From: "NABOKV-L, English"
Sent: Mon, April 15, 2013 6:54:12 PM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] VNBIB: Reading Voices & Transegmental Drift in PF
I recently happened upon a fascinating analysis of John Shade's verse (and other things PF) in a chapter (titled "Rhyme's Treason") from Garrett Stewart's book Reading Voices (U of California, 1990). Stewart focuses on a concept that he calls "transegmental drift," where, by either elision or liaison, adjacent phonemes blend into one another. So, for example, Shade rhymes "mirrors smiled" with "shadows mild." The former works by elision, where we turn the two S sounds into one (so the ear cannot tell if it is hearing "mirror smiled" or "mirrors smiled"). The latter case works by liaison, where the sibilant may be shifted by the ear to the beginning of "mild," to make "smiled." Some other examples of transegmentals from "PF" given by Stewart:
dance / its stance (elision)
no doubt / left out (liaison)
stress / woman's dress (liaison)
other men die but I / Am not another; therefore I'll not die (elision)
that rapt / trapped (liaison)
A few choice excerpts:
"In Pale Fire Shade and Kinbote . . . seem ultimately to converge-at least to the extent that each aestheticizes the verbal accident, the happy fault, the balletic slip."
"There is a weird fatalism as well as whimsy at work, which turns reading itself into a kind of paranoia. It is apprehensiveness curiously matched by Kinbote's replotting of the poetic text as his own prolonged flight from death into textual immortality. To submit to the text as an occasion of paranoia is no longer to trust your senses. Words can't be relied on to stay in the scripted place. Their constituent phonemes may at any moment contract new allegiances, forge new words, or if not words, then unprocessed but palpable new sound configurations that subtend or overarch the lexical boundary without stabilizing any alternative phrase."
After addressing drift in "PF," the poem, he analyzes Hazel's barn message, with its many "variable intervals" between lexical units. An excerpt from that section:
"[T]he lake in which Hazel dies is located (by way of an aural rebus) in the alphabetic void-not even a functioning lexical gap-between the towns of 'Exe' and 'Wye' (l. 490) when pronounced as the phonetic names of adjacent alphabetical characters. The 'variable interval' guiding Kinbote's researches into the ghost's code is thus in and of itself the clue to Hazel's fate, and precisely in its semantic contingency, its nonsignifying mobility. The 'certain sounds and lights' that the young girl tried to parse into an articulate message, calling up perhaps the auditory and visual collaboration of ordinary language, thereby offers a clue to the textual allegory of her end. She has suffered a vanishing into and between script, a death by letters-merely because of their phonemic and
graphic constituents, shifting and imponderable as they may be. The clue was there in the alphabetic code itself. Suicide or not, her death as represented is made to depend on the sheer accident of the alphabetic code itself."
The larger chapter, by the way, includes discussion of similar moves in Hopkins, Joyce, and others.
[EDNOTE. Before this message could be forwarded, Matt added the following postscript. -- SES]
In my post below, I should have said that the ear cannot decide between "mirrors smiled," "mirror smiled," or "mirrors mild."
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