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Critical materials: On a Passage from Lawrence's 'Odour of Chrysanthemums'

From Walter Nash, Language and Literature: An Introductory Reader in Stylistics, ed., Ron Carter (George Allen and Unwin, 1982), pp. 100-120. We would like to thank Walter Nash and Ron Carter for permission to republish this article.


VIII Conclusion

These notes assume as indispensable three elements (if that is the right word) of procedure: an intuitive response to the text, a search for textual pattern, and an identification of the linguistic/stylistic features that support intuition and demonstrate the patterning. The assumption is possibly commonplace and applicable to any piece of stylistic analysis, but it implies footnotes which may well be worth writing.

The first of these concerns the importance of structure. In the analysis of lyric poems (hitherto a major preoccupation of stylisticians) one important element of structure the articulatory pattern, or 'frame' of the text is manifested through the poem's metre, stanzaic scheme, and so on. In prose the discursive framework is rarely manifested in this way, and so a structural interpretation at this primary level becomes an important preliminary to further observations on the text. Without such an interpretation remarks on language and style are necessarily random and unrelated. However, it is not simply a matter of determining a structure which then provides a framework of reference for stylistic features. The case is rather that linguistic and other promptings suggest a structural scheme which provides points of reference for stylistic features which then amplify and confirm the scheme.

It is important to realise that the reader's intimations of the patterning of a text may be guided by clues other than linguistic. A literary text has a total power of appeal which is to be described in terms of semiotics or aesthetics, including some aspects of linguistics, rather than of a strictly and exclusively linguistic model. In certain respects a text may be similar to a picture, in that it has an iconographic programme (this could, indeed, be said of the Lawrence passage); or it may have something in common with music, say, in its repetitions of a Leitmotiv, or even with mathematics in its modelling of some principles such as that of binary alternation. All these things may be described in linguistic or quasi-linguistic terminology, but they are not in the strictest sense proper to linguistics. The point is perhaps obvious, yet it is one that linguistic stylisticians do not always readily concede.

A study of the Lawrence passage reveals the importance of two structural levels, or planes of analysis. The first of these is a plane of articulation, the scheme of cohesion and design in the text (described here mainly under the headings of 'setting and perspective' and 'development'); to describe this is to establish the ground upon which eminent stylistic features are mapped, and to provide for the prose text something roughly equivalent to the stanzaic or sectional scheme of a poem. The second level of structure is a plane of information (or possibly motif), and involves the superimposition on the articulatory plane of elements of characterisation, symbolism, etc. (In the foregoing account, analysis on this plane is represented by the sections on 'the actors' and 'the environment'.) Inevitably one uses words like 'superimposition' or 'intersection' in trying to describe the relationship of the two planes, but they are misleading. 'Interlocking' or 'intermeshing' would be more satisfactory. It is necessary to understand the scheme of articulation before we can respond fully to the contained pattern; but, on the other hand, we need to have some response to the pattern of character and symbolic motif before we can properly perceive the articulatory design.

The reading of such a text is, indeed, a process of intermeshing and mutually supportive responses. Intuition (literary sensitivity, a predisposition to find patterns of meaning) is vital, but after the first impulses it does not continue to work unprompted. Further promptings come with the observation of linguistic/stylistic features which are perhaps marked by pairings, contrasts, gradations, or some other method of foregrounding. Intuition is thus strengthened or modified, and is equipped to begin the definition of structural levels in the text. The discovery of one level involves the perception of another; and meanwhile the detection of linguistic features continues, supporting or qualifying the structural interpretation, guiding the intuition to further discoveries.

© Walter Nash
February 2010

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