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  • Deictic Ambiguity and Auto-Referentiality:Some Examples from Greek Poetics
  • Claude Calame
    Translated by Jenny Strauss Clay

Claude Calame directs us to think about the differences between performance poetry and poetry to be read. His study underscores the permeability, in both performed and read poetry, of the boundary between what is "inside" and "outside" a poem. A poem, he argues, may enact its own ritual performance using discourse deictics that point self-reflexively to its own making. Such discourse deictics not only bring the poem into real existence, they simultaneously point, repeatedly, to that emergent poem. Thus Calame argues that what is referred to deictically can designate not only extra-discursive but also intra-discursive referents to what is created poetically and fictionally within the discourse. This conflation of intra- and extra-discursive modalities of reference produces a certain semantic density in the enunciative positions constructed within the discourse. It occurs particularly when a poem corresponds to an act of singing that involves a ritual or cultic presentation, as in the case of a Pindaric ode composed for a ritual celebration in praise of an Olympian victor, a poem that creates its own context of enunciation. In read poetry, however, for example, the poems of Theocritus and Callimachus, deixis is always fictional-;Bühler's deixis am Phantasma.

The linguistic phenomenon of deixis renders possible verbal references to the space and time of, as well as to the participants in, the act of communication. Deixis thus is a process belonging to the "enactment into discourse" (mise en discours); it renders possible an extra-discursive reference that is conveyed by discursive means. The linguistic forms, mostly pronouns or adverbs, that facilitate such extra-discursive references correspond to what Émile Benveniste called "the formal apparatus of enunciation": spatial forms of "here," temporal forms of "now," and pronominal forms of "I" and "you." This means that, from the point of view of linguistics, deixis is related not only to the transition from the intra-discursive to the extra-discursive, but also to the distinction, also outlined by Benveniste, between histoire (or preferably récit) and discours. Thus while the use of forms of "I"/"you" and of "here" and "now" serves to mark discours, récit, by contrast, would be characterized by the presence of forms of "he"/"she," by "there," and by the aorist.1 We will have to return later to the relevance of this second distinction. But extra-discursive reference via deictic forms can also [End Page 415] have content; the pronominal designation may also be linked to indications related to the object of the enunciation itself, that is to say, the act of enunciation may be presented as a speech-act and thereby assume a programmatic character. This is the case in Greek literature, especially when a poem corresponds to an act of singing and when, as a consequence, poetic recitation corresponds to the function of the poem with its contents in the "performance" itself, within the situation of an "enactment into discourse" through its execution in a song of ritual or cultic character.

These strategies of enunciative auto-designation are not, however, limited exclusively to ritual poems (which are improperly classified as "lyric" poetry). In epic, for example, the introductory invocation to the Muse is frequently linked to certain auto-referential indications referring to the act of communication itself, in addition to the narrative contents communicated, as, for instance, in the opening of the Iliad: "Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus, the cursed wrath that brought innumerable griefs upon the Achaeans." The description of the general theme of the bardic recitation (the wrath of Achilles, evidently to be the unifying subject of the story to come) is accompanied by an indication of its manner of communication through an allusion to the singing of the . Similarly, the beginning of Hesiod's Theogony ("Let us begin to sing the Muses who inhabit Helicon") describes the verbal action of singing at the very moment it is being realized. Through the coincidence of discourse and song, the invocation presents itself as a speech-act-or, rather, a song-act; it announces, through the reference to the Muses, the...


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