Why do I think a good string of images — say part of a reverie from Thoreau — can reveal reality just as closely and correctly as the report a good field biologist files after scouring a meadow?
Well, maybe there’s a structure to good poetic deliveries that lies hidden, just as there’s a structure to good field-work reports. Can I give an example of hidden structures that, once seen, give necessity and impact to a good poetic delivery?
If we excavate the hidden grammar of images we’ll uncover how they can be revelatory of the world.
First, think of the hidden grammar of a sentence that at first might seem nonsense. If I read “fish fish fish” and want to avoid the conclusion that I’ve encountered nonsense, I have to imagine a context that allows that string of words to grab hold and deliver. “Fish fish fish” might be “Fish! . . . Fish! . . . Fish!”, orders barked at the start of a fishing contest. It might be the spontaneous glee of fishermen finally discovering a well-stocked pool. Or it might be a language instructor repeating the word “fish” for non-English speakers working on pronunciation. Once we have the context, there’s a necessity in the way the words grip and reveal. We “get it” (on hearing the words) with the certitude of hearing “2+2 = 4” or “That’s a Great Heron!”
I can bring out the hidden structure of a string of words by considering a proper context for “fish fish fish”; and there’s also the matter not of context but of ‘intrinsic grammar.” I can take “fish fish fish” to be [despite initial appearances] a perfectly formed sentence. It is a concise way of saying, “Look, listen up: there are fish who go after other finny creatures – fish who fish fish.” To hear the sentence is to hear the tacit but powerful grammatical necessities of a well-formed English sentence. Once we get the hang of it, we can take a more challenging word-string, initially nonsense. We can hear “fish fish fish fish fish” as a well-formed sentence saying, “There are fish who go after other finny creatures who themselves go after finny creatures.” A set of nonsense words or images make sense, grab onto reality in a revelation, once we grasp the hidden a priori structures [those that Cavell announced in my previous post].
Now think of the hidden grammar of a string of images in a reverie Thoreau provides. If I happen on “All intelligences awake in the morning” I might read this in several ways, finding alternative grammars or structures underlying the words. I could read this as
–“All intelligent people awake in the morning”; or perhaps as
–“All intelligence, whether of persons or otherwise [say of trees or trout or stars] awakens with dawn”; or perhaps as
— “All (secret) messages [“intelligence”] awaken the agent receiving them into a new and unknown day.”; or perhaps as
–“Dawn brings all shining beings alive to bless us with their intelligence (their news)”
There is not a uniquely correct way to hear these word strings, but that doesn’t mean one or another or all of these can’t be a revelation. There’s no uniquely correct way to hear “fish fish fish”, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find structures that animate those words and let them sing and deliver realities. What hidden grammars of images and image-links do I discover in that apparently simple string of words, “All intelligences awake in the morning” ? Once I start laying them out, I realize that imagination is stronger than I might have thought — as strong as the detective’s report, or the field biologist’s. It takes digging to see this, but hey! — nothing good comes without effort.