Apostrophe in life and in Romantic art: everyday discourse, overhearing, and poetic address.
Two cognitive theorists in particular, the linguist George Lakoff and the philosopher Mark Johnson, made metaphor crucial to their novel conception of what would eventually be called the "figurative mind." As the title of their first book, Metaphors We Live By (1980), suggests, for Lakoff and Johnson metaphor is pervasive in everyday language and metaphorical mappings characterize even pre-linguistic thought processes. Where an earlier philosophical tradition had long viewed figurative language as ornamental and deviant, Lakoff and Johnson insisted on the constitutive character of figurative thought and on the naturalness of figurative language. As they summarized it in retrospect, Metaphors We Live By presented "evidence that conceptual metaphors are mappings across conceptual domains that structure our reasoning, our experience, and our everyday language" (Philosophy in the Flesh 47). Mark Turner, one of the first literary scholars to notice the growing prominence of figurative language for cognitive resear ch, declared that rhetoricians now had a key role to play in the "science of the mind" (Death 9-10). If, as Lakoff and Johnson argued, our effortless (and largely unconscious) production and comprehension of rhetorical figures reveal the figurative structure of thought and speech, then for Turner the "literary mind is the fundamental mind" and the traditional concerns of literary analysis can be refashioned within the larger orbit of cognitive science (Literary Mind v). A number of cognitive psychologists, including Ellen Winner, Richard Gerrig, and Raymond Gibbs, agreed, and controlled studies of how human subjects use figures like metaphor, metonymy, and irony soon made a central part of their research agendas. Gibbs became an important proponent of the key claims staked out earlier by Lakoff and Johnson; his 1994 book, The Poetics of Mind, summarizes years of empirical research designed to show that "human cognition is fundamentally shaped by various poetic or figurative processes" (1).
It should not be surprising that so few scholars in departments of literature shared Turner's early enthusiasm for the cognitive study of figurative language. For the rise of what Turner called "cognitive rhetoric" in the 1980s was largely eclipsed by an equally challenging, and at the time much more compelling, recasting of metaphor and related figures of speech in the service of deconstruction. Paul de Man's essay "The Epistemology of Metaphor," first published in 1978, set the tone for much of the work that followed in emphasizing the "proliferating and disruptive power of figural language" (28), what Jacques Derrida had earlier called the "abyss of metaphor" (253). Derrida and de Man were no less persistent or ingenious than Lakoff and Johnson in uncovering the latent metaphoricity of discourses of many kinds, including philosophical and scientific discourses claiming objectivity and linguistic transparency. But where cognitive rhetoric celebrated the generative power and conceptual coherence of figurativ e thought--in a word, its felicity--deconstruction instead stressed the "catastrophic" effect of figures that render the texts that harbor them "suspended and unresolved" (de Man, "Semiology" 10). "Rhetoric," in de Man's formulation, "radically suspends logic and opens up vertiginous possibilities of referential aberration"--a "figural potentiality" that de Man would identify with "literature itself" ("Semiology" 10). For de Man, no less than for Turner, rhetoric was regaining its lost prestige in discriminating the relentlessly figurative element of virtually all linguistic production: "It does not take a good semiotician long to recognize that he is in fact a rhetorician in disguise" ("Epistemology" 27). For the deconstructive rhetorician, however, figural language remains deviant, and rhetorical readings aim to elicit the disruptive, vertiginous, aberrant workings of metaphors and other tropes.
The trope of apostrophe has come to epitomize the excessive, disruptive, and insistently literary character of rhetorical figures as perhaps no other. Jonathan Culler notoriously argued that apostrophe, classically defined as a diversion or "turning away" of a speaker's utterance from a primary addressee to a second auditor (who might be absent, dead, or imaginary), functions to "complicate or disrupt the circuit of communication" ("Apostrophe" 135). In Culler's influential reading, apostrophe exemplifies "all that is most radical, embarrassing, pretentious, and mystificatory" in lyric poetry, and may be identified "with lyric itself' (137). Although Culler's interest in this figure goes back to his 1975 book Structuralist Poetics, where the germ for his "Apostrophe" essay can be found, his formulation here is attuned with the thinking of de Man, who makes the "figure of address" primary to the definition of the lyric ode and "paradigmatic for poetry in general" ("Lyrical Voice" 61). (3) Other critics influen ced by de Man, including Mary Jacobus and Cynthia Chase, also produced work in the 1980s arguing for the disruptive and even "dangerous" character of apostrophe (Jacobus 171) and granting it "paradigmatic" status for the "lyric mode" (Chase 211). (4) This "radical" view of apostrophe has by now taken on the bland authority of the student handbook. In her Course Guide for the Norton Anthology of Poetry, for example, Debra Fried (citing Culler) warns beginning poetry students about the "problematic" nature of apostrophe, remarking that the "breathless 'Thou's and 'Oh's of the Romantic ode can seem to make apostrophizing hard work" (65).
Apostrophe would seem, then, to pose a special challenge for the cognitivist approach to figurative language. Lakoff, Johnson, Turner, Gibbs, and their adherents all pose a fundamental continuity between literary and everyday language, underscoring the pervasiveness of rhetorical figures but viewing them as facilitating rather than undermining textual coherence and successful communication. As the figure for linguistic disruption and literary deviance par excellence, repressed by the critical tradition and "problematic" for readers and audiences, "above all," as Culler stresses, "embarrassing" (135), apostrophe seems inherently unassimilable to a cognitive rhetoric or a poetics of mind. Nevertheless, in what follows I propose to develop a cognitive account of apostrophe, one that can cover a wider range of instances and functions than those considered by deconstructive rhetoric, and one that remains sensitive to distinctions, including historical distinctions, that other accounts tend to elide.
A cognitive reappraisal of apostrophe might begin by noting that, pace Culler, apostrophes are not invariably embarrassing, or at the very least do not always embarrass to the same degree. Consider these two examples from the same poet, both of them addresses to daughters. (5) First: "Stern Daughter of the Voice of God! / O Duty!" And now this one:
Surprised by joy--impatient as the Wind I turned to share the transport--Oh! with whom But thee, deep buried in the silent tomb.
The address to the personified abstraction, Duty, indeed sounds highly "poetic" and rather awkward. But Wordsworth's apostrophe to his child, who has died so recently that he has not yet lost his habit of looking to her, does not (at least for me) provoke any embarrassment whatsoever. Or consider two examples from the same poem (Coleridge's "This Lime Tree Bower My Prison"), first this sequence of apostrophes:
Ah! slowly sink Behind the western ridge, thou glorious Sun! Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb, Ye purple heath-flowers! richlier burn, ye clouds! And now this apostrophe from the same stanza, a few lines above: they wander on In gladness all, but thou methinks, most glad, My gentle-hearted Charles!
Or try to set an embarrassment value for each of two alternative readings of the same line by Anne Yearsley, the apostrophe that opens her Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave-Trade. Is "BRISTOL, thine heart hath throbb'd to glory" equally embarrassing when one takes it to be addressed to the city and slaving port, as it is when one takes it to be addressed to Yearsley' s patron and the poem's dedicatee, "the Right Hon. and Right Rev. FREDERICK, Earl of Bristol" (Yearsley, ii, 1)? (6)
Why does it sound more natural and felicitous, less awkward, to address an apostrophe to a patron instead of a city, to an absent friend rather than a present sunset, to a recently dead daughter and not an abstract entity? A view of apostrophe committed to maximizing its linguistic deviance, its communicative failure, and its literariness or poeticality cannot answer this question. The more one attends to the entire range of figures of address, from the bombastic--"richlier burn, ye clouds!"--to the conversational-"but thou, methinks, most glad"--the more it appears that the "problematic" theory of apostrophe accounts for only one end of a larger continuum. To account for the more familiar and less "poetical" uses, one can turn instead to cognitive theories of language and communication as they bear on works of verbal art.
Richard Gerrig' s psychological study of reading, Experiencing Narrative Worlds, provides a good place to start. In a chapter on "language use in narrative worlds," Gerrig proposes to extend speech-act theory to better account for hearers of communicative utterances who are not the designated addressees of those utterances. A cognitive psychologist who has collaborated with Gibbs, Gerrig similarly understands verbal acts in literary works as continuous with "ordinary processes of language use" and as recruiting the same "cognitive processes" (156). Although he does not use the term, Gerrig evidently has apostrophe in mind when he mentions poetic phrases "nominally directed toward nonsensical addressees" like the sun or stars. Criticizing theories that are forced to posit "special mental acts dedicated to the experience of poetry," Gerrig claims instead that readers bring "vast experience" with comparable utterances in everyday discourse to aid in their comprehension of seemingly "nonsensical" poetic addresses (111, 126). Gerrig's first example is taken from a magazine article describing how the AIDS activist Larry Kramer dealt with having Ed Koch, then the mayor of New York, as a neighbor. Kramer detested Koch's AIDS policies and would loudly berate him in the lobby of their apartment building until the building management threatened Kramer with eviction. After that, whenever he would find himself with Koch in the lobby, Kramer would instead address his dog, Molly, with comments such as "There's the man who murdered all of Daddy's friends" uttered loudly enough for the mayor to overhear them (105).
The example of Kramer, Molly, and Koch works especially well because the dog, Molly, is no less "nonsensical" an addressee than would be a nightingale or a personified abstraction. It is easier than one might at first think to come up with quotidian examples of remarks nominally intended for uncomprehending addressees that are clearly meant to be overhead by a second auditor. My experience as a parent suggests that one commonly addresses infants with remarks made for the benefit of a co-parent: "Don't worry, honey, I'll get up and change your diaper again because Mommy is just too busy reading The New Yorker." Culler inadvertently provides an example of his own, when he imagines a man cursing a late bus in the rain: "'Come on, damn you! It's been ten minutes!"' Culler suggests that if the man "continues apostrophically when other travelers join him on the corner, he makes a spectacle of himself' (141-42). But in fact, the man looks much odder if he apostrophizes the bus when no one is present--if he's seen ta lking out loud to himself. If he curses the bus in the presence of others waiting at the stop, he's intending the remark to be overhead by them, and may even get a chorus of approving chuckles or empathetic groans in response. It is by no means uncommon to apostrophize the dead at a funeral--"X, we will miss you"--and the effect is anything but embarrassing. Everyday apostrophes may be still more common among certain religious communities. A colleague who grew up in a predominately Catholic neighborhood, for example, recalls her friend Maureen's mother, Mrs. Flanagan, frequently making remarks along the lines of, "Jesus! don't let these girls drive off a bridge on their way home from that party," a plea or warning to the girls issued in the form of an apostrophic prayer. The nuns at their high school, Marian Catholic, would often reprove them with phrases like, "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, what am I going to do with these kids!" Many of us, I expect, will have childhood memories of similar remarks, regardless of religious affiliation.
As Gerrig explains, however, the everyday analog to apostrophe does not require a mute, inanimate, dead, or divine addressee. Whenever a conversation takes place before a third party, for example, the speakers will ordinarily tailor their remarks to take the presence of an overhearer into account (104). Some remarks may be primarily intended for the overhearer (whom Gerrig terms the "side-participant" to distinguish this communicative position from an unintended or deliberately excluded "overhearer" (106)). (7) John Keats neatly describes this triangular communicative relation in a letter written to his brother George, but intended to be read as well by George's wife, Georgiana: "I must take an opportunity here to observe that though I am writing to you I am all the while writing at your Wife--This explanation will account for my sometimes speaking hoity-toityishly" (2: 204). And in "ordinary conversations with three or more participants," Gerrig points out, any given utterance might be explicitly addressed t oward only one of the hearers, but each participant is expected to listen to and keep track of the flow of talk, deftly and unconsciously shifting between "addressee" and "side-participant" roles throughout the conversation (104). (When teachers answer a given student's question in the classroom, they expect or at least hope that the other students are taking an active side-participant role, and craft their remarks accordingly.) In stark contrast to the exotic and aberrant role given to apostrophe by Culler and other deconstructive rhetoricians, Gerrig sees the three-way communicative relation assumed by apostrophe as a natural extension of normative and habitual conversational practice.
In focusing on the social and pragmatic functions of linguistic behavior, and arguing for the persistence of those functions in works of verbal art, Gerrig could find precedents in the "sociological poetics" put forth by the Bakhtin group in the 1920s. In his resonant essay "Discourse in Life and Discourse in Art," V. N. Volosinov builds from his basic definition of verbal discourse as "social event" to describe a triadic communicative relation similar to Gerrig's constellation of speaker, addressee, and "side-participant." (8) Looking out the window on a dreary day and uttering the semantically empty term "well" in a reproachful tone, Volosinov's imagined speaker has made use of intonation not to address a comment on the weather to his listener, but to allow his listener to overhear a comment directed to an underdetermined "third participant"--perhaps nature, the snow, or fate (99, 103). Volosinov explicitly relates this model quotidian utterance to the figure of apostrophe: "Intonation has established an ac tive attitude toward the referent, toward the object of the utterance, an attitude of a kind verging on apostrophe to that object as the incarnate, living culprit, while the listener--the second participant-is, as it were, called in as witness and ally" (103). Volosinov uses the terms speaker, hero, and listener in place of Gerrig's speaker, addressee, and side-participant, but the triadic relation remains constant and in each case constitutes an everyday analog to poetic address.
The same triadic communicative relation informs classical accounts of apostrophe as well. As L. M. Findlay notes in an early dissent from Culler, according to Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria, "what is heard apostrophically by one or more select addressees is also overheard by the remainder of the exordium's original audience" (338). Quintilian, who classes apostrophe among the "figures of thought," describes it as the "diversion of our words to address some person other than the judge" in a situation of rhetorical pleading (2:41). Quintilian's definition of apostrophe underscores both its pragmatic function and the judge's role as overhearer (or "side-participant"), both of which are elided in Culler's dyadic, "I-thou" (or rather, I-"you") model (142). (9) Culler quotes Northrop Frye (who in turn is glossing John Stuart Mill's dictum that the lyric is "not heard but overheard"), to claim that the poet "'turns his back on his listeners"' in pretending to address a muse or friend, a natural object or personifi ed abstraction (137). But to turn aside from one listener to another does not mean to turn one's back on the former, and in fact (as Gerrig and Volosinov describe in their different ways) makes part of normal conversational practice. It is through such practice that readers learn to "habitually take a side-participant stance" in relation to literary works, according to Gerrig (124). Considered in this way, there is nothing inherently deviant, abnormal, or "embarrassing" in the use of apostrophe. To counter Culler's self-referential opening example--a lecturer on apostrophe, presumably Jonathan Culler, intoning "O mysterious apostrophe, teach us to understand your workings!" (135)--one need only imagine Culler's colleague in the audience turning to her friend and whispering to her, "Oh, Jonathan! That's such a loaded example!" In this case, the apostrophe might become embarrassing only if uttered loudly enough for the lecturer, its nominal addressee, to hear.
Quintilian's discussion also makes clear that an apostrophe need not be addressed (as some handbooks have it) to an "absent person" or "abstract or inanimate entity" (Abrams 161). "Some person other than the judge" could as readily be present as absent. Confining his examples to apostrophes that "turn away from empirical listeners by addressing natural objects, artifacts, or abstractions" allows Culler to strengthen his case at the expense of considerably narrowing the definition of his leading term (138). De Man similarly limits discussion to the "fiction of an apostrophe to an absent, deceased, or voiceless entity," anticipating his conclusion that "language, as trope, is always privative" ("Autobiography" 7576, 80). This narrowing of the trope's field appears all the more remarkable in light of Culler's and de Man's shared focus on Romantic texts. For in poetry of the Romantic era, as Michael Macovski has asserted, addressees tend to "appear before their respective speakers as direct, face-to-face responde nts" (9). Macovski accordingly reads apostrophe as a figure, not for communicative breakdown or the "privative" nature of language, but for "dialogue" and for language as "social process" (11, 38). Angela Esterhammer has demonstrated the importance of a similarly "dialogic" element in the linguistic theory of the era, with a pronounced interest in the social, pragmatic, and "performative" aspects of language (19).
Esterhammer gives special attention to Thomas Reid, the leading philosopher of the Scottish "common sense school," who advanced an early version of speech-act theory in works first published in the 1780s. Predictably, Reid's brief discussion of apostrophe places it in close proximity to ordinary linguistic practice and, significantly, it occurs at the end of a discussion of the "social operations of mind" (71). "In all languages," Reid claims, "the second person of verbs, the pronoun of the second person, and the vocative case in nouns, are appropriated to the expression of social operations of mind, and could never have had place in language but for this purpose: nor is it a good argument against this observation, that, by a rhetorical figure, we sometimes address persons that are absent, or even inanimated [sic] beings, in the second person. For it ought to be remembered, that all figurative ways of using words or phrases, supposes a natural and literal meaning of them" (74). Rhetorical figures for Reid are not linguistically aberrant, but constitute special uses of "natural" utterances. Apostrophe exemplifies rather than derails the social and communicative function of linguistic acts.
Acknowledging the overlap between figurative language and everyday speech, and the communicative gesture latent within the figure of apostrophe in particular, does not mean, of course, that all uses of this figure will sound natural or evoke the social character of language. When Byron in Childe Harold exclaims, "Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean--roll!" (IV. 179), it does sound excessive and, yes, embarrassing. An adequate theory of apostrophe would need to cover not just the familiar and communicative instances characteristic of Romantic "conversation" poems and excluded by de Man and Culler, but the problematic cases so ingeniously analyzed by them as well. It would also need to account for the rise in awkwardness when poets invoke non-human rather than human auditors. Hugh Blair, whose Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783) remained the most popular guide to rhetoric throughout the Romantic era, actually reserves the term "apostrophe" to cover only addresses to human beings. All other apostro phes are regrouped instead within a special "degree" of the related figure prosopopoeia (or "personification") (326). Here is how Blair defines apostrophe:
It is an address to a real person; but one who is either absent or dead, as if he were present, and listening to us. It is so much allied to an address to inanimate objects personified, that both these figures are sometimes called apostrophes. However, the proper Apostrophe is in boldness one degree lower than the address to personified objects; for it certainly requires a less effort of imagination to suppose persons present who are dead or absent, than to animate insensible beings, and direct our discourse to them. (338)
Blair's definition of apostrophe shares Culler's exclusion of what the latter calls "empirical listeners" (138), but it also excludes the artifacts, objects, and abstractions that play such a crucial role in Culler's argument. Blair, too, acknowledges the greater departure from ordinary discourse in addressing insensible beings," but significantly describes this as an increase in "boldness" rather than awkwardness or embarrassment.
However historically intriguing, Blair's redefinition of apostrophe proves theoretically unsatisfying. It leaves far too much out of consideration, excluding the present human auditors evoked so frequently in Romantic-era poetry and relegating non-human addressees to the "third degree" of prosopopoeia. The line Blair draws between human and non-human addressees is suggestive, but too sharp: apostrophes to the dead, who are at once human and inanimate, would seem to fall in between. One might do better to place poetic instances of apostrophe along a rough continuum largely according to addressee, from present and intimate (though silent) human companions to inanimate objects, with distant or huge and lifeless objects (like stars or oceans) at the far end. The overlapping distinctions between animate and inanimate, human and non-human auditors call for special discussion, but not for distinct and exclusive categories. Borderline cases, in which the addressee hovers between categories, can in fact prove especial ly instructive, suggesting that Romantic-era poets keep sight of distinctions like the one posed by Blair, but choose to confound them. In the rest of this essay, I will sketch out a continuum approach to apostrophes, keeping in view both their connections with everyday discourse and their more pronouncedly odelike or "poetical" effects. (10) I will end by suggesting, however, that the degree of what Blair calls "boldness" may vary not just from one instance of apostrophe to the next, but from one historical era to another.
The addresses to silent auditors that punctuate Romantic "conversation poems" closely resemble the everyday speech situations described by Gerrig, so closely that their apostrophic character can easily be missed. Macovski, in a rare discussion of these familiar apostrophes, notes that the apostrophic incorporation of the addressee makes in fact a signature aspect of Romantic style (21). Often the addressee is not just familiar, but familial. Wordsworth turns to address his sister in the final section of his "Tintern Abbey" poem--
Oh! yet a little while May I behold in thee what I was once, My dear, dear Sister!--
as Coleridge turns to address his infant son in the concluding stanzas of "Frost at Midnight": "Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side [...]." It is remarkable, though rarely remarked upon, that Coleridge's address to the infant Hartley does not strike readers as unnatural or strained, although the child is in a pre-linguistic stage and an unconscious state. No doubt Coleridge's address seems natural because parents habitually address infants in this way, generally to convey attitudes or information to side-participants: "Aha, you messed up your diaper again"; "Oh, are you finally asleep, you little insomniac?" The function of such addresses varies and shows various degrees of complexity. Readers have noticed that the apostrophe to Dorothy in "Tintern Abbey" collapses difference into sameness, as the address to a feminine other turns her into a virtual mirror image of the poet's younger self ("May I behold in thee what I was once"). (11) The apostrophe to infant Hartley, on the ot her hand, seeks to maximize otherness:
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart With tender gladness, thus to look at thee, And think that thou shalt learn far other lore. And in far other scenes!
Yet in asking Hartley vicariously to live out the Wordsworthian childhood that Coleridge envies, the poem threatens again to collapse difference into self-identity, as earlier when the "stranger's face" becomes that of the poet's sister: "My playmate when we both were clothed alike!" By implicitly evoking the social character of linguistic exchange, apostrophes in these poems underscore the strong gravitational pull of self-regard even in seeking to break its hold.
Apostrophes to intimate friends, whether present or absent, share the familiar conversational feel of those to close relatives. They often provide a sense of ratification, as do the addresses to "gentle-hearted Charles" in Coleridge's "This Lime Tree Bower," or Wordsworth's apostrophes to Coleridge throughout The Prelude: "Ah! need I say, dear Friend! that to the brim / My heart was full" (4: 33334). Such apostrophes reflect a collaborative writing culture in which poems are typically circulated in manuscript or inscribed into familiar letters, often intended (like Keats's letters to George and Georgiana) for multiple recipients. Yet they also reflect anxieties raised by the professionalization of poetry, increasingly written for an anonymous, paying readership rather than a circle of patrons and friends, by providing an insulating layer between the poet and the book-buying public. The double apostrophe to William and Dorothy Wordsworth, for example, provides Coleridge with an internal audience guaranteed to assent to his revisionary views in "The Nightingale" (the same poem that, with its subtitle, introduces the very term "conversation poem"): "My Friend, and thou, our Sister! we have learnt/A different lore." Byron exposes this device by inverting it in Don Juan, shifting the reader's position from side-participant to poetic addressee, while announcing his poetry's dependence on the literary marketplace: "But for the present, gentle reader! and / Still gentler purchaser!" (1:221). Addresses to the reader carry a certain defamiliarizing charge not just because they expose a text's artificiality, but because they jostle readers out of their accustomed "side-participant" position to become, momentarily, what Volosinov calls the "heroes" of apostrophic invocations.
Familiar apostrophes do not always provide a ratifying, insulating effect but can perform instead what Macovski terms an "agonistic" function (24-26). Coleridge's addresses to "pensive Sara" play this role in "The Eolian Harp," her silent but active presence in the poem inspiring him to abandon its intimations of pantheism: "But thy more serious eye a mild reproof/Darts, 0 beloved Woman!" Note, however, that in shifting from the familiar "Sara" to the abstract "Woman," Coleridge's final address to his wife moves several degrees toward the "bold" or "embarrassing" pole of the apostrophic spectrum. Similar shifts in function and boldness value can be seen in the series of changes in poetic addressee that help give such a different feel to the various drafts of the poem now known as Coleridge's "Dejection" ode. (12) In its early manuscript version as A Letter to--, Coleridge addresses a different Sara, not his wife but his obsessive love interest, Sara Hutchinson: "0 Sara! we receive but what we give! And in our Life alone does Nature live" (33). In this version the tone is familiar, seeking for assent, yet also monitory, almost pedagogical. When, in a partial transcription of the poem in a letter to William Sotheby, the addressee becomes Wordsworth, the apostrophe takes on an agonistic function, at least to readers aware of the two poets' history of disagreement on this very point: "0 Wordsworth! we receive but what we give, / And in our Life alone does Nature live" (40). In its final form, with the addressee now an unnamed "Lady," the apostrophe again sounds rather didactic but also less conversational, more awkward: "O Lady! we receive but what we give" (55). Although the poet represents the Lady as an intimate--"friend devoutest of my choice"--the shift from proper name to abstract noun saps the address of the familiar tone that characterizes the earlier versions.
In between the addresses to intimates found in conversation poems, so familiar from everyday discourse that they often fail to register as apostrophes at all, and the disruptive addresses to artifacts and abstractions that epitomize the apostrophe for readers like de Man and Culler, lies a large middle ground of addresses that neither command nor evade readerly attention. Addresses to human beings become more noticeable as they become more abstract and as their objects become more removed from the poet or poetic speaker in intimacy, place, and time. Compare the speaker's apostrophe to his presumed daughter in Wordsworth's "It Is a Beauteous Evening"--"Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here"--and to an idealized infant in the "Immortality" ode: "Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might / Of heaven-born freedom on thy being's height." Apostrophes to whole classes of persons, even if a relationship is being claimed, also sound more "rhetorical" than addresses to intimates: "We have offended, Oh! my countrymen!" (This last is from Coleridge's highly apostrophic poem, "Fears in Solitude," to which I will return.) Apostrophes to other poets may appear more strained as the poet is removed in time: compare Coleridge's "O Wordsworth" to Keats' "Oh Chatterton!" and then to Wordsworth's "Milton!" And yet, apostrophes to earlier poets are so thoroughly conventionalized that they generally sound less awkward than addresses to others of the mighty dead, no matter how far removed in time. It's hard to imagine using the apostrophe "Oh Plato! Plato!" for any purpose other than comic effect, as Byron does in Don Juan (1: 116). But an apostrophe to Sappho would not sound so ludicrous.
My discussion has moved from addresses to the living to invocations of the dead without comment up to now. Why does there seem to be a continuum in moving from the living Wordsworth, to the recently dead Chatterton, to the long dead Milton, rather than an absolute divide between breathing addressees and those in the ground? An absent apostrophic "hero," such as Charles in "This Lime Tree Bower," can after all still read the lines addressed to him. But Chatterton could never read the apostrophes that Coleridge, Keats, and other writers of the era kept addressing to that icon of the beautiful, young, dead poet. In many cultures, of course, the dead remain with the living, and receive offerings and oblations, prayers and supplications, accordingly. Romantic-era Britain was not entirely such a culture, but the dead may well have seemed nearer than they do in the twenty-first century. Christabel's apostrophe to her mother (in a poem set, admittedly, in an earlier, pre-Protestant England)--"Oh mother dear! that tho u wert here!"--summons a real presence, at least according to Geraldine's response: "Off, woman, off! this hour is mine!" (1. 202, 211). But think again of contemporary verbal behavior at a funeral or memorial service. Even someone long dead can be apostrophized without departing from normative speech codes, though it may sound a bit stagy and strained: "Oh Frank, if you could have known before you died that your son would one day curse me in my own house!" It may be easy to address dead people simply because it is people that one habitually addresses, as Blair suggests in defining the "proper Apostrophe."
Certainly apostrophes to living animals sound less natural, more stilted, than apostrophes to human beings, present or absent, living or dead. A remarkable tonal shift occurs in "The Nightingale" as the speaker turns once more to address his friends after apostrophizing the bird of the title: "Farewell, O Warbler! till tomorrow eve, I And you, my friends, farewell, a short farewell." It sounds as though the poet were using two different figures altogether, as Blair would have it. Poets can use the principles of abstraction and of multiplication already noted to further heighten the unnaturalness of the animal apostrophe, as in the "Immortality" ode: "Ye blessed Creatures, I have heard the call,/ Ye to each other make." Although addressed to animate beings, such apostrophes diverge much more noticeably from ordinary linguistic usage than do addresses to the inanimate dead, who cannot talk or even bleat back. (13)
The silence of the dead in apostrophic relations has been interestingly read by de Man as impelling a rather Gothic scenario, in which the poet's wish to make the dead speak bears the "latent threat" that the "living are struck dumb, frozen in their own death" ("Autobiography" 78). For de Man, who, like Culler, reads apostrophe in terms of a dyadic relationship, the "symmetrical" structure of the figure implies its reversability. (14) If, however, one understands apostrophe in terms of a triadic relation, as Quintilian, Volosinov, and Gerrig all do, then the muteness of the dead might be less notable than the inability of the dead to overhear. That is, the dead can still function as "hero" of an apostrophe, but no longer as Volosinov' s "witness" or Gerrig's "side-participant." Wordsworth's sonnet "Surprised by joy" gains much of its poignancy--and it is hard to think of a more poignant poem--by playing out this transformation in the relations among speaker, addressee, and witness. Let me quote the sonnet's o pening lines once more:
Surprised by joy--impatient as the Wind I turned to share the transport--Oh! with whom But thee, deep buried in the silent tomb, That spot which no vicissitude can find?
The speaker turns to his daughter, not to address her but to share an attitude, much as the speaker in Volosinov's example calls in the listener "as witness and ally": "I turned to share the transport." But the poet's daughter has died, and his habitual gesture, his turning toward her, becomes the "turning away" that etymologically defines apostrophe: "Oh! with whom / But thee." If one reads the passage slowly and sequentially, the exclamation "Oh!" functions to encapsulate this movement in a single, overdetermined phoneme. In the second line, "Oh!" implies a semantically empty yet meaningful term like Volosinov's "Well!," readily interpretable by a present listener in full possession of the "extraverbal pragmatic situation" (98). As in, "Oh! how beautiful," or, given the extraverbal context, simply "Oh!" When the death of the addressee becomes manifest in line three-- manifest not just to the reader but to the momentarily forgetful poet as well--the "Oh!" is reinterpreted as a bereaved father's cry of pain, eloquent in its inarticulateness. But, as well, the "Oh" of grief harbors the "O" of apostrophe, marking, with the pronounced caesura that precedes it, the apostrophic turn itself. The pain arrives with the knowledge that the daughter is left with only the position of "hero" or addressee in any apostrophic relation. Wordsworth's apostrophe becomes a moving comment on the communicative structure of apostrophe.
If the dead could speak back, then the latent threat that de Man describes--that the "living are struck dumb"--might apply in a triadic reading of apostrophe to a living witness rather than to the apostrophic speaker. Just such a fate seems to befall the unnamed listener in "A Spirit's Return," which Felicia Hemans sometimes described as her most fully realized poem. Addresses to the listener, a "gentle friend" and apparently a disappointed suitor, occur frequently enough to give the poem a dialogic quality, although only the female speaker's voice is ever heard. That voice also utters a series of more daring apostrophes--"O thou rich world unseen! / Thou curtain'd realm of spirits"--that lead up to the revelation that through "fiery" and "magic" words she has indeed managed the impossible: "Communion with the dead!" In telling contrast to Byron's Manfred, evoked via the poem's epigraph, Hemans's speaker manages to call her beloved back from the grave and actually have a two-way conversation with him:
I drank in soul!--I questioned of the dead-- Of the hush'd, starry shores their footsteps tread, And I was answered.
The speaker gains not death but life--"I drank in soul!"--when the beloved's spirit speaks back. The "gentle friend," however, seems to disappear from the poem at its conclusion, frozen out of the scene as the speaker turns definitively toward her disembodied lover, the addressee of her final series of speech acts: "shall not I, too, be, / My spirit-love! upborne to dwell with thee?" in a poem both replete with and thematically concerned with performative utterances, Hemans asserts a dyadic relation between a living and dead speaker by taking skillful advantage of the triadic structure of apostrophe.
In their ambiguous status as inanimate bodies and as disembodied souls, the dead readily become subjects of apostrophic address. Apostrophes to inanimate objects or to abstractions, however, might seem to belong where Blair puts them-- in another category altogether. To deconstructive readers, apostrophes that border on prosopopoeia (in its sense of "personification") appear outright "mystificatory" (Culler 137), even "hallucinatory" (de Man, "Lyrical Voice" 67). Cognitive rhetoricians take a quite different view. Lakoff and Johnson, in fact, include personification among the common "metaphors" we live by, citing such quotidian uses as "This fact argues against the standard theories" and "Inflation is eating up our profits" (33-34). For Lakoff, causation is "one of the most fundamental of human concepts" and always assumes, in its "prototypical form," some kind of agent (Women 55). No surprise, then, that utterances will posit agency even when no overt agent can be discriminated, as in "it's raining." Turner argues that, even in a world disenchanted of "river gods and wind deities and tree spirits," we regularly "project features of animacy and agency" onto non-human objects and abstract entities in order to think about them in human terms, the terms most familiar to us from habitual reflection on our own actions (Literary Mind 20-21). This explains why apostrophes to inanimate objects are so readily understood, even when they sound comically strained: "Come on, car, start this time, you can do it!" Blair himself recognized the pervasiveness of personification long ago, stating that "there is a wonderful proneness in human nature to animate all objects" and that "very frequent approaches" to personification occur in "common conversation." Although "at first view" personification seems to "border on the extravagant and ridiculous," its use is "extensive" and its "foundation laid deep in human nature" (1: 324-25). Blair remains instructively ambivalent regarding personification, holding that, when properly used, it strikes readers as "natural and agreeable," yet retaining the emphasis on "boldness" that for him distinguishes personification from apostrophe (1: 324).
A cognitive rhetorician might diagnose this ambivalence by pointing to the conflicting operations of two distinct and equally common human tendencies. In a useful introduction to metaphor and conceptual blending theory (an offshoot of cognitive linguistics), Joseph Grady and his co-authors note that the perceived degree of metaphoricity in a given utterance may vary with the perceived degree of distance between the categories being brought together. "A sentence starting with 'If I were a cloud' strikes us as more figurative than one starting with 'If I were you,"' even though the latter poses an equally impossible metaphorical blending (119). Certain cognitive anthropologists and psychologists see category distinctions between human and non-human, and between animate and inanimate, as especially salient, fundamental, and widespread across geographically and genetically distinct cultures. (15) One common human tendency, then, the attribution of agency to many kinds of entities, might run up against a second, t he deeply entrenched category distinction between the human agent and the inanimate object. Without the latter distinction, indeed, one could hardly develop a reliable theory of other minds. (16)
Apostrophes to inanimate objects. then, should prove readily comprehensible yet also carry a note of strain or artificiality, heightening their perceived degree of poeticity: "And 0, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves, / Forbode not any severing of our loves!" Notice how Wordsworth heightens the sense of ''boldness" not only by multiplication, offering a whole list of inanimate addressees, but by non-standard, "poetical" sounding forms like "ye" and the apostrophic "O" itself. Apostrophes of this sort want to be noticed. They do the kinds of work described so well by Culler, de Man, Jacobus, and other critics writing in the 1980s: willing objects to function as subjects; imposing a relation between subjects onto a subject object relation; constituting by the very act of asserting a powerful, poetic voice; and underscoring the special temporality of writing. Their preferred linguistic register is not the colloquial but the vatic, as throughout the poetry of Blake: "O Earth, O Earth, return!" Macovski und erscores the difference between dialogic add address to silent auditors and apostrophes to inanimate objects, noting that the latter, as throughout the poetry of Shelley and Keats, ironically posit a listening subject in order to wishfully collapse the subject-object distinction (9-10). "Be thou, Spirit fierce, / My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!" Their evocation of a high poetic, if not prophetic, stance leaves such apostrophes temptingly open to travesty. A parodist need only ratchet the vatic tone up a notch, as in this send-up of Erasmus Darwin: "Great Babylon is fallen! Shout, shout, ye Meads! /And, oh! ye Corn-fields, wave your happy heads!" (Golden Age, 17). Apostrophes to hills, corn-fields, the wind, the Earth, and other inanimate objects often do strike readers with the "brazenness" deconstructive rhetoric attributes to them (Culler 152). They form, however, the extreme end of a series moving from conversational addresses to present and absent intimates, through apostrophes to the distant and de parted, to the apostrophes to animals, plants, artifacts, and inanimate nature so readily parodied.
Addresses to personified abstractions might seem still more brazen, but to my sensibilities they lie somewhere between "O, Sara!" and "0, ye Fountains." The very profusion of mythological references and motifs in pre-modern poetry may leave readers prepared to give abstract entities something akin to human form. The opening address of Wordsworth' s "Ode to Duty".--."Stern Daughter of the Voice of God! I O Duty !"--seems less, not more, bold than the same poet's apostrophe to a living creature: "O Cuckoo! Shall I call the Bird, / Or but a wandering voice?" ("To the Cuckoo"). In Hemans's poem "The Image in Lava," the apostrophe "Love! human love! what art thou?" does not jar so much, perhaps because readers of poetry are used to thinking of Love as a goddess, and seeing visual representations of goddesses in human form. Abstract entities less familiar from mythology, especially when encountered in a series, lose this quality of relative familiarity: "O world! O life! O time!" (Shelley, "A Lament").
Even at their most bold or brazen, however, apostrophes remain readily comprehensible: they may disturb the reading process but they do not short-circuit it. Or as Blair puts it, when skillfully handled they remain "agreeable," however removed from ordinary usage. In his essay "Process and Product in Making Sense of Tropes," Gibbs argues for a distinction between the comprehension and the full understanding of rhetorical figures. If metaphor, metonymy, irony, and (we can now add) apostrophe are not only present in everyday language, but constitutive of ordinary thought processes, these figures should prove readily interpretable. Psycholinguistic research undertaken by Gibbs and others strongly suggests that the comprehension of such figures does not indeed require special cognitive procedures. As products of understanding, however, a given instance of figurative language may elicit extended interpretive activity, provokingjudgments of relative "poeticality" such as those made ihroughout this essay. The figura tive mapping "If I were you" neither stalls interpretation nor slows it down; "If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear" (from Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind") does not stall immediate comprehension though it may well cause readers to slow down and prolong their efforts to appreciate such an unusual conceptual blend. Cognitive rhetoric posits the comprehensibility and felicity of figurative tropes just as resolutely as deconstructive rhetoric insists on their disruptive and "vertiginous" qualities (de Man, "Semiology," 10). Gibbs' distinction between comprehension and appreciation can account both for the coherence of figural language and for the dishabituating, slowing-down effect that any number of poeticians have made a hallmark of "literariness." (17)
Before concluding, I want to emphasize that the perceived degree of naturalness or boldness in a given use of figurative language may well vary along with historical changes in cultural and linguistic practice. Although Gerrig does not discuss historical shifts in readers' experience of rhetorical figures and other literary devices, he does acknowledge that the "common ground" or "body of shared assumptions" that readers bring to their engagement with texts can change over time and vary among discrete "interpretive communities" (118). One remarkable distinction between academic readers in the present and Romantic-era readers of poetry concerns the prevalence of religious discourse and changing patterns of regularity in attending religious services. The vast majority of readers and writers in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries would have been present at some form of public or family worship weekly if not more often. Even professed freethinkers and atheists would most likely have attended religi ous services as children. And those services would ordinarily have included public prayers and other devotional practices manifesting the same triadic structure as apostrophe. Whether prayers to God--who, as Wordsworth's Goody Blake puts it, is "never out of hearing"--can be considered "proper" apostrophes may be a question for theological debate as much as literary theory to decide. But public prayers to God, however sincere, always aim to be overheard by the congregation, and (as with prayers for the health of the royal family) may be framed with public ideological effects as well as spiritual concerns in mind. At a time when, as Esterhammer writes, the "role of public utterance" had been heightened and expanded by the French revolution and its aftermath in Britain--an era of loyalty oaths, patriotic anthems, royal and church investitures, and overtly politicized sermons--addresses to an unseen being meant for the edification of an overhearing public may have proliferated as rarely before or since (51). So, at least, Coleridge complains in "Fears in Solitude," decrying the wartime mandates "Stuffed Out with big preamble, holy names, / And adjuration of the God in Heaven" (101-2).
In such a cultural and linguistic climate, apostrophes like those that throng "Fears in Solitude" itself may well have sounded more familiar, however abstract or nonsensical their addressees, than they could be expected to sound to modern ears. (18) How different in tone are Coleridge's apostrophes from those that might be heard at a Dissenting service? "Therefore, evil days / Are coming on us, O my countrymen!" (123-24); "But O dear Britain! 0 my Mother isle!" (182); "Spare us yet a while, / Father and God!" (129-30). Or those in Anna Barbauld's trenchant anti-war poem, "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven": "Yet, 0 my Country, name beloved, revered" (67); "And think'st thou, Britain, still to sit at ease, / An island queen amidst thy subject seas" (39-40). Apostrophes like these have nothing like the familiar conversational feel of those to present or absent intimates, but they may not have sounded entirely unfamiliar to contemporary audiences. Apostrophes in general--even those to inanimate beings or personified a bstractions--may have sounded "bold" to varying degrees without ever eliciting the modern critic's "embarrassment," except when deliberately exaggerated in the interests of parody. Jane Austen and other Romantic-era novelists regularly include apostrophes when representing familiar discourse, as in this sample from Mansfield Park: "'Poor William! He has met with great kindness from the Chaplain of the Antwerp,' was a tender apostrophe of Fanny's, very much to the purpose of her own feelings, if not of the conversation" (137). (19) "Bolder" apostrophes can be used to characterize a more affected character, like the poetical enthusiast Marianne from Austen' s Sense and Sensibility: "Oh! happy house, could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence perhaps I may view you no more!" (43). Apostrophes may have been a defining feature of the high Romantic ode, but they were by no means excluded from the nineteenth-century domestic novel.
Let me end by underscoring some of the advantages of a conversation among literary scholars and cognitive scientists as they converge on the traditional concerns of rhetoric. Cognitive theory provides a cogent and productive new way to think about figurative language: as pervasive rather than exceptional; as normative rather than aberrant; as constitutive rather than ornamental. It revives an older sense of tropes as not merely linguistic phenomena but as "figures of thought," going beyond rhetoricians from Quintilian to Blair, however, in hypothesizing that various figurative operations characterize large tracts of cognitive activity at a fundamental level. In relation to the figure of apostrophe, a cognitive approach can elicit a richer, more extensive, more complex understanding of that trope, revealing its rootedness in ordinary linguistic behavior and delineating an entire spectrum of usages from the transparently familiar to the obtrusively strange. A cognitive reading can help restore promising but neg lected paradigms from within literary theory, such as Volosinov's triadic scenario for modeling apostrophic exchange, while reasserting in the process the pragmatic and social functions of rhetoric that deconstructive theorists ruled out of consideration.
But cognitive science can stand to learn from literary and cultural studies as well, first by being reminded that the analysis of figures like metaphor and apostrophe does have a long and rich history. Literary scholars resist, by habit and by training, reliance on the simplified examples that play such a large role in controlled studies, refusing to consider any theory of figurative language remotely satisfying until it can deal with what F. Elizabeth Hart calls the "acrobatic" effects characteristic of complex literary texts (14). Literary analysts can extend the compass of cognitive rhetoric by seeking to account for the salience and difficulty--even the violence--of novel, ambiguous, and self-consciously literary usages, supplementing cognitive work on "comprehending" rhetorical tropes by providing methods and examples of more fully "understanding" them, to return to Gibbs' important distinction. Finally, literary scholars can vastly enrich notions of "extraverbal context" and "common ground" by specifyin g the cultural and historical differences that may affect both the production and reception of rhetorical figures over time. As more literary theorists, critics, and historians begin speaking to notions of cognitive rhetoric and figurative thought, cognitive scientists would do well to reply--or at least to overhear.
(1.) For overviews of scholarship at the intersection of cognitive science and literary studies, see Crane and Richardson, "Literary Studies and Cognitive Science," and Richardson, "Cognitive Science and the Future of Literary Studies."
(2.) See Ortony, Metaphor and Thought, and Shen, "Cognitive Aspects of Metaphor," for helpful introductions to this topic.
(3.) Culler's discussion in Structuralist Poetics (164-66) of how the "overheard" status of lyric poetry complicates the "communicative circuit" of ordinary discourse anticipates his later work on apostrophe, although the term itself does not come up in the earlier context. All references to Culler in the text refer to his "Apostrophe" essay, unless otherwise noted.
(4.) For another significant essay on apostrophe from this period see Johnson, "Apostrophe, Animation, and Abortion."
(5.) For the sake of convenience, all quotations of Romantic-era poetry are taken from Perkins, English Romantic Writers, 2nd ed., unless otherwise noted. Line numbers are given only for longer poems.
(6.) Kneale, in arguing against Culler's reading of apostrophe, claims that addresses (such as the examples here from Yearsley and from Wordsworth's "Ode to Duty") constituting a loem's opening lines cannot be considered apostrophes. For Kneale, apostrophe, as a turning away, requires the "pretext" of an addressee, established earlier in the poem, that can be turned from (151, 154). I agree instead with Culler's counter-argument, in his talk "Apostrophe Revisited," that there is a "default option of lyric address" and that such apostrophes turn from "unmarked lyric address to something distinctive" even in the first lines of poems (2). Quintilian, in fact, includes an opening address in his classical discussion of apostrophe, the famous opening line ("Quousque tandem abutere [. . .]") of Cicero's attack on Catiline (2: 42-43).
(7.) Gerrig's account draws on earlier work by Clark and Carlson, who establish the terms "overhearer" and "participant" in "Hearers and Speech Acts."
(8.) This essay is sometimes attributed to Mikhail Bakhtin.
(9.) Although Culler explicitly calls for a "third term"--the "audience"--in contrast to any "simple oppositional structure of the I-Thou" model, his own analyses continue to elide the desired third term, as in the following remark on Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind"--"If the wind is a spirit, it can make the speaker either an it or a thou to its I" (141-42).
(10.) In his talk on "Apostrophe Revisited," Culler also speaks of a "continuum" in the experience of apostrophe ("some apostrophes interrupt more surprisingly than others"), noting that the placement of an apostrophe may heighten or diminish its effect. Heather Dubrow, in a talk given as part of the same MLA special session, also recruits the notion of a continuum or "spectrum" in arguing for a broader conception of poetic address, one allowing for "many possibilities between direct address and overhearing an oblivious voice" ("'Stand and unfold yourself'"). I wish to thank Jonathan Culler, Heather Dubrow, and the respondent to that session, Herbert Tucker, for graciously making versions of their talks available to me at short notice.
(11.) "See, for example, Richardson, "Dangers of Sympathy" (745-47) and Mellor, Romanticism and Gender (19).
(12.) The earlier versions can be found in Coleridge, Coleridge's Dejection, cited here by page.
(13.) Addresses to household pets, however, as in Larry Kramer's apostrophe to his dog Molly (discussed above), may retain more of the familiarity and intimacy of apostrophes to friends and near relatives.
(14.) Compare Culler's discussion of the "sinister reciprocity" that marks certain apostrophic poems ("Apostrophe" 153).
(15.) See, for example, Atran, Cognitive Foundations of Natural History and Kelly and Keil, "The More Things Change."
(16.) Baron-Cohen provides an engaging introduction to the cognitive approach to the theory of other minds in Mindblindness.
(17.) For several especially influential statements, see Shklovsky, Mukarovsky, and Jakobson.
(18.) Dubrow also discusses "cultural conditions" that may have affected the positions of addressee and overhearer in the production and reception of Renaissance lyric poetry, including the "labile positions" for speaker and audience encouraged by the regular "practice of an entire congregation singing a hymn" ("'Stand and unfold yourself"'). Cf. Dubrow's remarks elsewhere on the "social situation" evoked by many Renaissance lyrics, including the "multiple audiences" assumed in instances of poetic address, characteristic of an "age fascinated by rhetoric" ("Lyric Forms" 196-97).
(19.) I take it that the first phrase ("Poor William") is an apostrophe addressed (in the second person) to William; the second phrase a comment (in the third person) on the "apostrophe" just made.
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Alan Richardson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is professor of English at Boston College. His books include British Romanticism and the Science of the Mind (Cambridge UP, 2001) and Literature, Education, and Romanticism: Reading as Social Practice, 1780-1832 (Cambridge UP, 1994). He has also published numerous essays on Romantic-era literature and culture, particularly in relation to gender, childhood and education, colonialism, and early neuroscience.
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