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A problem

February 12, 2014

Of course, the other people who are perfectly comfortable with the word “meter” are generative linguists.  They are the great exception: one can practically divide the whole field down the middle, and discover that, by and large, literary scholars would rather speak of “rhythm” and linguists of “meter.”  Furthermore: have they not already gone as far as I suggested? “Metrical phonology” takes the essential binarism that characterizes the systems of versification we most commonly call “meter,” and extends it even to higher levels of organization. It turns out, according to such theorists, that the apparent complexity of rhythm we encounter is just the result of higher levels of the same binary stressed/unstressed opposition — which is to say: meter precedes rhythm; rhythm is just one of its effects. Meter even as traditionally delimited turns out to be ultimately quite congenial to them, because they are already comitted to an underlying binarity.

There are few notions which irritate me so much as a universal underlying binarity; and this is just one of the aspects of generative linguistics that have always disturbed me.  And inasmuch as the impetus to my initial speculation was broadly Derridian, it is perhaps worth noting that few thinkers speak as eloquently to my dissatisfaction with modern linguistics in general and generative theory in particular.  (I cannot go into this now: I do not have the relevant texts on me. But hopefully a sensitive and sympathetic reading of the first part of Of Grammatology and the methodological portions of Limited Inc will make things clearer: in brief, generative theory radicalizes and invokes biology to render unassailable a set of Saussurean distinctions it was Derrida’s project to call into question, or at least exploit more playfully and flexibly, and its attempt to attain generality by excluding the eccentric far surpasses anything found in speech act theory.)  Will it be necessary nonetheless for me to pass through the generative account in order to arrive at a metrics that will satisfy me?  On the one hand, it would be at any rate irresponsible to call myself a metrical theorist without becoming familiar with one of the most influential accounts of meter; on the other hand, I find the entire rhetoric of the movement distasteful.

I don’t know: I need to think through this binarity, and why it is so important to me to deny it.

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