final phonemic juncture at the p/r of "leprous." Dell Hymes has suggested that poetry is often organized by a dominant nucleus of vowels transformed by consonantal variants.17 Such a generative or transformational phonology, rather than grammar, serves to track euphonic and paronomastic effects back to a vocalic deep structure. This theory of the dominant nucleus may of course be subsumed to the notion of projected equivalences in Jakobson. A further example, with a doubled o sound more nearly equivalent in Shakespeare's pronunciation, appears in the internal slant rhyme of Hamlet's first soliloquy, where the sense of degenerate and unchecked luxuriance choking on its own excess is captured in a self-begetting thicket of sibilants: "'tis an unweeded garden / That grows to s eed. Things rank and gross in nature / Poss ess it merely" (1.2.135–37). The paronomasia of "grows"/"gross" may well be accounted for as a long o nucleus framed by gutterals and sibilants and then projected along the axis of contiguity — not only as a nearly perfect internal rhyme but as almost a full homophonic pun.

In moving from this general paronomastic terrain of Hamlet 's poetry to a specific crux like "A little more than kin and less than kind" (1.2.64), we can see the particular utility of the "dominant nucleus" model — with its transformational deep structure — for any partial utterance depending for its full power on what goes unsaid as well. In this respect, the relation of this model both to the "transformational poetics" of Hartman, with its overdetermined poles and elided middles, and to the invisible matrix of Riffaterre's semiotic expansions begins to take shape more clearly. Attempting to cajole Hamlet into accepting both his uncle's rule and his kinship, Claudius has just addressed the hero as "my cousin Hamlet, and my son" (1.2.63). Realizing that these blandishments have no effect on Hamlet's black mood, Claudius has then wondered aloud: "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?" (1.2.65). Echoing the uncle's cozening syllabic chime in "cousin . . . son," Hamlet has then rejoined, "Not so, my lord. I am too much in the sun" (1.2.66), a reply which not only mocks the heliocentric tropes of monarchy but, in its homophonic pun, seems tosuggest that the hero is on all counts too much in the role of "son" to suit him. Strategically lodged in just this larger field of phonetic reverberation is the famous ejaculation to which Hamlet now turns aside: "A little more than kin, and less than kind!" Taking "kind" as pitched between the meanings "natural" and "benign," between "of the kind" and "kindly," we thus overhear Hamlet mumbling at once about Claudius and about himself in a relationship too close for comfort, so near and yet so far: both incestuous, on the one hand, and mortally antagonistic, on the other. We are horribly more than cousins, he says, while I am far less than kindly disposed toward you, precisely for how far short you fall from the natural standards of your kind.

Then, too, as if the "more" carries with it almost a sense of prosodic quantity as well as spiritual quality, the weighted increase from "kin" toward what is here its virtual antithesis in "kind" passes invisibly through an unuttered but mediating third term. The complexities of the said circle the unsaid and entice it toward voice. Hamlet cannot name this transformation of the "kin" nucleus, nor even let slip a variant of its buried matrix, for such rancorous candor might consign him to final paralysis, spelling out the ambitious self-interest at the back of any revenge. Yet caught inaudibly between "kin" and "kind," or left in the lurch between them, lurks a ghostly overtone — lurks unheard, that is, by subversive reverberation, the tacit noun "king." More than "kin," "king" should be Hamlet's own title. Even in the silence between immobilizing polarities, the return of the repressed will out. Partly because the rhetorical schema of the line sets up the expectations of a guessing game ("What is a little more than kin and less than kind?"), we virtually await Hamlet's speaking the word "king" as a phonically clued solution to the puzzle. It may not seem accidental, either, that this threefold pattern recalls the triadic riddle asked of Oedipus by the Sphynx. The ultimate masterplot for Hartman's microstylistics is the elided maturation of Oedipus, the hero's internally truncated lifeline as an excluded middle between over-determined ends — in Oedipus's case, the overspecified terms of son and husband (of the same women). Hamlet's case, too, is figured by the extremity of the elided middle in a lexical form, the nephew effaced between a parent's death and a denied inheritance. Moreover, such an impetus is fostered by a phoneme (/g/) that never even appears in the text, a transformative cipher kept between the lines because it is interdicted by the psychology of the speech. If so much can be incident to so little, what then about a letter not interdicted so much as let loose in disguise, under cover of a dictional gap? Such is the fluctuant force field of an actually inscribed, though phantasmally detached, phoneme: resulting not from the blanking out of (forbidden) words but the activated and displaced blanks between them. A closer attention to this latter (transegmental) effect will follow some further discriminations among typesof Shakespearean sound play made operable across even a library copy as well as a theatrical experience of the "text."

Ghostly Play

Given the furious profusion in Hamlet of all sorts of lexical bucklings and permutations, it should be helpful to subdivide them on the way toward that most radical transegmental effect on which this discussion, as with sonnet 15, is eventually to concentrate. We will call their three chief manifestations, for convenience, "intralexical," "interlexical," and "supralexical" transforms. The least disturbing of the phonemic slippages, the one that respects most closely the lexical borders, if not the integrity of what they enclose, is the phonic tension that breaks down a word without breaking it open. To the examples already examined, we may add a double instance from the coda of Hamlet . About to become his own ghost in death, Hamlet commissions the retelling of his tragic history. Over the body of his friend, Horatio consecrates himself to this oratorical purpose:

So shall you hear
Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts,
Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters,
Of death put on by cunning and forced cause

Before the transposition (or metathesis) by which "casual" is switched to "cause," the monosyllable "acts" has already passed to its apparent reiteration, but only as a momentarily detached morpheme immediately expanded as part of a new epithet for random violence, "accidental." And just as "acts" carries a metadramatic overlay of the elapsed theatrical experience that has been comprised thereof, even as these sequential acts are about to be retold in narrative rather than theatrical discourse, so might the inner ear additionally mistake the second syllable (if there is one) of "forced" in a way that transforms the whole word into the punning "foresaid." What would thus be phonetically fostered is a metanarrative hint of the play's own previously written and performed incidents ("foresaid causes" already "put on," enacted, placed on stage by "cunning" — or theatrical conning) as they are now to be cast up into report. Indeed, the earliest cause of enmity and violence mentioned in the play is the usurpation of Fortinbras's territory — "all those his lands, / Which he stood seized [possessed] of" (1.1.88–89) — by Hamlet's father, the King. When these holdings are alluded to again fifteen lines later as "those foresaid lands" (1.1.103), the meter openly invites the pun on a disyllabic "forced." The homophonic twist on "foresaid" is thus a turn ofphrase that is arguably to be reversed five acts later in yet another retrospective allusion to all that antecedent bloodshed — beginning with the "foresaid" lands "forced" from an enemy of the state — that has led so inexorably to the play's funereal denouement. By even the differential minutiae of such a subtending phonemic webwork can a play's overall thematic symmetries be brought to light — and to bear on the text in production.

It is clear that "foresaid " is a complete homophonic transformation of the word's second syllable, whereas "acts -idental" is merely a temporary (morphemic) deflection. Still, in regard to their retention of the outer boundaries of the lexical unit — however unorthodox their internal syllabic manipulation — both belong essentially to the first type of transformation (intralexical) under analysis. Neither of these effects outplays the lexical frame that generates it. There is by contrast, with the next category to which we move, the tendency toward a momentarily breached word boundary. Though this distinction does not necessarily emerge from the performance of the text on stage, it has considerable ramifications for a theory of phonemic free play. There is at least the off chance that such a lexical breach is operating in Hamlet's climactic speech in the graveyard. Coming round to his long deferred echo of the "To be or not to be" soliloquy, there is the capping disyllabic sentence: "Let be." The complete brief text of Hamlet's transfiguring acquiescence of course goes like this: "The readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is't to leave betimes? Let be" (5.2.222–24). Across the syntactic accumulation of this thought, and in colloquial continuity with it, flashes the momentary idiom "what is't to leave be ," as in to let alone . The thought holds, even as the syntax converts it into its corrective extension. No sooner said than undone, the second syllable of the fleeting verb phrase, "leave be," is absorbed into the adverb for early, "betimes." It is just then, in turn, that the very idea of leaving be is revoiced in the more capacious and relaxed alternative, "Let be" — where something may be coming as well as being put behind.

There is another way to upset the reading sequence without ripping apart a lexeme. Beyond (1) intralexical transforms — the single word either extruding another from a syllabic warp (the approximation of "son" in "cousin" or of "sin" in "orison") or twisting itself into a wholesale homophone ("grows"/"gross" or, in a single pun, "forced" as "foresaid") — and beyond (2) interlexical displacements — one word shearing off from another for some momentarily transformed phrasal attachment ("leave be =times") — there is the related phenomenon of (3) supralexical conflations — two separate words fusing as the syllabic components of a third, a finessing of the zero juncture that creates both a new aural impression and a new semantic expression. This third category of effect tends to be less fleeting and diaphanous than such a junctural shuffle as "leave be=times," gone almost before it is registered. Anillustration: after impugning Gertrude's "judgment" in her choice of Claudius (3.4.70), Hamlet in the next line refers to "sense" (for feeling, rather than intelligence) in his backhanded, punning acknowledgment, "Sense sure you have." With its almost inevitable elision (in the mouth of an actor) between s(e) and s , the phrase thus lets slip the very "censure" which the whole speech intends.18

We find another example of such lexical (con)fusion — somewhat more debatable in philological terms but present at least as a near miss, an antipun — in the opening lines of Hamlet's first soliloquy, "O that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, / Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew" (1.2.129–30). Backward to start with (if not simply pleonastic), since thawing would be expected to precede melting in any normal process (or at least to be indistinguishable from it), the second line's at best tautological series serves to invite another sense of "resolve" that dislodges the image altogether f rom the overdetermined context of deliquescence.19 Conjured here, if only in words, is the resolution , even for suicide, that Hamlet cannot otherwise summon. Nor is the deepest desire expressed in the line further dimmed or appeased by the completion of the figure with "into a dew." Obviously, Hamlet speaks metaphorically, but the metaphor is itself double-voiced and returns a literalism from its underside. A reconstituted lexical bond resolves the scripted article and noun into a disyllabic homonym. With certain philological reservations about the precise anglicizing of the French word in Elizabethan English, the result is nonetheless that the wish fulfillment of a suicidal "resolve" commits the self to an overtone of life's final adieu.20

As I began this chapter by suggesting, "Shakespeare" in these investigations is not a proper name so much as the common term for a literary property: for a certain euphonic, polysemous roughening of the textual surface which has become the very norm of verbal wit in English — a virtual thinking in words and word sounds. Shakespeare is thus the password for that definition of the literary within which the writer by the same name wins his preeminence. If Shakespeare is a field of textual phenomena, rather than the source or hero of a private literary idiolect, then traditional stylistics does indeed stand in need of revision by a more impersonal categorization of perceptual (or receptual) effects, as with the thumbnail taxonomy of lexical and phonemic mutation here in progress. In this regard, to distinguish a Renaissance reading of, or attendance at, Hamlet from a modern-day counterpart (not equivalent), while locating both within a developing experience of the Shakespearean text, should only confirm our sense of Shakespeare as a receptual rather than a biographical category. On balance, there is certainly as much phonic density in the Shakespearean texts we read in their modern English "translation" as in the "originals"; it is just otherwise distributed,located along different orthographic axes. Sounds may differ, but the sounded density remains, and remains in the form of an instigation to what we can only call thick reading . Since it all depends on how you say it, no matter whether out loud or to yourself, the "Shakespeherian Rag" is thus recognized all the more openly here for what it all along has been: a reading effect .

In the phonemic mutations discussed so far, we have noted three modes of morphophonemic transformation still bounded by the logic of lexical parameters: (1) intralexical — the homophonic syllable, the part echo, or the full homophonic pun; (2) interlexical — the momentary breaking-off of a phonemic cluster as free vocable; and (3) supralexical — the outright fusion of adjacent but lexically discrete morphemes in a new third term. In addition to these is perhaps the most common, potentially the most disruptive, in practice the most muted, and in criticism certainly the least discussed of all the phonic convolutions of Shakespeare's language — or of any other writer's. This is the transegmental drift that leaves at least one of the abutting lexemes no longer intact. Staying a while with Hamlet , we can now draw into the open some examples of this fourth, aurally diffusive category, as already noticed in sonnet 15 in the glancingly asserted "engraft (t')you (a)new" or, more faintly and fleetingly, "grows (h)old/s." This fourth type of (transegmental) mutation is characterized by the vanishing act of a single phoneme — backward or forward, by ligature or elision — in transit from one lexical unit to an adjacent one. It therefore constitutes an ambiguation of juncture at the level of the single phoneme rather than a mobile and adhesive morpheme or lexeme. Its exemplary leverage in this study derives from its refusal to respect even the morphemic, let alone lexical, borders on which traditional stylistics depends.

The spectral elocution of the father's ghost offers illustration within Hamlet 's thematic of defiled hearing. With well over half a dozen iterations of the call to Hamlet's audition — including "List, list, O list!" — massed behind it in the first scene, the ghost's indictment of Claudius climaxes the motif of hearing with the synecdoche "ear of Denmark":

'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused.

In performance — given that our hearing, along with the hero's, has been whipped into febrile attention — we could barely help catching for a split second the drift, the rift, the junctural upset of "serpent's tongue." It is a spectral anti-pun from a ghost's own mouth.21 Close upon, closing upon, this mere flick of the tongue is the syntax that infinitesimally shifts its ground andshuts out the pun's very possibility, putting the second hissing sibilant back in its place as frontal alliteration. For a moment, though, in this metalingual irony of phonemic ambivalence, we eavesdrop upon the revelation not only of murder but, proleptically, of the forgery of report that follows — and for which the same villain is to blame. Hamlet is, after all, a play where death's sting is very much in the tongue, both in the surviving report that falsifies the crime and in the posthumous obligations that giving voice to it entails.

Beyond this reflexive ambiguity — a quintessential slippage in this play of ghostly phonemes — there are other sorts of aural conversions at lexical intervals. Conducing to reintegration in a new word, they do so within a plausible new syntax as well, as "serpent's tongue" does not. Says the ghost to Hamlet: "I could a tale unfold whose lightest word / Would harrow up thy soul" (1.5.15–16). Few actors could manage, or would trouble, to disambiguate the junctural slippage and ligature of "whose lightest" into "whose slightest." Equally difficult to keep from activation is the flickering counterphrase hovering over the next dire consequence of which Hamlet is warned by the ghost, whose story would "Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres" (1.5.17; my emphasis). Again a drifting, this time backward, of a sibilant, this time doubled, creates an auditory elision. From this telescoping of the syntactic gap is released, by an ambiguity of the dental d/t sound, the equally likely "stars dart": in a sense the momentaneous effect of the cause of "starting" in the first place. Phrasing becomes an etiology on the run, microscopically (or microphonically) contracted. The pressure of the unsaid matrix behind this strained kinetic phrase — the etymological link to "startling" — is not quite sufficient, that is, to suppress the transegmental alternative, since it too operates within the semantic paradigm of functional choices.

Upon the ghost's first exit, before he meets with Hamlet, it is Horatio who describes how "Th' extravagant and erring spirit hies / To his confine" (1.1.154–55). The erring of a phonemic ghost, too, in the root sense of wandering (hear errancy ), is also at play here. Eventual English teachers, among others, learn somewhere on their way to graduate school, usually on the occasion of an aphorism from Pope, that the word erring, if pronounced as in error, is in fact a mistake, since it should rhyme, for instance, with deferring . But this softening of the vowel sound had not yet taken place by Shakespeare's time,22 and so the polysemy of this line from Hamlet is closer to pure segmental ambiguity than the educated theatergoer might today expect. "Extravagant and erring," given the etymology of "extravagant," thus comes bearing a redundancy that is partly done away with by the antiphonal drifting of the d into a reduplicating liaison — and hence into a transforming consonant in the unwritten but aurally unavoidable "extravagant and daring." Two paradigmatic axes are involved here, one linguistic, one contextual. The phonemicalternation is allowed only because the lexical alternatives of "erring" and "daring" are also operable, in context, within the binary system of semantic and thematic choice. In their slippage they still fit the sense.

A close parallel in phonemic contour to this sliding recombination of dentalized phonemes returns us to the play's motif of the violated and defiled ear. The new king is attempting to poison Hamlet's reputation by accusing the Prince of poisoning Claudius's own. Not only does the usurping monarch claim that rumors "infect" Hamlet's ear (4.5.90), but he shortly adds that, as a result, the diseased Prince never hesitates "our person to arraign / In ear and ear" (4.5.93–94). Performed as prompt text for the "ear," there would again be an immediate doubling and liaison at the consonantal borders of the two particles, the preposition and the conjunction. An infectious drifting from word to(ward) word would thus discover in this emphatic, this tautological repetition of the noun "ear" the fractionally displaced paragram of an idiomatic matrix or clichi, "in near and dear." As never more exhaustively thematized in Shakespeare's work, the ear indeed is in dis-ease.

With wording itself out of joint, Hamlet, then, is a play whose preternatural quality is partly conveyed by the spookiness of its sepulchral echoes. If poison is to be poured in the ear, the ear must have porches. Since even the casual is causal, acts can't be accidental, which goes for linguistic acts as well. By its very nature, here its verbal nature, what envy does is to envenom. This is a play where cousins are cozened by the name of "son," where unkind kin vie for kingship, and in whose garden all that grows is, by acoustic contagion, gross. "Shakespeare" thus names a verbal field where words perpetually fertilize each other, sometimes in decomposition, crumbling and recombining, surrendering the envelope of their separate definition to mix, blur, and confound even their own lexical identity. One thing leads to another, lends to another. Paronomasia narrows to an interplay between (in the sense of across ) words, across their segmental breaks: again, wordplay as word-splay.

A Never-Fixed Mark

If paronomasia is the prototypical instance in Jakobson's definition of the poetic function, how then do these transegmental flashes and dodges either fit or revise that definition? One might say that they simply project comparison into combination, equivalence into sequence, at an angle of less deflection from the vertical, or paradigmatic, axis, so that the equatables or alternatives are overlapped within a single equivocation. But this adjustment of Jakobson's definition still fails to account for the unsettling effect in reading produced by these disjunctive lexical overlays. By contrast with such equivocal contiguity, the echo of "grows to seed" in "rank and gross," for instance, is separated almost as decidedly as end rhyme, falling indeed in a separate line. This sort ofchime quite audibly lifts words from sequence and stacks them on top of each other in the mind's ear, leaving the grammar intact. In such cases, the chain of succession in syntax remains the baseline upon which phonic recurrence is projected as a secondary feature. In the transegmental dislocations we have been examining, however, syntax does not remain a stationary grounding. With "stars (s)tart" (as a far limit of paronomasia in almost pure, undelayed doubling), if we hear them "start" and "dart" at once, we do so by an infinitesimal shift within the same grammatical collocation: "stars (s) = t/dart." By just this logic, however, the very axis of succession itself seems suddenly destabilized, the combinatory logic of semantic production no longer secure. At issue is not just a choice within the lexical paradigm, since "start" emerges as if by stealing a sibilant from the preceding plural. That its loss is not syntactically noted, that the plural stays put, does not mean that one axis has not encroached on the other. If straight paronomasia is the quintessential projection of equivalencies from the axis of selection onto that of combination, then such transegmental slippages might instead be read in part as the reverse projection of successivity back upon the axis of alternate selection. It is this spectrum of substitution, kept preternaturally active, that is now the operable though malleable baseline. Upon this shifting ground the previous security of grammatical sequence is mapped in all its sudden oscillation and vagrancy.

Whether or not the transegmental drift is taken to skew or directly to invert the coordinates of the poetic function as rendered by Jakobson, it does tend, as suggested earlier, to shadow the individual speech act (parole ) with its basis in language itself (langue ). As against signifying practice in other semiotic systems, language is based simultaneously on two stages of difference known to linguists as "double articulation." The phonic raw matter of speech is differentiated into a set of oppositions pertinent to a given language, as, for instance, the functional distinction in English between d and t . Upon this system of distinctions is mounted the difference between various bondings of phonemic matter into the units known as morphemes and lexemes, as in the functional opposition between "start" and "dart." This all takes place within the paradigms of the langue, before being further caught up in the metonymic linkage that bonds word to word in such a syntactic chain as the intransitive present-tense predication "stars start" (or "dart"). The options of the langue that continuously stand waiting for the selections of parole are ordinarily subsumed entirely to the final signifying function of any coherent grammatical utterance. That segmentation which undergirds the morphophonemic structure of the lexeme, in other words, is usually ignored — sentenced to suppression — once the lexeme passes into continuous utterance. If we take the transegmental drift to project this normative march of the horizontal, ormetonymic, sequence back into the paradigmatic axis, we must understand it to do so in a way that causes a temporary regression or breakdown, a reversion from selective speech to the dormant fluctuation, even turmoil, of language. "To hear with eyes" can in this sense be an audition of flux and irruption beneath and between the graphic signifiers on the page. The study of such disruptive moments becomes the monitoring of linguistic differentials as they impinge upon and disintegrate the sureties of parole, a study of langue itself — or "languageness" — as the return of the repressed.

It is a return to which the Shakespearean phonotext is endlessly hospitable. Among the widely noted puns on "Will" in the sonnets, there is this often-glossed moment from sonnet 136: "Will will fulfill the treasure of thy love, / Ay fill it full with wills, and my will one." Booth remarks on the "gradual revelation, increasing overtness, and mounting crudity of the pun on fulfill" (SS, 470), though not the play on affirmation as identity — the economy of an "Ay" for an I — that further crystallizes the self-nomination of "Will." Nor, in a transegmental mode, has anyone noted a related punning effect on Shakespeare's first name, Will's "will=full-"ness. As a lateral gambit of the text not contained by normal lexical borders, this effect emerges as a seeming impulse asserted from within that autonomous model of desire which is language itself. It is no accident of literary history that this telescoping process of one word from two finds its homage by reversal in Joyce's own later play with the last name of Will's wife, Ann Hathaway, decontracting it into a homophonic willfulness all its own: "If others have their will Ann hath a way."23

At least one such effect in the sonnets is even pitched explicitly between the claims of eye and ear, of script and presumed utterance. "Why is my verse so barren of new pride?" asks the persona of sonnet 76, lamenting that his lines are not given to "quick change," to "new-found methods, and to compounds strange?" Before even bringing the interrogation to a halt, however, the Shakespearean text has instanced its own quick-change artistry in the "compounds strange" of a segmental regrouping, as it asks why "every word doth almost tell my name?" (emphasis added). Though Booth notices in a later paradoxical figure from this same sonnet, "Spending again what is already spent," that there is a "muffled pun" (read: a muted junctural breakdown, otherwise an intralexical drift) evoking the "compound(s) strange," as it were, of "a=gain," and though he elsewhere glosses the verb "stell" for "to carve" in its relation to writing (to stell, to steel, to style [SS, 172–73]), neither his nor other commentary registers the transegmental "inscription" by which "almost tell" — that dead metaphor of vocal utterance — becomes (more accurately, in textual terms) "almo(st) stell." Here is the transegmental ligature of an entire diphone rather than single letter — and this carrying a suggestion about thegraphic rather than phonic imprint of poetry (a hint partly complicated, of course, by the aural form in which it reaches us).

We are listening, after all, to the same writer who, as dramatist, puts such a phonic drift into the voice of the chorus in Troilus and Cressida . After Ulysses's speech about the wanton and sluttish wiles of Cressida, the lascivious "language in her eye," a choric voice announces, by way of equivocal enunciation, "The Troyans' trumpet" (4.5.64) — where the expenditure of the sibilant breath famously blares out the phonemic and moral slur "s=trumpet." There is even an internal literary history, or intertextual lineage, ensuing from this morphemic joke within the sequence of Shakespearean drama. Two years after Troilus , in the next of the tragedies, Iago slips almost unconsciously into the same pun, uttered in soliloquy by a subliminal logic of association. Looking on at Cassio taking Desdemona's hand, he has begun hatching his adultery plot when Othello's arrival interrupts and refocuses his scheming. Putting himself on alert with "The Moor! I know his trumpet" (2.1.178),24 Iago is also implicitly congratulating himself on having conceived his stratagem to recast the doting wife in the role of whore. This is, after all, the same "Shakespeare," the same punning field, that resuscitates the chronicle of the ancient "King Leir" as a privileged testing ground for that intensified blind willfulness which is "kinglier" only by tragic definition — a vein of wordplay, turning elsewhere on the "Royal l EAR" (1.1.139) of the king's attention, that is further exploited in Jean-Luc Godard's film version.25 This is, as well, the same Shakespeare, the same homophonic field, in which a dialogue between Romeo and Juliet, where the notion of sinning lips is thrice on their lips (1.5.107, 108, 109), is followed by Juliet's renowned rhetorical question at their next meeting; as precipitated by the liaison of a sibilant and enhanced by the iambic emphasis on the second syllable, Juliet's phonemic lapsus will often be heard from the stage as the thematic distillant: "What sin a name?" This ambivalent lexical s/play asks as well as answers that deeper question about Shakespearean verbal pluralism: what's in a word? Nothing that cannot slip past in the happy fault of a redistributed lexical caesura, a dropped and recovered downbeat in the syncopated rhythm of the "Shakespeherian Rag." Even when not uttered from the stage, the written page has its own phonemic enactments, its own plays-within-the-play of reference. In that famous sonnet about love's necessary unalterability (sonnet 116) — to take a last reflexively thematized example — the very negation of a love so constituted rises to haunt all protestation from within the fickle signifying system of "a(n) (n)ever-fix'd mark," one mark after another on the track and trail of desire.

But why — one may ask again — should the author of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Lear, or the sonnets be called upon to begin these proceedings?

Shakespeare serves to "authorize" the phonemic reading of this study not in his role as the poet who first posits the modern (lyric) subject — as in the convergent claims of Anthony Easthope and Joel Fineman — but rather as the writer and performed playwright alike who positions us before a certain kind of literary textuality in English.26 Shakespeare has come to be read as if he taught us how to read, as if his texts are the wellsprings of those specifically literary inflections of language that are at once most prized and most often appraised in the processing of a poetic text, whether by reader or critic. The term "Shakespeare" thus stands in retrospect as the primary manifestation of that sustained and extreme verbal originality, that driven invention, density, and obliquity, which is literary language. With "his" lexical and syntactical eccentricity, concatenation of imagery, and sustained verbal opacity, "Shakespeare" names an exemplary case of that working of words beyond their referential service which has come to be called poetic. And, by circular reasoning, whenever we discover such literary "values" in a single text by Shakespeare, they only serve to confirm again his priority, his mastery, and his influence. The exemplary status of Shakespearean textuality resides therefore in the fact that such textuality defines for the act of reading not predominantly the modern discursive subject but, more decidedly, the modern subject-position of the reader, adrift amid a constant play of signifiers, a subject split, doubled, ambivalent, layered, elided, and in flux, moving forward only by doubling back, proceeding by reprocessing, reading by rewriting. If grammar, and certainly rhetoric, work to sustain this discursive positioning, at the same time there is something in what we might call the fact of the linguistic that also serves to contend with and contest the subjective grounding of utterance — equivocating it through the fluctuant wash of a phonotext polyvalent and unspeakable. The phonotext, in short, cannot be englobed or totalized as voice.

It is in this sense that the "enunciation" of discourse needs qualification by its always contingent "evocalization" as text. Poetry as produced language inflects and bedevils, strains and unfastens, poetry as discourse. The reigning ideology in any period may be one of containment, but the material base itself is always insurgent. This insurgency is what, in and of itself, we call literary, as well as what is often meant by the Shakespearean preeminence, or priority, within the history of literariness. In this closed conceptual circuit, the objectivity — the material basis, the inscribed signifiers — of a text, processed in the receptual "subjectivity" of reading, induces as secondary effect of their effects the very subject-positioning upon which the reading in the first (never fixed) place depends. Given what we have come to expect as readers of literature in the modern English tradition, it is precisely as readers rather than as psychological agents that the Shakespearean text reads us in the making, which isanother way of saying that it makes us in the reading. Stylistics has traditionally explored the "structuring" activity in only one sense: the authorial manufacture of the text. A concentration of the phonotext would, by contrast, entertain literary production as a construction of the reader, in the double genitive sense (both "by" and "of"): denoting text production on the one hand and subject formation on the other, a twain that never fails to meet—but never for more than a word or two, for one word on the verge of its relation to another. Shakespeare provides, then, less the literary-historical than the prototypical starting point for the present attempt at a phonemic reading of the transegmental drift—that structural biplay which is an exemplary instance of the fluctuations of literary discourse. This reading procedure, with its emphasis on the somatic as well as psychic dimension of the positioned subject, needs now to extend and deepen its reserve of examples before theorizing further the place of the voice body in the "subjective" space of reading.


Excerpted from Reading Voices by Garrett Stewart Copyright © 1990 by Garrett Stewart. Excerpted by permission.
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