Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Chapter 2: the eclipse of analogy, and periodizations of the sign

A few thoughts about ch. 2, which take off from my earlier post.

The more I read this book, the more strongly I'm reminded of the epistemic arguments of the Order of Things, and especially the periodizations of the sign offered in that book, as well as those influenced by Foucault's and Juri Lotman's historical semiotics. I'm thinking here of David Wellbery and Friedrich Kittler's work on the historicity of signification, though I don't expect others to follow me there.

I say this knowing full well that BP argues against epistemes in his introduction, but for me the most compelling part of his argument is the way in which he uses the large-scale paradigm-shifts in figuration as the basis for his Baroque-Augustan dividing line. This is one reason why I think that BP's work sits very nicely with Wellbery and Bender's work on "rhetoricality," and the massive implications of the shift from rhetorical to anti-rhetorical paradigms during the Enlightenment. This anti-analogy/anti-rhetorical shift encompasses many of the issues of prose style, history-writing, etc. that come up here in this chapter.

I'm also intrigued by the notion in the closing pages about this period's "reinvention of nature," and it does seem that BP is exactly right when he talks about the natural scenery of Pope's pastorals being more literal, more empirical, more temporalized somehow than the leafy scenes found in earlier versions of the pastoral. I'm not sure I want to read the Deus Absconditus into this as quickly as BP does, but it does mean that the presence of empirical science is being registered in very subtle ways: perhaps science lends to things an impervious shell of facticity that the Augustan observer need not delve into. But I do appreciate BP's idea that the "literalism" of the Augustans is not a blankness or absence, but a very specific set of approved relations to signification, with other forms of signification either interdicted or degraded almost beyond recognition.