A Theory of Resonance Author(s): Wai Chee Dimock Source: PMLA, Vol. 112, No. 5 (Oct., 1997), pp.

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"on literature. be struckafreshby the resilience of literainto asking some old questionsanew. bear witness to the advent and retreatof social norms. the imputableor deployable nuances of words that make possible thatassociation. a literary textseems to have had little or no influence on the currenthistoricalturnin literary studies.it also altersthe fabricof linguistic usage.' The ceaseless passage of time touches language on many registers (syntactic. like the fabric of the universe. and democracy. it is true.and memoryof change. vibrant and robust. Her recent book. Residues of Justice (U of California P. HIS ESSAY argues for literature as a democratic institution. philosophy. This conception of time as a destabilizingforce.The semantic fabric of the text. some two decades ago proposeda diachronicstudy of language. memoryof alternatives. morphological). underminingthe integrity of any unit of meaning-a word.alive with memoryof probabilities.and to be surprised How does a literarytext sound when it is readtwenty years. 1996). As time altersthe fabricof humanassociation. brings together three disciplines-literature. I try to give a new profile to the concepts of historicity and context and to honor the claim of the ear against the primacy of the eye in the West. Raymond Williams. can be theorizedas a space-timecontinuum."historicism" it is now practicedrests largelyon semanas tic synchronism:the meaning of a text is assumed to be the propertyof 1060 . but what is most noticeable is the changes in the webs of meaning surroundingindividual words.science. almost no throughthe shifting meanings of 155 "keywords. eitherto speculateon historical processes or to consider literarytexts as diachronicobjects: objects that extend across time. across a temporalgulf between language users. or two thousandyears after it was written?The behaviorof words across time-their tendency to undergo subtle or even striking modifications-has long been the provinceof historicallinguistics. examining historicalchanges However. Indeed. She is at workon a sequel.WaiChee Dimock A Theory of Resonance WAICHEEDIMOCKis professor of English and American studies at Yale University. To subjectthe familiar literary object to this unfamiliar description is to redrawthe to map of interdisciplinarity. In making this point. "The Argument of Time. a sentence. I also experiment with the languages of the natural sciences to describe the phenomenon called lit- erature. acquiringnew overtones and inflections. broadening. These semantic webs. and law-to arguefor the need to rethinkthe conceptof justice.contracting." othertheoristhas addressedsemanticchange. phonological. two hundred years. ture.

every text is a casualtyand a beneficiary. A theory of resonance puts the temporal axis at the center of literarystudies. I want to propose a somewhatdifferentkind of historicism. modifying their tonality as they proceed.Across time.WaiCheeDimock 1061 the historical period in which it originated.makinga text continually interpretable. one that emerges over time between any text and subsequent generations of readers? The prepositionin. every text faces the challenge to "clear [a] space for the self. continues to invite otherreadings.restoringthe temporalaxis to literary studies. every text must put up with readerson differentwavelengths. coextensive with that period. Its reference points are events that began and ended in its original context. Modeled on the travelingfrequenciesof sound. and boundto appearobtuseto ephemeral future readers who. capturinga literarytext only in its pastness.why.Diachronichistoricismsuggests that humanbeings are finite. No prepositionis more important a synchronic to historicism than the reassuringin.comes only as from their "strength."And the immortalityof some works.what I call a diachronichistoricism. This is the question Harold Bloom raises trenchantly in his defense of the Western canon: "The issue is the mortalityor immortalityof literary works. The object of inquiry is dated.And as they travelthey runinto new semantic networks.who impose semantic losses as well as gains. a fixed attribute far as he is concerned.It intimatesthat a readingis topical." from a "competitiveand triin umphantpower"that determinestheir "survival" a cosmic struggle(34. Texts are emerging phenomena. is to impute meanings to a text by situating it among events in the same slice of time. And the task of the critic is to lock thatcontext into place.4The "object"of literary studies is thus an object with an unstableontology. effect of an the existence. Nor does it recognize thatthe passageof time. by locating the historicityin the text and the text in history. To "historicize"in this sense.can give a past text a semantic life thatis an effect of the present. it nonethelesscontinuesto signify.This long view of history.also mean that any particular readingis no morethana passingepisode in a historyof readings.This primarilyauraland primarily interactiveconcept offers a helpful analogy for the phenomenonof semantic change.it suggestsa way to thinkaboutwhat(followingRalphEllison)3I call the travelingfrequenciesof literarytexts: frequencies received and amplified across time. The concept of resonancethus reopensthe question of the extent to which a text might be said to endure.This approachtries to engage history beyond the simultaneous. who come at it tangentiallyand tendentiously. by their continual transit through new semantic networks. bring to the same wordsa differentweb of meaning.within a synchronic model the search for "historical" meaning is largely indistinguishable from a more old-fashioned search for "original"meaning.thatfuturecircumstancesmight bring other possibilities for meaning. Across time. then.Indeed.causing unexpectedvibrationsin unexpectedplaces." to overcome its belatedness.5As he sees it.and to "wardoff .2allows texts to be seen as objects thatdo a lot of traveling: acrossspace andespecially acrosstime. distancedfrom its original period. since a text can resonateonly insofaras it is touched by the effects of its travels. moving fartherand fartherfrom theirpoints of origin. The key concept I proposefor diachronichistoricism is resonance. cannot say why this text might still matterin the present. living among other circumstances and sensitized by other concerns. What such a frame renderssalient are relations of simultaneity. 25. circumstantial. between concurrent events. rather than extended relationsemergingwith time's passage. This synchronic model hardly acknowledges that the hermeneuticalhorizon of the text might extend beyond the momentof composition. new ways of imputing meaning. 36).activatedandto some extentconstitutedby the passage of time. bringing shortlived meaningsto long-livedwords. Such changesin the registersof reception. The interpretiveframe is thus a cross-section of the temporal axis. aligning it instead with the dynamics of enduranceand transformationthataccompanythe passage of time. Against this background. it remainsundisturbedby anything beyond.ratherthanof the age when the text was produced. deadeningsome words and quickeningothers. But why should a text not be interpretedin relation to events outside its temporalvicinity?Does simultaneity necesconfer analytic pertinence?Is it not possible sarily to think of historicity as a relation less discretely periodized.

Mindful of Greenblatt'swarnings. disruptive of the fragile artifact.in opposing them.6 is above all temporal. Artifacts resonated in the past because they were infiltratedby "a largercommunityof voices" (48). a text cannot and will not remainforeverthe same object. For every languageresemblesan echo chamber.messier. overlapping with. stretched by a growing web of cross-references.towarda celebratorypoetics. for memory. thatpays tributeto time both as a medium of unrecoverable meaning and as a medium of newly possible meaning. in the perennial "oscillation between homage and desecration" he is now drawntowardthe former. I celebrate an enchantmentprimarilyaural. four hundredyears ago. For Greenblatt.the tones and accents of former users interacting with those of subsequent ones. And so.complicatedby the dynamics of historical change and by the interpretiveenergies thus released.not to the text's timeless strengthbut to something like its timeful unwieldiness. There is an element of the unrulyto resonantcon- textualism. Against a poetics of resonance. arenow denser. Moreover. can claim a time-proofintegrity. the object of a rapturousgaze. acknowledging that "the new historicism has distinct affinities with resonance. not ossified. They resonatenow because they are subjected to the "corrosive doubt" of today's critics (44).I celebrate it as the work of time. Mikhail Bakhtin calls this interactiveprocess a "dialogic" The dialogue. less accessible perhaps. by linking literary endurance not to the persistent integrity of the text but to its persistent unraveling. adumbrated. And so meanings are produced over and over again. Stephen Greenblatt emphasizes this negative sense in "Resonance and an conWonder. For Greenblatt. and sometimes coming into conflict with previousones. and the aural. This shift of emphasis from originalto interpretive context suggests thatresonanceis a generative(and not merely interfering)process. Thereis no semanticpermaword nence. whenintensity regard of out blocks allcircumambient stillsall murmuring voices.notforhistorical not but thickness. I want to emphasize. claiming it as a desirable (ratherthan unfortunate) effect of context. forethnographic intense. however. For this reason. Seen in a negative light.resonance and wonder are antithetical. The note a text resounds comes from its lack of insulation against the currentsof semantic change. one thatremakesa text while unmakingit. the feat of motion ." he ends up wary of its practice.I want nonetheless to make an affirmativecase for resonance.an interactionbetween texts and theirfuturereaders. alignedwith the spell of enchantof ment. not proof against the influx of new meanings. thus moving "awayfrom resonance and towardwonder"(42. Greenblatt'sargumentis largely promptedby his association of resonance with "background noise" and by his assumptionthatnoise is distracting. while Greenblatt celebratesan enchantment primarilyvisual.indeedenchanted looking.he wantsthe artifactto standforthin "mute eloquence"(44).And so. I do so.only by redefining context as a diachronicrelation:extending beyond the originating circumstances of a text and moving on to engage the circumstances that give birth to a semantic life at the moment of reading. fortifying itself against the burden of time.more thicklycrisscrossing. Greenblatt proposes a "poetics of wonder"that amounts to a visual ecstasy.1062 A Theory Resonance of the massive weight of past achievement"(10). A theory of resonance invertsthe Bloomian hypothesis. 49).say.meant notforthehearing intertwining of voices.Indeed. This semantic transience makes texts not timeless. 48.alignedwith the interference noise. he seems to posit a deeperoppositionbetween two sensory faculties-the visual." essay thatdiscusses the "resonant textualism" artifactsin museums(54) and seems of to bear also on literarytexts. phenomenon. (49) images.then. Canonicity is the prize won by an assertive linguistic object that.often to the point of unrecognizability. the tangleneed not keep but out the intrepidreader. distorting. resonance would seem to stem from the failure of texts to preserve themselves in a fixed shape.Lookingmaybe calledenchanted whentheactof attention a draws circle around itselffromwhicheverything theobject but is excluded. in a charmedcircle free of all contexts and all interferingnoises. The routesof referenceand inference. attachingthemselves to. Semanticallyelastic. no eternalrelationbetween a particular and a particularconnotation.resonance representsthe dangerthatcomes fromthe artifact's"openness"its "permeability boundaries" of (43).

"8 This haecceity of inflectioncan find its way into receptive ears. even as it reverberates throughthem. This argumentis counterintuitive. Noise is the condition for the enduring resonance of texts. This hypothesis.nowdeas a narrow tectable. resonance. And even as it impinges on texts. as to call forth unexpected nuances from words composed long ago. For "the presence of a unique tone itself widens the margin of legitimate interpretive debate" (xiv).alteringthe dynamics of reception. multiplies their hearable echoes. . scientists have called attention to a phenomenon known as stochastic resonance. expectations. demonstrated phenomenon stochastic the of Wiesenfeld. in which a weak signal is boosted by background noise and becomes newly and complexly audible."Noise is sometimes a bonus ratherthan a nuisance. engineering and biology but in almost every science where noise and thresholdsare encountered" (Moss andWiesenfeld66). And. And yet the text is neverfully demolished:it survivesto be received again and to be parodied again. so sensitize the interpretivefaculties. makes them significantin unexpectedways. it thickenstheirtonality. againstGreenblatt's that noise is disruptive. the text's "centers of explosive resonance" are easily reducible to gibberish througha wayward hearing (103). has now "crosseddisciplinaryboundaries" (Wiesenfeldand Moss 33): it "has caused a recent burst of interest in stochastic resonance. Noise includes all those circumstances that so quicken the pulse. In a series of essays publishedin the past few years in Nature and Scientific American (bearing such As Thomas Greene argues in The Vulnerable Text. it can also find its way into hostile ones.7 The layering of sounds-the meshing of a faint vibration with but other. addition an optimalamount noise The of of boosteda weakperiodic in signal. The "text does not exist which cannot be parodied"(xiv). ment to wonderbut an occasion for it. an "unprotected"character (100) is a vital "risk thata text assumes insofaras it makes a claim to be an literary. Noise includes all those circumstancesthat complicate readers'relations to a text:circumstances that. As Greene points 60- m 0 w cr w 0 CL I I I FREQUENCY (KILOHERTZ) In 1988.the weaksignal. titles as "The Benefits of Background Noise"). it echoes a yet recent scientific hypothesis aboutthe beneficialefof fects of randomnoise on the detectability sounds. noise is a necessary feature of a reader's meaning-makingprocess. make them uninnocent readers. An effect of historical change. not a nuisancethatendangersthem. background noise(MossandWiesenfeld Graphs: Laurie Grace.apparently interfering effectively enhanca new meaning to the study ing vibrations-gives of periodicity and allows a range of otherwise undetectablesignals to rise above the thresholdof detectability.noise is an apt analogy for my understandingof interpretivecontext.In thepowerspectrum of the output (bottom graph).resulting the greatest ratio signal-to-noise (topgraph). Kurt ogy. who encroach on the text with assumptions.including Rajarshi Bruce Roy.convictions. As an enhancingpresence.I want to argue assumption that noise is beneficial.filling theirheads and ringing in their ears. not only in physics. appears spikerisingabovea broad of 67)." effect of its "haecceityof inflection.WaiCheeDimock 1063 thatkeeps a text vibrating.physicistsat the Georgia Institute Technolof and McNamara. they add. that it enriches the dynamResonance is not an impediics for interpretation."the scientists suggest (Moss and Wiesenfeld 66).

Using the example of a moving train on a stationaryembankment. when they acquirethe unfortunate habitof speaking as if all objects were no more than physical. It endures by being read differently. Quine points out. Neinor ther sentimentalizing dismissing thatimmortalI want to redescribe it as nonintegralsurvival. makes diachronisman innecessity. In a provisional definition. ing Einstein provides a basis for this kinematics in his special theoryof relativity.object-orientedconceptual scheme so naturalto us. the literary might refer to that which resonates for readers past. then.especially what he calls the "relativity of simultaneity. For since readers past. then. Endurance must come not from the superiorinsulation or airtight acoustics of an inviolate entity but from activation by noise. resiThe literary."9Time. 24. registering both extension and transit."Many objects in the world. and future are not the same reader. Not of a finished product.a form of engagement. V. Quine calls "twilight half-entities. not only does the membership of the literary domain change.Over time. Indeed. suffersa semantic sea change. a moving observer and a stationary observer will disagree aboutthe sequenceof events. Such half entities put pressureon "thing-talk.such extension throughmotion.it becomes a collective potentialwith the inity." objectifying the languagehumanbeings develop in early childhood.Einstein writes: . As candidates for nonintegral survival.Against this "individuative. acquiresa freightof new meaning. betweena changingobjectanda changingrecipient. from ceaseless disturbance and subjection to the currents of change.Two clocks that are synchronized and then put into differentstates of motion will not strikethe hour simultaneously. theorizthe text's continuous movement throughtime. are not just physical objects. "butto pretendthat their survivalexacts no price is to sentimentalize their 'immortality"'(101). 23). Likewise. moving beyond that finite individual." Quine argues that attributesshould and be rejectedas the groundfor individuation that "theprecept 'no entity withoutidentity'might simply be relaxed. A literary text is a prime example of an object that is not individuatedas a fixed set of attributes within fixed coordinates. or perhaps because of. perhapsit is best described as a continuum. as nonintegral objects. as twilight halfentities to which the identity concept is not to apply?"("Speaking"13-16. as if each were characterized a locatableidentityand by by an individuationof attributes. the diachronic phenomenacalled literaturebear the generic mark of incompleteness (Dimock 78-89).I would like to invoke Einsteinto articulate of something like a "kinematics" the text."Greenesays.a text can remainliteraryonly by not being the same text. it seems. Texts might be thought of. passes at different rates for observers in different states of motion. their risks" (103).the literarycan make no claim to an indwelling identity. This definition is ruthlessly idealizing-ruthlessly because it makes a nonentityout of what it idealizes.to pick up noise. is this collective dimension of a text that makes its temporaltrajectoryunforeis seeable. but also each text becomes differentfrom itself. They are neither fully formed in space nor fully articulatedover time. akin to what W.1064 A Theory Resonance of out.in otherwords. the continual emergence of interpretive contexts suggests that the attributes a text also continuallyemerge. are not characterizedby the secure residence of a particuset within a particular of coordilar set of attributes nates. a force of incipiencecommensurate It cipience of humanity. Given a domain so deficient in boundaries.In particular.And insofaras this trajectory describable at all. changes in time and in attributes. "why not just accept them thus. the inordinaterisks run by literarytexts must be seen against "their survival in spite of. terpretive from criticscan perhapsdrawinspiration Literary modern physicists: from their subtle analysis of motion in termsof a space-timecontinuum. marked not by the text's endurance as a sealed packagebut by its tendencyto fall apart. Ratherthan reify them."mathematicalabstractionshe introduces to challenge "the sweeping artificialities of notationin modem logic" (Word158). present. present. between a tonal presence and the way it is differently heard over time. to breakout in a riot of tongues. "Books are often praisedfor outlastingviolence. and future. ity. but a relation.a text is the incomplete expression of a finite language user.Such a continuum. is not an attribute dent in a text.

with a definable Einstein's point is especially resonant as an arguobject of inquiry.also a continuum.it raises questionsaboutthe makment against synchronic historicism: any effort to ing and remakingof the institutionalprotocols.is inseparable tic universe.Thesumtotalof eventswhicharesimultaneous cal." In this of the past. literature is a virtual class that honors profound. entertainsat a particular minds.But conventional arbitrariness. Relativitythus turnsclassical mechanicson event thereare as many 'neighbouring' "[T]o every its head. that unifies all incidents and chronologies. Einsteinwrites: of countless. law. a literary the humanear to learnto become the most marveltext is objectively unresolvablebecause its semanin ous of receptors. four-dimensional Besides locating a text in its original context is continuum now no longerresolvableobjectively into sections.and short-lived.His universeis "objectively because it is a "four-dimensionalspace-time cona particular kind of human attention. the to periodizeabsolutely.. readers extended world its "now" losesforthespatially might want to dislocate it. it is true. the objective contin.Literature. The of thechoiceof inertial system. economics-to see how it sounds timemustbe regarded a four-dimensional as if to uumthatis objectively is andresounds. it is desired of relations without unthepurport objective express consequenceof this broaddefinitionof context. a process thinkableonly through taxonomic artifact.'0From this perspective."its semantic and becoming"cannot be capturedwithin a single universe allows words to keep on resonating and frame of reference (171). no object can time is now a medium for disagreement-for the stand by itself or be exhausted by the relations it noncoincidence of events. which. potentiallydevelopingsignificantdialogues. circumstantial. and line it up events.."a putativeentity ognizing the problem of agreementattendingthat Of with a variable and unfinished membership (Set reciprocity. for since the world is a continuum. and the membership of literature. A text is finite.must give way to witha selectedeventexist. literaturereveals itself to be no more than a ing and meshing. being topiAccording thespecial wise. what Quine calls a "virtualclass. it is an artifactthatnames a reciprocaldescriptionacrosstime andonly by recan important(if inconclusive) class of phenomena. has its own particular for the likelihood that they will arrive at new and time": with this statementEinstein demolishes the strangejunctures and yield new and strangeargutraditional conceptionof time as an absolutemetric ments. literary texts are to be cherished "Every reference-body . all of which contain simultaneous (only one entry to that ongoing sequence). a diachronic Honoring historicism will perhaps see the entire course of human history and all the objects that have come into being with thathistoryas potentiallyconnected. It of meaning. unresolvable" Indeed. the many challenges Einsteinposes. Rather.Still. as the continual emerunderstood it to of theory relativity is other. Classical mechanics assumes absolute sievents (realised or at least thinkable)as we care to multaneityand thus absolute agreement. Analogously. this kinematicconceptionof time is surelythe most Theory15-21). put a text into a discreteslice scope.WaiCheeDimock 1065 in a finite interpretiveframe but keeps moving on. short. the nonmeeting of moment.As Einsteinsays. no longer particular perspective. riskingdisagreement this force of incipience. (170) necessary if interdisciplinarity reflectsa heightenedawareness of literarystudyas a definablefield. is because thisthatspaceand againstcompetingvoices-the naturalsciences. A "fourtinuum"(61).visual arts.Challengchoose" (62). must do violence to its continuousmovlight. with otherreaders.cannotbe contained from the tonality imputedto it when it is received: to with Eventswhicharesimultaneous reference the to with are embankment notsimultaneous respect the of and train. Every (co-ordinate system)hasits ownparreference-body to ticular time. vice versa(relativity simultaneity). relocateit.unlesswe aretoldthereference-body of whichthe statement timerefers. The "immortality" literaturemust be in this sense. because its structureof "happening dimensional space-time continuum.thereis no meanof ingin a statement thetimeof anevent. but its contexts are ing this.gence of interpretivecontexts.in relation a to an ongoing sequence that looks almost infinite but inertial independently from a human system. And so context is not a fixture or a given. (30-31) .Interdisciplinarity perhapsa logical unresolvable.

a narrativevoice. The twentieth century may be a century of "regressive listening. the seen is now automatically equated with the known. or dedicatedto a foreseeable end. arisingwith the Italregimes of modernity.orcrowlikea cock." ian Renaissance.The good poet "keep[s] within a single harmony"and whereas "make[s]use of nearly the same rhythm. dispassionateeye.18 Plato. As a result."a time in which the ear has been at forcibly "arrested the infantilestage. when linear perspective became the dominant pictorial convention.3. which comes about through "authorial failure" (23). Endlessly changing. the "inferentialand associativerelations"of any text always exceed anything imagined by the author(86). the way certainovertonesare takenas significantovertones. were one such mode of inquiry.16 Indeed. Stephen Knapp also finds to himself "defendingthe notion of the 'literary. A text will always "fail to have the content. And yet. literatureis unique because of the special kind of interest it provokes.It is hardto imaginewhat humanbeings would be without this auralinstruction.andthevarious pipes."as Theodor Adornocharges(42. Plato's severity toward poets (especially Homer) animates and book 3 of TheRepublic unfurlswith a vengeance in book 10. the rise of mathematical formalism over empirical observation in cosmology and physics suggests that changes are brewing even in one of the historical strongholds of the eye (Boslough."' his surprise (2). 13. it tunes the ear to what eludes the eye. stable. Wary of thatprehensilepower. not as a timeless entity but as a class of objects thatfail to shut up. has been reducedto "objectsof quasi-observation" (50).For Knapp. a "mimeticcontagion" that amountsto "literaryparasitism"(61. literature seems necessary to the varieties of intellectualdiscourse. 41).'4 The naturalsciences.1).13 is The centralityof the ear for literature an anomthe "centrality of the eye in Western aly against culture"(Jenks).'5This visual bias became a pervasivebias in Westernconceptions of knowledge. the "artsof measuring and numberingand . With each "new composite scenario"comes a new "emotivevalue" (86). 58. the text endlessly of its perpetrates "structure literaryinterest"(139). A text can be read only insofar as readersmanage to inflect it. In Literary Interest. aided by the telescope and the microscope. worthyof memorizationor denunciableas Muzak. MartinJay speaks of the "scopic which. since it lures the reader into a "pathological" bond. butliterature remainsto exercise thatretarded organ. This is a severecharge. dog.orthecreaking wheels. disembodied. as Knapp'sfrequentinvocationof Platomakesclear. Horgan). 87).The entireworld.literaryinterestis not exactly a good thing.12Literarystudy makes a large provisionfor the unvisualizable. as Jay recognizes." the bad poet producesa jumble of resonances: He will attempt represent roll of thunder. the scopic regimes of modernity are plural: not necessarily unified. what is not optically evident from the typographic markson the page.But. is transposed into an aural phenomenon. and thereforefail even to have the form. pulleys.'7And now more than ever.and of of sounds flutes. he recommends the silent regime of the natural sciences.constitutedby the way some words are emphasizedand others elided.RichardRortyargues. (98.he classifies good and bad poetry according to the sound each produces.this is notthe firsttime such a charge has been leveled. Indeed. inspired other modes of inquirybased on the reputedlydetached. Plato has only contemptfor the sonic excesses of poetry.397) Writinga prosethatremindedLonginusof a "noiseless stream"(79.however. I thus defend it. As he sees it.1066 A Theory Resonance of whetheras ironic or not ironic. And.jesting or in earnest. the varieties of cognitive life."because it can continueto signify only by allowing its words to be plucked out and inserted into "new composite networksof association"(27. the printed page. on which they mightily fasten" (105). thatits authorintendedit to have.trumandall sortsof instruments: will barklike a he pets.bleatlikea sheep.Against such noise.the dangerof poetryis linked For specifically to its aural effect: "Rhythmand harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul. fail to restricttheirresonanceover time.It is a field of sensitized hearing. 138). certainechoes as significantechoes. in hanging so perilously on that inflection. to the the noiseof windandhail. the way a visual phenomenon. of interestis close to what I call Knapp'sconcept resonance.

it seems.The aestheticsassociatedwith Longinus.attributing it to literature. for poetry beguiles. "Sublimity is the echo of a great soul.605). its aurallongevity.4). In this Kantiansense."imputesto the text meaningsunimaginable to the author. 10. FrancesFergusonnotes. I want to emphasize the text's failure to dictate or even to presume on the terms of agreement. can give rise to a democratic contest between the recipientand the originator. 99. 292).23 This temporaldisagreementbetween readerand authoris noted by Longinus. who now hears nuances the authordid not.ill-disposed.3). indeed conflatable. But that calculatingand rationalprincipledoes not always prevail."The text "yield[s] the words to the hearer" (297."Longinus writes (61. in foregrounding the agency of hearing and predicatingit on the potential disagreement between author and reader.WaiCheeDimock 1067 weighing. not welcome.2). 10. in its exuberance. prophetsof the concrete linked by habit to the past.A time travelerwhose receding and incipient nuances fall on readers at various tangents and . authorizing contrary readingsacrossthe and encouraging a kind of semantic democages racy. which. more subtly. successor)the irresistiblepower its (or to captivate its listeners.398). but thinks the same thing at one time great and at anothersmall" (376. This includes both the reader who turns a deaf ear to a tone of voice and the one with ears newly particular and differently sensitized. acting "as though it had itself produced what it has heard. In this sense."they turnedto the writtenwordfor "a syntax suitableto abstractstatement" (x).inversion." a personal satisfaction that is also automatically "the agreement of everyone" (48-51). I want to emphasizethe extent to which the text. 3.it is a force that remakes what it hears. caving in to that "irrational no discernment of greater and less. The literary. produced when theirsemanticuniversesfail to coincide.Nevertheless. moved by the sublime text.from the outbursts sound of when the readerclashes with the author. and "he who listens to her" will succumb and become a relanaturewhich has tivist. "culminatesin a dissolution of the subjectin the person of the author and in a reinscription the subjectin the perof son of the reader. This enduring resonance is a function of the listening ear.dissension. beTheRepublicis fueled by the "ancientquarrel tween philosophyand poetry"(378. 44.the Longiniantheoryof the sublime seems to honorliteratureless for its originaryact thanfor subsequent Not acts of inflection. the attack recurredthroughout the MiddleAges21and."19They represent the "calculating and rationalprinciplein the soul" and can "come to the rescue of the humanunderstanding" (372.602). And so poetry must be "banished" and the poet told "thatin our State such as he are not permittedto exist" (101. 9.The ear is not a passive receptacle. yields its words differently acrosstime. it certainly did not in the centuries that followed. rigorously critical.understoodas the persistenceof sound not originating in texts but vibrating in response to them.20 But if the Platonic attack on poetry originatedat a time when increasingly"theeye supplantedthe ear as the chief organ"of philosophical thought (vii).perhapsthe firstcritic to link resonance to an interactiveprocess that. If semantic estrangementis indeed the temporalfate of literature. comes into being not only throughthe implied reader(see Iser) but also throughthe readernot implied. 7. Many texts fall on ears that are indifferent. everytext eventuallyruns into a rudehearingthatconstitutesa diachronicinsult. AgainstPlato'sabsolute(if negative)idealization. 7. and is filled with joy and vaunting. resonanceis inseparablefrom dissonance.especially among readersfar removedfrom its moment of genesis.in Kant'sidealization of the aesthetic as a judgment of "subjective universal validity. When Greekphilosophersstopped seeing themselves as "oralthinkers. Plato too might be to said to be unduly idealizing poetry.as though it had itself producedwhat it has heard"(55.24The "trulysuband lime" will always "survivea firsthearing" have a temporaltrajectory"which is strong and hardto efface" (57.which Eric Havelockties to a profoundshift in Greekphilosophy.CeleLonginuspraises bratingthe sublimityof literature. 10.607). as a diachronicobject.25Longinus does not say what happens when the reader flies in the face of the text or when the ear.2).22Even if poetry commanded that power in an oral culture. is moved to take "a proud flight.26 ignorant of the "fettered liberty" of the slave (157.27Longinus seems to make listening and not listening strangelycognate.

"mud. guard." and a root in words like crow and crane). 3Ireferto the last line of InvisibleMan:"Whoknows butthat. 'The vitality of this subfield is suggested by the recent apJournalof pearanceof two journals(Diachronica:International Historical Linguistics and Language Variationand Change.Moving continuously.this tonality is not the one Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick hears in 1990. 127). a pulsating beat alternating on two registers." "phe"secretive" nomenal.yielding its words to any who read it." (8) terious. 2The distinctionbetween my approachand Paul Ricoeur's is that Ricoeur is concerned with the relationbetween narrativity and temporality.McMahon.in Sedgwick129)that changes the tonal textureof Billy Budd. laggard.) for readingthis essay. productivetransit" 5Bloom's idiom is clearly Darwinian. boosted by the noise of homophobia. Sedgwick's readingis perhapsmost indebted to Pat Robertson.crisscrossing impulses always in (3). this "cross-grained local layering of enunciation" culminates in the "doubleentendrein this book between the mutiny question and the homosexualquestion"(110.its knackfor vibratingon issues that matter. Nothing matchesthe changefulness of this nonentity.the arguability of its words.For Sedgwick. its gratingsecond. the debatability of its nuances. its very words become unfixed. a text known for exercising its readers'ears in contraryways.annoying and inspiring more and more readers.and so it will remain.This democracyissuing from a resonantuniversecan be highlighted by two sharply divergent readings of Melville's Billy Budd. and victimizing Claggart. HowardVincent hears a significant story oppositionin the names of the key characters: is its sound. There is the ruralEnglish word claggen meaning "to daubwith mud. However." (94)-words that. What catches her ear is a relentless innuendo. staggered. grr. slacker. which ultimatelyeliminatesboth problems.""notable. To support her reading of gay genocide. BrandeisUniv.1068 A Theory Resonance of speeds.) and Sam Schweber (physics. (128.I speak for you?" 4A good analogyfor the phenomenonI describehere is Houston Baker's account of blues: "a point of ceaseless input and output. ragged. ger (Indo-European. This semanticdemocracy. gut"Claggart" a clangingandgrinding turalssnarland cough in contrast "Billy Budd.""exceptional""peculiar" "obscure. Paradoxically. of Tech. making it newly and rawly significant.28Interpreting the in 1971. literature been a cruhas cial democraticinstitution. Some arguethat this unit is not the individualorganismbut the gene (Dawkins).And yet for evolutionary biologists today the unit of selection is at issue (Gould). anger.The insinuating voice of Billy Budd is the voice of "gay genocide. lack." to where labial suggest caress a kiss. a web of intersecting.sharpeningmore and more ears at its expense.doublingon itself. answeringto its temporal extension and nonintegral survival. a new undulationof emphasis.and thus democraticallyclaimable. a text also picks up controversy. clangor. the text sustains a continuum of disagreement.is the most eloquenttributeto literature. launched in 1984 and 1989) and by the publication of at least six new books on "language change" since 1994 (Aitchison. Across time."the Danish Klagge." ushering in "life after the homosexual" Notes I thank Roger Blandford (theoretical astrophysics.Labov.in ways unsuspected."to cry. giving it a new edge.Keller. Bauer. 109). unmoored. thickening it and quickening it. Picking up noise as it travels across time. clang. and grate."Clagthe b's a and gart"has its flat first syllable. With so many offending echoes ringing in his ears. girt.robustand vociferous.29 The sharp differences in the patterns of sound heard by Vincent and Sedgwick dramatizethe vibrantopenness of a resonantuniverse. "Claggart" ugly associationsin its has echoes: braggart. angered. Vincent finds that Billy Budd can yield only one verdict. California Inst. it is the noise of Robertson'shomophobia--AIDS is God's way of weedinghis garden" (qtd. on the lower frequencies. now rise above the thresholdof detectability to be heard as if for the firsttime. for the "meanings implicit in the tonality of 'Claggart'cling to his person"(8). Sedgwick cites a groupof words-"mys- . has lilt "BillyBudd" a pleasant withits dancing dactyl followedby the sharp cleanmonosyllable the of yet last name. haggard. clog.whereas I am concerned with the relation between temporaland semanticchange.Trask).

M. in the Symposium).Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist.1994.see the concludingchapter. '4See Ivins. LitBaker. Bloom. W. democracy. 1994.Bryson is especially criticalof the disembodied eye. 24ioS -Ceyakoqppooi'vr. see Schweber373-473. For a qualifying of view. Goody. The WesternCanon: The Books and School of the Ages. Thorne59-86. New York:Random. WorksCited Adorno. 116). 23Myemphasis on temporal disagreementis meant to challenge Habermas'spostulateof consensual rationalnormsderivable from communicativeaction. '3Readingis not less inflected for being silent. Jean. the magic act must necessarily be homosexual. not from a single trajectory.and Moss. for earliercontributionsto it by HendrickAntoon Lorentz and HenriPoincare. The EnchafedFlood. Derrida'sthesis mightbe contestedon groundsof history (see Havelock. in the attack on poetry is not as pronounced. 8Greenblatt acknowledgesbut also foreshortensGreene.For Derrida. 101).M.WaiCheeDimock 1069 6While Bakhtin specifically discusses the novel (which he distinguishes from poetry). to '9Koyreshows the importanceof Plato's mathematizations subsequentdevelopments of science (16-43). 26-52. 10Thissense of incipience is even strongerin RichardFeynman's "pathintegral"interpretation quantumelectrodynamof ics. 25Thelast phraseis a translationof ox.London: Longman. Of course. 20To some degree Havelock's hypothesis is contested by Goody.see Hawking 15-34. Panofsky. for poetry is "hearingand vision joined. emphasizingPlato's subordination mathematicsto dialectic.this notion exemplifiesthe Western"logocentrism" that privileges speech over writing. H.Laurie. although his thesis should perhapsbe qualified by Kubovy's. H. 7Douglass. '6Jay's emphasison the disunityof suchscopicregimesusefully challenges Foucault'sassumptionof panopticalseamlessness. Aitchison.. where the probabilityof a particle'sgoing from one point to anotherderives.Accordingto Goody. Nussbaum87-233.HoustonA.2).Pantazelou. Jr.the Lady Phias losophy calls the Muses of poetry"whores."Plato'sPerformativeSublime and the Ends of New LiteraryHistory 16 (1985): 251-73. '5Forthe historicalalliance between the naturalsciences and the visual arts. Bernstein. J. the alphabet was inventedcenturiesbefore the decades that Havelocksees as the turningpoint of Greekphilosophy. Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"is a classic critiqueof visuality. 1984. 1981. Reading. from the combut bined contribution of all possible trajectories. 26Hertz (14) and Fry (138-47) see Longinianreadingsas exercises in discontinuity.See Alteri. For an excellent account of Feynmanand space-time processes. Plato's writings are highly interpretableand literary. Ed. for they can not protector defend themselves"(88). Feynman sees quantumelectrodynamicsas an attempt"to calculate the probability of an event thatcan happenin alternativeways"(59).1950. 9The relativityof simultaneitywas not exclusively Einstein's idea. 1996. (54. Ideology. For currentdiscussions of the subject. The cognitive scientist Steven Pinker emphasizes the "phonetic perception" that enables humanbeings to "hear"what they read (159). Bakhtin. nemic reading"). see Edgerton(Heritageand RenaissanceDiscovery). Semanticperceptionsimilarlyexercises hearing.Watching English Change:An Introduction the Studyof LinguisticChange in the Twentieth Century.Wilkens. London: Routledge. Maddox.see Johnson. . M. &nXriLg( 9. 1991. "On the Fetish Characterof Music and the Regression of Listening. see Lloyd 333-51.2)." well as "Sirens" (4-5). Staffordpresentsa late-twentieth-century polemic denouncing "text-based culture" and advocating a new "art-science" visual alliance.see Pais 119-34. to Bauer. of On the Sublime.Austin:U of Texas P. and Ong on orality and literacy) and of on Stewarton "phopracticalcriticism(see Hartman "ear-fear". Charles. and identitydemandsthe same sex" (149)." Auden. Moss andWiesenfeld. Of course. 12Iam aware of John Hollander's warning that the eye and the ear are not easily separable. Discussing the story in 1950.Trans. 17Rousseau(12-15) and Vico (150) link the origins of language to onomatopoeia. New York:Harcourt.Chicago:U of Chicago P. In film theory. Underwrittenby a "principle of universalization. 27ForLonginus's observations on liberty. who argues that the development of philosophy would not have been possible withoutthe rise of literacythatfollowed the inventionof the alphabet. 28For historyof the opposing readings.Wiesenfeld and Moss. The Dialogic Imagination.. and Afro-American erature. 18Elsewhere Plato's work (for example. And they have no reticencesor proprietiestowardsdifferentclasses of persons . Theodor."The CultureIndustry:Selected Essays on Mass Culture. Harold.44. On the historical rivalrybetween the eye and the ear. esp." such consensual norms "deserverecognition by all concerned"(65). Seeds of Speech: Language Origin and Evolution.. Alteri. for the wish is for identityin innocenceor guilt." working "midway in the mind between eye and ear" (8.W. see Mitchell. 21InBoethius's The Consolationof Philosophy. a 29The words of Billy Budd have always seemed sexually chargedfor some ears. Auden says Claggart'spredicamentis that if "expressedsexually. actri yevvilWoaoaOXrEp iKovycev 7. Cambridge: CambridgeUP. 22Inthe PhaedrusPlato is much more alertto the vicissitudes of the writtenword: "Whenthey [words] have been once written down they are tossed about anywhereamong those who do and among those who do not understandthem. and slavery.Blues. ' See Guillory'sanalysisof these changinginstitutional protocols andhis argument favorof an"aestheticism in unbound" (340). (60. other critics have extended his notion of dialogism to poetry(Greene99-115.

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