"winders of the circuit of circuits"
RonButters at AOL.COM
RonButters at AOL.COM
Wed Dec 31 04:10:57 UTC 2008
If my brief query seemed critical in any way, I apologize. That was
emphatically not my intent.
Having spent my entire career housed in an English Department, and having
taught Whitman's poetry many times (though I am in no way a Whitman expert), I
assumed that the lines in a question had been discussed, glossed, and
interpreted by literary scholars numerous times. I still find it surprising if the
scholarship is silent on the subject.
The question of interpretatation is of course "linguistic" in the trivial
senses that Geoff mentions, but literary scholars regularly check dictionaries
and, if they are worth their salt, they make themselves pretty familiar with
"familiar collocations" in the poet's works. They certainly do not confine their
work to "figurative or suggestive meanings" (which, moreover, are not outside
the proper domain of linguistics).
Moreover, the responses that Geoff's inquiry received were not dependent upon
sophisticated linguistic analysis. Except for (on the whole) failing to refer
to established literary scholarship, the respondents did exactly what a
bright junior English major should do: examined their own linguistic intuitions,
drew upon knowledge of 19th century American culture, referred to what they knew
about Whitman's own life, and compared the passage to other passages by the
same poet. And made some guesses.
I was not complaining that the query was inappropriate for ADS-L (and I do
not think that it was inappropriate). I personally found it to be an interesting
question, and some of the answers struck me as interesting and maybe even
useful to the person who made the inquiry. I was simply (1) expressing my
surprise that the standard literary scholarship contributed nothing to the attempts
at interpreting the lines--and (2) observing that, though linguistics is
supposedly somewhere near the core of the purpose of ADS-L, very little of a
linguistic nature was brought to bear on the topic in the responses--because, it
seems to me, linguistics has very little to offer the topic (except in the
elementary ways that Geoff references).
In a message dated 12/30/08 12:58:51 AM, nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU writes:
> > From: ronbutters at AOL.COM
> > Date: December 29, 2008 12:17:10 PM PST
> > Subject: Re: Fwd: Re: "winders of the circuit of circuits"
> > Has nobody looked to see what Whitman scholarship says? This is a
> > literary question, not a linguistic one.
> I think I mentioned in my original query that as best I and my
> correspondent can tell the Whitman scholarship is uninformative on
> this one -- at least, lots of people quote the line but nobody seems
> to explicate it. It's clearly a linguistic question what the literal
> meaning of the phrase is in context -- for example, does 'wind' here
> mean "traverse," "bend," or "wrap"?; what's the relevant sense of
> 'circuit'?; was this a familiar collocation?, etc. It's more of a
> literary question what figurative or suggestive meaning Whitman was
> after, though I don't know that one can cut this distinction so cleanly.
> Anyway, I've forwarded the numerous useful comments and suggestions to
> my friend, who was extremely grateful for the help.
> Geoff Nunberg
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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