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Notes on the Point de Capital Joshua Clover The Argument: Lacan’s remarkable observation that “the sentence completes its signification only with its last term”(231), and thus that realization flows backward from the period—the point de capiton, or “quilting point”—is most significant for poetry, exactly because poetry proffers the false period of the line-break, with its incomplete completion of the phrase. strophe a. The mutations of the English verse line in the twentieth century are many and various but can be coordinated by a crude fact: the abandonment of the line as a quantitative instrument measuring similar and repeating units of sound. That mode of lineation persists as a residual, but loses its capacity to define poetry and increasingly appears as antiquarian. Similarly, lines continue to measure ; it is the quantitative regularity of repetition that is demobbed. No single counterexample serves to contradict this general tendency. b. If this change is small, it tilts the balance of poetics decisively. What was already immanent in poetry—the line’s incompleteness in the midst of the sentence—asserts itself absolutely. c. The confrontation which has always characterized poetry, between sentence and line, period and carriage return, point and counter-point, now takes on the signal quality of underscoring language’s slippage. The contingency of a line’s meaning, the continuous activity of reinterpretation, the simultaneous motion by which each step forward throws the mind backward as well—all of this is the experience of linguistic slippage. d. It is this situation that is indexed by metonymy’s claim against metaphor in twentieth-century poetics—a development that is itself, thusly, a causeconsequence of the mutation in the line. Clover | 59 e. Metonymic slippage (glissement) ascends in twentieth-century poetry from ghost to king. The poem becomes a kind of alembic for this experience, testing, clarifying, intensifying. Meaning asserts itself as process rather than object; poetry shifts its allegiance from Parmenides to Heraclitus. The line was once a thing about which one could speak; now, panta rhei. f. It is only at the period, Lacan’s point de capiton, that the slippage is briefly halted, the retroactive double-motion rests, and meaning is quilted into place. Even this is temporary: the poem’s renewed insistence on meaning as process reminds us not to take the completed sentence as truly fixed, nor the poem. To say that poems have always been ambiguous, meanings multiple, is to miss the particularities of twentieth-century poetics almost entirely. antistrophe a. One sees immediately that this development in the history of the line must make its successful claim at much the same time as the Course in General Linguistics, delivered as lectures between 1906–1911. The ascendant logic of the line is the logic of the signifier, extended from sign to syntax. b. Structural linguistics provides poetry an uncanny complementarity to the decline of rhyme and meter: a kind of baton-pass in the history of the materiality of the signifier. As if the desire for the sensual characteristics of language must be sated somewhere. c. But one sees as well that this Saussurean-Lacanian operation of retroactive realization that characterizes poetry—this relation between the period and the meaning—is not a purely linguistic fact (for Lacan thusly a psychoanalytic fact). It is the signal structure shared by language and capital. d. Meaning and value (in the terms of political economy) circulate in much the same way: in flux, indeterminate in the midst of a moving structural relation , until coming to rest imperfectly at the period and the moment of sale, respectively. signified signifier signified signifier signified signifier ‹ › ‹ › 60 | Clover e. Price is value’s quilting point. f. And so poetry provides the scene in which to think the operation of the point de capiton as a matter of political economy: the point de capital. catastrophe a. Adorno: “The unresolved antagonisms of reality reappear in art in the guise of immanent problems of artistic form. This, and not the deliberate injection of objective moments or social content, defines art’s relation to society.” b. We must then ask the question of why this particular mutation of the line appears as an immanent problem of poetic form around the turn of the century. c. This appears as a question of modernism only insofar as it poses the question of why modernism wished to confront this problem, this thought about language and value. d. There is a corollary question about postmodernism: can one think the...


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