Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Roman Ingarden and Textual Editing - A Fragment from My Aborted Dissertation


To understand how different edited texts of the same literary work construct that work differently, we need a tool for capturing the structure and functions of literary language – that is, of literary language as it becomes represented in and through text. In The Literary Work of Art, first published in German in 1931, Roman Ingarden provides such a tool by demonstrating that the literary work has a heteronomous existence, existing both on its own and dependent upon the conscious activity of a reader. Ingarden gives us a sophisticated picture of the internal ontological constitution and articulation of the literary work and its world. Because edited texts result in part from the conscious, critical acts of editors, Ingarden’s model can be used to compare different edited texts and gauge the effects of their differences on our apprehension of them and their presented worlds.

According to Ingarden, “every literary work is a two-dimensional linguistic formation.” One dimension consists of four distinct layers that are interconnected and interdependent; the other concerns the sequence of individual parts in the literary work. Each layer, or stratum, corresponds to a primary linguistic feature of the literary work. These strata are: linguistic sound formations, meaning units, represented objects, and schematized aspects. In addition to these strata, each of which will be discussed in more detail, the literary work possesses a systematic sequence of its individual parts – sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, for example – that produces through reading the work’s internal dynamics. For Ingarden, individual parts of the literary work attain constitution and qualification from preceding ones; therefore, to say that a work has a “beginning” and an “end” is not to use these terms in a temporal sense but rather to refer to the arrangement of these parts. It follows, then, that in regards to that which “happens” in the represented world of a literary work, one cannot speak of time in the true sense because that which happens now in the world of the work is an illusion from the point of view of the world of physical space and time.

The stratum of linguistic sound formations is the level constructed out of the sounds of words. For Ingarden, the single word is made up of the word sound and its meaning: given sounds become word sounds only if they can determine a meaning, which establishes the primary function of the word sound as determining the meaning of a word through context and manner of articulation. However, word sounds, or phonetic formations, are not simply a means for revealing the literary work but form “the external, fixed shell of the literary work, in which all of the remaining strata find their external point of support or – if one will – their external expression.” The phonetic stratum is thus the means and the form through which the reader apprehends the literary work, with word sounds uttered by a reader – aloud or silently – influencing the ways that corresponding meanings get inflected. Word sounds, moreover, usually become operative in the context of the sentence, the phonetic formation that binds the meanings of given words to each other. In sentences, properties such as rhythm and tempo also become established.

With the stratum of linguistic sound formations, Ingarden uses a conception in which linguistic signs consist of sounds and meanings. He categorizes the sounds as a separate level of the literary work, a level that is nevertheless conditioned by its connections with the other strata and by the determinations of human actors. The stratum of word sounds and the operations of human consciousness assist in the construction of the stratum of meaning units, the level of sentences. According to Ingarden, the meaning content of sentences is partially a function of the exigencies of reading, the reader, and the temporal circumstances within which reading is performed. On the other hand, meaning content is not a simple sum or aggregate of word meanings but rather an entirely new construction with respect to them. Ingarden distinguishes between affirmative propositions and judgments. Affirmative propositions are statements that claim to be true; judgments are affirmative propositions that also are true or false. For example, the affirmative proposition “I live in town” claims to be factual, and, as a judgment, might actually be true at the moment for that speaker. However, if that speaker is a fictional character, it can never be a pure judgment because the fictionality of the affirmative proposition overrides the distinction between true and false: it cannot be actually true or false because the statement acquires the fictionality of its speaker and the represented world of the speaker.

According to Ingarden’s model, then, declarative sentences in the literary work are neither purely affirmative propositions nor pure judgments. The affirmative propositions of literary works are, ostensibly, hybrids: they are “quasi-judgments” that “have the external habitus of judicative propositions, though they neither are nor are meant to be genuine judicative propositions.” Unlike pure affirmative propositions, quasi-judgments “are capable of evoking, to a greater or lesser degree, the illusion of reality…. They carry with them, in other words, a suggestive power which, as we read, allows us to plunge into the simulated world and live in it as in a world peculiarly unreal and yet having the appearance of reality.” Because of this suggestive power, the stratum of sentences performs the central function in the literary work. At this level of the work, the conscious activity of the reader constitutes the represented world as objects become revealed. In other words, as objects get revealed in their various states, they are brought to representation. The meaning stratum thus has a representation function in addition to a constitution function.

Through the strata of linguistic sound formations and meaning units, Ingarden places sign-recognition and sign-interpretation at the center of apprehension of the literary work. The next level, represented objects, emerges out of the reader’s recognition of word sounds and their meanings in phrases and sentences. Every represented object and state of affairs that is constituted and represented in this stratum has its source in either the phonetic or meaning stratum, the two strata which together constitute the language element of the literary work. The stratum of represented objectivities thus encompasses presented things and the world created vis-à-vis literary language. Through these presented things, a reader engages a simulated reality constructed out of “a unique space which essentially belongs to the represented ‘real’ world.” However, the unique space of the represented world is always incompletely determined and marked by its partiality. Not everything in the space of the represented world gets determined explicitly, nor could it. The text used to imagine a represented space does not and cannot provide all of the information about every quality it holds. In a literary work, then, the form of a represented object is a schema which, unlike objects in real time and space, can never be entirely filled by material determinations. Because a represented object “is simultaneously formally intended as a concrete unit containing an infinite number of fused determinations and, consequently, intentionally created as such, ‘spots of indeterminacy’ arise within it, indeed an infinitely great number of them. These spots of indeterminacy in principle cannot be entirely removed by any finite enrichment of the content of a material expression.” For instance, to enrich a nominal expression like “the person” with more adjectives, as in “the strong, generous person,” does not render the represented person any less schematized. But the production of a partially determinate, simulated reality is not, Ingarden says, the most important function of the stratum of represented objectivities. Rather, the central function that represented objective situations perform is to exhibit and manifest metaphysical qualities, such as the elegiac, the heroic, the homiletic, and so on. The manifestation of metaphysical qualities depends not only on the attributes of represented objects and situations but also on the manner in which they are constituted and represented.

Recognizing that objects in the represented world of the literary work are not fully constituted or rendered present, Ingarden proposes that a fourth level of the work, the stratum of schematized aspects, prepares readers to apprehend represented objects. Since objects represented in the literary work cannot be represented completely or apprehended fully by a reader but instead contain spots of indeterminacy, the schematized, or inevitably unfulfilled aspects of objects “have the basis of their determination and, in a certain sense, their potential existence in the states of affairs projected by the sentences or in the objects represented by means of the states of affairs.” In other words, objects and the conditions in which they are presented help readers to intuit the unstated qualities that give the represented world an apparent vividness. The stratum of schematized aspects thus enables readers to apprehend represented objects intuitively: language, characterizing objects in various states of affairs, directs readers to apply their sensory faculties – vision, hearing, or touch, for example – in the conceptual domain of the represented world. Because readers take a conceptual and perceptual leap to get from schematized aspects to a sense of immersion in a “real” world, schematized aspects play a crucial role in the aesthetic experience of reading.

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