Paradox (literature)

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In literature, the paradox is an anomalous juxtaposition of incongruous ideas for the sake of striking exposition or unexpected insight. It functions as a method of literary composition and analysis that involves examining apparently contradictory statements and drawing conclusions either to reconcile them or to explain their presence. [1]

Contents

Literary or rhetorical paradoxes abound in the works of Oscar Wilde and G. K. Chesterton. Most literature deals with paradox of situation; Rabelais, Cervantes, Sterne, Borges, and Chesterton are recognized as masters of situation as well as verbal paradox. Statements such as Wilde's "I can resist anything except temptation" and Chesterton's "spies do not look like spies" [2] are examples of rhetorical paradox. Further back, Polonius' observation that "though this be madness, yet there is method in't" is a memorable third. [2] Also, statements that are illogical and metaphoric may be called paradoxes, for example: "The pike flew to the tree to sing." The literal meaning is illogical, but there are many interpretations for this metaphor.

Cleanth Brooks' "Language of Paradox"

Cleanth Brooks, an active member of the New Critical movement, outlines the use of reading poems through paradox as a method of critical interpretation. Paradox in poetry means that tension at the surface of a verse can lead to apparent contradictions and hypocrisies. Brooks' seminal essay, The Language of Paradox, lays out his argument for the centrality of paradox by demonstrating that paradox is "the language appropriate and inevitable to poetry." [3] The argument is based on the contention that referential language is too vague for the specific message a poet expresses; he must "make up his language as he goes." This, Brooks argues, is because words are mutable and meaning shifts when words are placed in relation to one another. [4]

In the writing of poems, paradox is used as a method by which unlikely comparisons can be drawn and meaning can be extracted from poems both straightforward and enigmatic.

Brooks points to William Wordsworth's poem It is a beauteous evening, calm and free. [5] He begins by outlining the initial and surface conflict, which is that the speaker is filled with worship, while his female companion does not seem to be. The paradox, discovered by the poem's end, is that the girl is more full of worship than the speaker precisely because she is always consumed with sympathy for nature and not – as is the speaker – in tune with nature while immersed in it.

In his reading of Wordsworth's poem, "Composed upon Westminster Bridge", Brooks contends that the poem offers paradox not in its details, but in the situation the speaker creates. Though London is a man-made marvel, and in many respects in opposition to nature, the speaker does not view London as a mechanical and artificial landscape but as a landscape composed entirely of nature. Since London was created by man, and man is a part of nature, London is thus too a part of nature. It is this reason that gives the speaker the opportunity to remark upon the beauty of London as he would a natural phenomenon, and, as Brooks points out, can call the houses "sleeping" rather than "dead" because they too are vivified with the natural spark of life, granted to them by the men that built them.

Brooks ends his essay with a reading of John Donne's poem The Canonization , which uses a paradox as its underlying metaphor. Using a charged religious term to describe the speaker's physical love as saintly, Donne effectively argues that in rejecting the material world and withdrawing to a world of each other, the two lovers are appropriate candidates for canonization. This seems to parody both love and religion, but in fact it combines them, pairing unlikely circumstances and demonstrating their resulting complex meaning. Brooks points also to secondary paradoxes in the poem: the simultaneous duality and singleness of love, and the double and contradictory meanings of "die" in Metaphysical poetry (used here as both sexual union and literal death). He contends that these several meanings are impossible to convey at the right depth and emotion in any language but that of paradox. A similar paradox is used in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , when Juliet says, "For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch and palm to palm is holy palmer's kiss."

Brooks' contemporaries in the sciences were, in the 1940s and 50's, reorganizing university science curricula into codified disciplines. The study of English, however, remained less defined and it became a goal of the New Critical movement to justify literature in an age of science by separating the work from its author and critic (see Wimsatt and Beardsley's Intentional fallacy and Affective fallacy) and by examining it as a self-sufficient artifact. In Brooks's use of the paradox as a tool for analysis, however, he develops a logical case as a literary technique with strong emotional effect. His reading of "The Canonization" in The Language of Paradox, where paradox becomes central to expressing complicated ideas of sacred and secular love, provides an example of this development. [4]

Paradox and irony

Although paradox and irony as New Critical tools for reading poetry are often conflated, they are independent poetical devices. Irony for Brooks is "the obvious warping of a statement by the context" [6] whereas paradox is later glossed as a special kind of qualification that "involves the resolution of opposites." [7]

Irony functions as a presence in the text – the overriding context of the surrounding words that make up the poem. Only sentences such as 2 + 2 = 4 are free from irony; most other statements are prey to their immediate context and are altered by it (take, as an example, the following joke. "A woman walks into a bar and asks for a double entendre . The bartender gives it to her." This last statement, perfectly acceptable elsewhere, is transformed by its context in the joke to an innuendo). Irony is the key to validating the poem because a test of any statement grows from the context – validating a statement demands examining the statement in the context of the poem and determining whether it is appropriate to that context. [6]

Paradox, however, is essential to the structure and being of the poem. In The Well Wrought Urn Brooks shows that paradox was so essential to poetic meaning that paradox was almost identical to poetry. According to literary theorist Leroy Searle, Brooks' use of paradox emphasized the indeterminate lines between form and content. "The form of the poem uniquely embodies its meaning," and the language of the poem "affects the reconciliation of opposites or contraries." While irony functions within the poem, paradox often refers to the meaning and structure of the poem and is thus inclusive of irony. [8] This existence of opposites or contraries and the reconciliation thereof is poetry and the meaning of the poem.

Criticism

R.S. Crane, in his essay The Critical Monism of Cleanth Brooks, argues strongly against Brooks' centrality of paradox. For one, Brooks believes that the very structure of poetry is paradox, and ignores the other subtleties of imagination and power that poets bring to their poems. Brooks simply believed that, "'Imagination' reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities." [7] Brooks, in leaning on the crutch of paradox, only discusses the truth poetry can reveal, and speaks nothing about the pleasure it can give. (231) Also, by defining poetry as uniquely having a structure of paradox, Brooks ignores the power of paradox in everyday conversation and discourse, including scientific discourse, which Brooks claimed was opposed to poetry. Crane claims that, using Brooks' definition of poetry, the most powerful paradoxical poem in modern history is Einstein's formula E = mc2, which is a profound paradox in that matter and energy are the same thing. The argument for the centrality of paradox (and irony) becomes a reductio ad absurdum and is therefore void (or at least ineffective) for literary analysis.

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Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 poem

"Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802" is a Petrarchan sonnet by William Wordsworth describing London and the River Thames, viewed from Westminster Bridge in the early morning. It was first published in the collection Poems, in Two Volumes in 1807.

Ode: Intimations of Immortality poem

"Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood" is a poem by William Wordsworth, completed in 1804 and published in Poems, in Two Volumes (1807). The poem was completed in two parts, with the first four stanzas written among a series of poems composed in 1802 about childhood. The first part of the poem was completed on 27 March 1802 and a copy was provided to Wordsworth's friend and fellow poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who responded with his own poem, "Dejection: An Ode", in April. The fourth stanza of the ode ends with a question, and Wordsworth was finally able to answer it with seven additional stanzas completed in early 1804. It was first printed as "Ode" in 1807, and it was not until 1815 that it was edited and reworked to the version that is currently known, "Ode: Intimations of Immortality".

  1. The poem is an irregular Pindaric ode in 11 stanzas that combines aspects of Coleridge's Conversation poems, the religious sentiments of the Bible and the works of Saint Augustine, and aspects of the elegiac and apocalyptic traditions. It is split into three movements: the first four stanzas discuss death, and the loss of youth and innocence; the second four stanzas describes how age causes man to lose sight of the divine, and the final three stanzas express hope that the memory of the divine allow us to sympathise with our fellow man. The poem relies on the concept of pre-existence, the idea that the soul existed before the body, to connect children with the ability to witness the divine within nature. As children mature, they become more worldly and lose this divine vision, and the ode reveals Wordsworth's understanding of psychological development that is also found in his poems The Prelude and Tintern Abbey. Wordsworth's praise of the child as the "best philosopher" was criticised by Coleridge and became the source of later critical discussion.
The Heresy of Paraphrase

"The Heresy of Paraphrase" is the title of a chapter in The Well-Wrought Urn, a seminal work of the New Criticism by Cleanth Brooks. Brooks argued that meaning in poetry is irreducible, because "a true poem is a simulacrum of reality...an experience rather than any mere statement about experience or any mere abstraction from experience." Brooks emphasized structure, tension, balance, and irony over meaning, statement, and subject matter. He relied on comparisons with non-verbal arts in order to shift discussion away from summarizable content:

The essential structure of a poem resembles that of architecture or painting: it is a pattern of resolved stresses. Or, to move closer still to poetry by considering the temporal arts, the structure of a poem resembles that of a ballet or musical composition. It is a pattern of resolutions and balances and harmonizations, developed through a temporal scheme.

She dwelt among the untrodden ways poem

"She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways" is a three-stanza poem written by the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth in 1798 when he was 28 years old. The verse was first printed in Lyrical Ballads, 1800, a volume of Wordsworth's and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poems that marked a climacteric in the English Romantic movement. The poem is the best known of Wordsworth's series of five works which comprise his "Lucy" series, and was a favorite amongst early readers. It was composed both as a meditation on his own feelings of loneliness and loss, and as an ode to the beauty and dignity of an idealized woman who lived unnoticed by all others except by the poet himself. The title line implies Lucy lived unknown and remote, both physically and intellectually. The poet's subject's isolated sensitivity expresses a characteristic aspect of Romantic expectations of the human, and especially of the poet's, condition.

The Canonization poem

"The Canonization" is a poem by English metaphysical poet John Donne. First published in 1633, the poem is viewed as exemplifying Donne's wit and irony. It is addressed to one friend from another, but concerns itself with the complexities of romantic love: the speaker presents love as so all-consuming that lovers forgo other pursuits to spend time together. In this sense, love is asceticism, a major conceit in the poem. The poem's title serves a dual purpose: while the speaker argues that his love will canonise him into a kind of sainthood, the poem itself functions as a canonisation of the pair of lovers.

<i>The Well Wrought Urn</i> book by Cleanth Brooks

The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry is a 1947 collection of essays by Cleanth Brooks. It is considered a seminal text in the New Critical school of literary criticism. The title contains an allusion to the fourth stanza of John Donne's poem, "The Canonization", which is the primary subject of the first chapter of the book.

Historical poetry

Historical poetry is a subgenre of poetry that has its roots in history. Its aim is to delineate events of the past by incorporating elements of artful composition and poetic diction. It seems that many of these events are limited to the phenomenon of war, merely because war in and of itself foments not only hostilities amongst men, but also severely transposes the character of a society in general. The poetry of Walt Whitman, for instance, reflects scenes of the American Civil War which occurred during his lifetime.

The Lucy poems poem written by William Wordsworth

The Lucy poems are a series of five poems composed by the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770–1850) between 1798 and 1801. All but one were first published during 1800 in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, a collaboration between Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge that was both Wordsworth's first major publication and a milestone in the early English Romantic movement. In the series, Wordsworth sought to write unaffected English verse infused with abstract ideals of beauty, nature, love, longing and death.

Irony Rhetorical device, literary technique, or situation in which there is an incongruity between the literal and the implied meaning

Irony, in its broadest sense, is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or event in which what appears, on the surface, to be the case, differs radically from what is actually the case.

I travelled among unknown men poem

"I travelled among unknown men" is a love poem completed in April 1801 by the English poet William Wordsworth and originally intended for the Lyrical Ballads anthology, but it was first published in Poems, in Two Volumes in 1807. The third poem of Wordsworth's "Lucy series", "I travelled..." was composed after the poet had spent time living in Germany in 1798. Due to acute homesickness, the lyrics promise that once returned to England, he will never live abroad again. The poet states he now loves England "more and more". Wordsworth realizes that he did not know how much he loved England until he lived abroad and uses this insight as an analogy to understand his unrequited feelings for his beloved, Lucy.

"It is a beauteous evening, calm and free" is a sonnet by William Wordsworth written at Calais in August 1802. It was first published in the collection Poems, in Two Volumes in 1807, appearing as the nineteenth poem in a section entitled 'Miscellaneous sonnets'.

References

  1. Rescher, Nicholas. A cat says ruff Resolution. Open Court: Chicago, 2001.
  2. 1 2 From "A Tall Story" in The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond .
  3. Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd Ed., Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan.
  4. 1 2 Brooks, Cleanth. The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry . New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947.
  5. William Wordsworth (1802). "It is a beauteous evening, calm and free". Bartelby dot org. Retrieved 2011-11-16.
  6. 1 2 Brooks, Cleanth. "Irony as a Principle of Structure." In Critical Theory Since Plato, edited by Hazard Adams. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1971.
  7. 1 2 Crane, R.S. "Cleanth Brooks; Or, The Bankruptcy of Critical Monism." In Modern Philology, Vol. 45, No. 4 (May 1948) pp 226-245.
  8. Searle, Leroy. "New Criticism." In The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism, 2nd edition. Edited by Michael Groden, Martin Kreiswirth, and Imre Szeman. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.