Literal definition of Copyright
Author: Kyle McCord
I think when we talk about literal meaning, we often privilege a particular type of seeing and a particular type of significance. Often that literal meaning is produced by exploiting paradoxes and ambiguities (I’m thinking here of Empson). This literal meaning is then usually developed through a varied series of rising and falling motions within a poem, that complicate the meaning, resulting in an epiphany or resistance to that epiphany (the speaker shuts down the discussion to hover on a particular lack or emptiness, I’m thinking here of perhaps Robert Hass’s “Psalm and Lament” which I find to be one of the finest poems I’ve ever read). I’m not so foolish as to oversimplify that this literal meaning is something one could summarize into some gem of wisdom—a sentence, a paragraph perhaps. But I will say that this type of literal meaning can be often be summed down to a feeling or contradiction which the author is struggling with or basking in or overwhelmed by. The poem becomes a sort of invitation for the reader to experience this feeling by tracing the breadcrumbs of narrative and rhetoric through to their logical conclusion.
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I have been speaking only of oppression overseas, but it need hardly be emphasized that there is a domestic analogue. The reaction to the suffering of oppressed minorities at home is not very different from the brutal apathy towards the misery we have imposed elsewhere in the world. Opposition to the war in Vietnam is based very largely on its cost, and on the failure of American power to crush ... the proletariat paved the way not for a socialist society but for the most primitive type of bureaucratic state capitalism and a reversion to political absolutism which was long ago abolished in most countries by bourgeois revolutions."
12. Address at Princeton, N.J., August 10, 1953. Cited in John H. Bunzel, Anti-Politics in America (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1967), p. 166.
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