Article published in:Signergy
Edited by C. Jac Conradie, Ronél Johl, Marthinus Beukes, Olga Fischer and Christina Ljungberg
[Iconicity in Language and Literature 9] 2010
► pp. 23–45
Literary practices and imaginative possibilities
Toward a pragmatic understanding of iconicity
Adopting a pragmatic approach to iconicity, this paper focuses on literary practices as imaginative undertakings, thus practices bound up with the projection of possibilities. Literary texts need not claim as their raison d’être anything more than the projection and exploration of diverse forms of possibility. The exhibition of such forms is intimately linked to the iconic features of literary texts. At the same time, in exhibiting the barely imaginable, they frequently embody traces of brute actuality and intimations of elusive significance. Thus, the work of iconic signs is, in literary texts, characteristically conjoined to that of indices and symbols. Moving from this level of generality to the way such texts work, in particular, to some of the iconic functions in literature, I will consider, above all else, the diagrammatic function of literary texts. Here, the sentences inscribed across a page are at once verbal diagrams and, in however attenuated a form, spatial diagrams. As diagrams of such a hybrid character, they are capable of presenting spatial, temporal, and other relationships, though the spatial features of such verbal diagrams often bear anything but a straightforward relationship to their imaginable objects. Such inscribed diagrams are spatial figurations in which the most salient features of spatiality are in certain respects exploited and, in other respects, effaced or, at least, suspended. A number of examples from literature (including texts by Henry James, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, among others) are used to substantiate these claims.
Published online: 26 May 2010