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Sula - Toni Morrison's poetic language

Uploaded by Heinous_Bitch on May 12, 2002

According to Aldous Huxley, the life of any epoch can only be synthesised by poets: “Encyclopaedias and guides to knowledge cannot do it, for the good reason that they affect only the intellectual surface of a man’s life. The lower layers, the core of his being, they leave untouched.”1 I like this, particularly the idea of the ‘intellectual surface’ - a mere surface, with much beyond it - and combined with Jacobson’s aforementioned theory, I take this as my starting point: the idea that poetic language is important, that it is there for more than just prettiness, and that Toni Morrison’s use of it in her prose is highly effective.

But what exactly is ‘poeticalness’? Jan Mukarovsky has much to say on the matter:

The function of poetic language consists in the maximum of foregrounding of the utterance. Foregrounding is the opposite of automatization, that is the more an act is automatized, the less it is consciously executed, the more it is foregrounded, the more completely conscious does it become.2

Mukarovsky’s concept of ‘foregrounding’ simply means that one of the main functions of poetic language is to draw attention to itself, thus engaging our true concentration, rather than allowing us to glide over the words without thinking. Mukarovsky appears to be a Czech formalist, and this idea echoes his Russian counterparts who spoke more generally about the purpose of art. With a quotation from Leo Tolstoy’s Diary, Victor Shklovsky sums it up: “if the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been.”3 Art must therefore strive to prevent people from living unconsciously. In doing this, the most important weapons a poet uses are “unusualness, unexpectedness, and uniqueness”.4 Morrison duly uses these weapons on us: her prose is frequently idiosyncratic and unexpected, and indeed, she perhaps best describes the essence of poetry herself when she refers to Sula enabling Nel to “see old things with new eyes” (p. 36).

The events of this passage can be summarised roughly thus: Eva enters her son’s bedroom while he is high on heroin (I presume this because of her discovery of the bent spoon on the previous page - p. 45), she embraces him, and resolves to burn him alive. There is a sense of the words in this passage trying to reflect Plum’s heroin reverie - the sensations he feels are intense and mysterious to...

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Uploaded by:   Heinous_Bitch

Date:   05/12/2002

Category:   Literature

Length:   9 pages (1,932 words)

Views:   1776

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