Unreal Nature

December 11, 2016

A Spark of Expression

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:59 am

… The neutral meaning of the word applied to a particular actual reality under particular real conditions of speech communication creates a spark of expression.

This is from Speech Genres & Other Late Essays by M.M. Bakhtin (1986):

… all real and integral understanding is actively responsive, and constitutes nothing other than the initial preparatory stage of a response (in whatever form it may be actualized). And the speaker himself is oriented precisely toward such an actively responsive understanding. He does not expect passive understanding that, so to speak, only duplicates his own idea in someone else’s mind.

[line break added] Rather, he expects response, agreement, sympathy, objection, execution, and so forth (various speech genres presuppose various integral orientations and speech plans on the part of the speakers or writers). The desire to make one’s speech understood is only an abstract aspect of the speaker’s concrete and total speech plan. Moreover, any speaker is himself a respondent to a greater or lesser degree. He is not, after all, the first speaker, the one who disturbs the eternal silence of the universe.

… a sentence in context cannot elicit a response. It acquires this capability (or, rather, assimilates to it) only in the entirety of the whole utterance.

All these completely new qualities and peculiarities belong not to the sentence that has become a whole utterance, but precisely to the utterance itself. They reflect the nature of the utterance, not the nature of the sentence. They attach themselves to the sentence, augmenting it until it is a complete utterance.

[line break added] The sentence as a language unit lacks all of these properties; it is not demarcated on either side by a change of speaking subjects; it has neither direct contact with reality (with an extraverbal situation) nor a direct relation to others’ utterances; it does not have semantic fullness of value; and it has no capacity to determine directly the responsive position of the other speaker, that is, it cannot evoke a response.

[line break added] The sentence as a language unit is grammatical in nature. It has grammatical boundaries and grammatical completedness and unity. (Regarded in the whole of the utterance and from the standpoint of this whole, it acquires stylistic properties.) When the sentence figures as a whole utterance, it is as though it has been placed in a frame made of a quite different nature.

… In each utterance — from the single-word, everyday rejoinder to large, complex works of science or literature — we embrace, understand, and sense the speaker’s speech plan or speech will, which determines the entire utterance, its length and boundaries. We imagine to ourselves what the speaker wishes to say. And we also use this speech plan, this speech will (as we understand it), to measure the finalization of the utterance.

… Words belong to nobody, and in themselves they evaluate nothing.

… But it is still difficult to abandon the notion that each word of a language itself has or can have an “emotional tone,” “emotional coloring,” an “evaluative aspect,” a “stylistic aura,” and so forth, and, consequently, also an expressive intonation that is inherent in the word as such. After all, one might think that when selecting a word for an utterance we are guided by an emotional tone inherent in the individual word: we select those that in their tone correspond to the expression of our utterance and we reject others.

… [But] The utterance is what radiates its expression (rather, our expression) to the word we have selected, which is to say, invests the word with the expression of the whole. And we select the word because of its meaning, which is not in itself expressive but which can accommodate or not accommodate our expressive goals in combination with other words, that is, in combination with the whole of our utterance. The neutral meaning of the word applied to a particular actual reality under particular real conditions of speech communication creates a spark of expression.

[line break added] And, after all, this is precisely what takes place in the process of creating an utterance. We repeat, only the contact between the language meaning and the concrete reality that takes place in the utterance can create the spark of expression. It exists neither in the system of language nor in the objective reality surrounding us.

… When one analyzes an individual sentence apart from its context, the traces of addressivity and the influence of the anticipated response, dialogical echoes from others’ preceding utterances, faint traces of changes of speech subjects that have furrowed the utterance from within — all these are lost, erased, because they are all foreign to the sentence as a unit of language. All these phenomena are connected with the whole of the utterance, and when this whole escapes the field of vision of the analyst they cease to exist for him.

When reading that last sentence, remember that, as an extracted quote, it is an example of itself.

My previous post from Bakhtin’s book is here.




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