In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Introduction
  • Nancy Felson

Deixis 1) bring to light, show forth; 2) show, point out


The essential characteristic of deictic expressions is that their semantic values depend on the real-world context in which they are uttered. But this may not be so when the sentence in which the deictic appears is itself embedded in more complex utterances.

C. J. Fillmore 1997.61

The function of here is to indicate the "given" position on any dimension of localization that may be relevant at the moment . . . We are, actually, not necessarily located physically within the spaces we refer to as here.

Anna Fuchs 1993.18-19 (emphasis in original)

That's what fiction is about, isn't it, the selective transforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out its essence? What need did I have to go to Portugal?

Yann Mantel, Life of Pi, p. viii

Deictics bridge the tangible world of reality and the abstract world of fantasy. As indexical signs that point to objects or referents with which they are (or pretend to be) contiguous, their sense is not determined by any inherent semantic property and cannot be ascertained by consulting a lexicon. Rather, to decipher their meaning and construe their reference, the [End Page 253] interpreter must, at the least, first calibrate the parameters of the context, optimally by being at the actual utterance as an eye- or ear-witness, or else by imagined presence.

The project of investigating the poetics of deixis begins with an exploration of linguistic forms that point in a variety of ways to diverse kinds of objects: extra-textually to realia in the surrounding or implied context (deixis ad oculos); backward (ana-) and forward (cata-) to objects within the text (anaphoric or textual deixis); and imaginatively to objects brought into existence by the very act of pretending to designate them (deixis am Phantasma: fictional deixis). In the act of pointing to or creating such objects, deixis establishes orientation points between which the characters of the textual universe move. The act of tracking the movement of such characters gives even distant readers a vivid sense of involvement and, indeed, of presence at the distant performance event.

Self-reflexive deixis points to the enunciation itself (see Calame 1995.3-8 and Benveniste 1974.79-88) and partakes of all the three main types identified by Bühler (1990.137-57). A poet may employ such phrases as "this poem here" or "what I am doing/saying now" or "how you in the audience are right now responding" to refer to the poetic product or the respective acts of making and receiving the poem. When one asks whether the referent "exists" as an object, the answer must be tentative: the very act of naming it and speaking it (i.e., performing it) brings it into existence. But such pointing treats the object as if it already exists and, in this sense, it contains an element of deixis am Phantasma, of pretending to point. It also partakes of ocular deixis insofar as the referent is becoming audible and visible for the audience just at the moment when the poet/performer points at it. Moreover, the pointing backward and forward within the text resembles (though it should be distinguished from) anaphoric deixis. Thus self-reflexive pointing is a hybrid of the other three.

Critics who focus on deixis ad oculos aim to recover the original context in which a specific genre of poetry was first performed. Those who focus on anaphora are mainly interested in the cohesion of the text. Finally, investigators of fictional deixis hope to illuminate the poetic effects produced by the practice of deixis both on poetic characters and on external auditors and readers.

All three deictic phenomena-ocular, textual, and fictional-have the pragmatic effect of making audiences work. All invite interpreters to draw inferences-fewer when the referent is proximate and visible, more when time and distance have effaced it, and still more when the referent, like [End Page 254] a unicorn, is fictional in the first place. Yet even for those attending a first performance of a poetic text, discrepancies would have elicited interpretation (and hence work), for example, in...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 253-266
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.