Saturday, June 12, 2010

Poetry as harmonized "signal/noise" package...

In a search for something else entirely I tripped across this post in a blog called GrandTextAuto that entertains the metaphor of written communication as signal/noise ratio where signal is the message sent and noise the references that modify that signal in the course of its transmission.

The meaning of a given message, in other words, includes not only information (the message actually sent) but whatever modifies that message, whatever references become relevant, in the course of its transmission. In information theory, the term for such modification is “noise.” In William Paulson’s words, “Noise may . . . be the interruption of a signal, the pure and simple suppression of elements of a message, or it may be the introduction of elements of an extraneous message . . . or it may be the introduction of elements that are purely random.” The poetic function, in this scheme of things, subordinates the informational axis (language used as a pure instrument of efficient communication) to what we might call the axis of redundancy, “meanings” now being created by all those elements of reference that go beyond the quantifiable communication of data from A to B.

Paulson’s argument that literary, as opposed to ordinary, “communication assumes its noise as a constitutive factor of itself” is, of course, no more than a fancy and “scientific” version of Wittgenstein’s theorem, cited in chapter 1, “Do not forget that a poem, even though it is composed in the language of information, is not used in the language-game of giving information.”

Poetry, in other words, employs language not just as a means to convey information, but an end in itself -- an indivisable aesthetic creation.  In the successful poem, the "noise" is harmonized into a melliflous and resonant whole.  The successful reception of the signal/noise package that is the poem -- that is, appreciation of the poem -- depends, of course, on the culture and sensibilities of the reader as much as the writer.  The times we live in can also introduce definite, extraneous "noise" that can alter the appreciation of the poem in unintended ways.  A contemporary reader of Dylan Thomas's Fern Hill, for instance, would have to exercise some conscious mental effort to keep a connotation of homosexuality from the line, "and honoured among foxes and peasants by the gay house".   This, of course, is unfortunate.  Interesting considerations.

1 comment:

Pris said...

Interesting post, Brian. Thanks!