Throwback Thursday

On Latinates, Hypocrisies, and “Textual Duplexity”

stone and chipsAs I have said on a numerous occasions, I have been surprised to discover that the thing I have come to enjoy most about this experiment I call MontanaWriter has been when someone I do not personally know has been moved in some way by something I have written to contact me. Whether they like what I have written or dislike it does not matter. What excites me is to think that a stranger has taken the time to read and respond. A writer needs an audience after all.

Recently I received an email from a reader who had stumbled upon MontanaWriter and my review of Wallace Stevens’ poem “Sigmund Freud Discovers the Sea Shell.” The gist of the email was that for all my talk about eliminating latinates from poetry I was “guilty” (her word) of using quite a number in both my poetry and in my poetry reviews.

She was particularly bothered by a term I “made up” (again, her words) in the Stevens’ review, textual duplexity. She said she googled the term and found only one other place it has ever been used, an article on Kierkegaard. “You insist that language needs to have shared meanings, yet you are apparently one of only two persons in the whole world to even pretend to know what ‘textual duplexity’ means. Are you using it ironically or hypocritically.”

My one word answer to that question would be: both. My three word response to the whole email would be: “guilty as charged.”

Duplex, according to online dictionaries has a number of meanings including:

  1. having two principal elements or partsdouble, two-fold
  2. A house divided into two living units or residences, usually having separate entrances
  3. allowing telecommunication in opposite directions simultaneously

The term textual duplexity is rooted in all the meanings of “duplex.” Language, indeed all human interaction, is always at least two-fold and is, by definition, always simultaneous two-way communication.

Words carry multiple meanings. Another (admittedly more poetical) way to say this is: many meanings “inhabit the house” of a single word.  In a poem, these houses – duplexes actually… dwellings of multiple meanings – form streets, and blocks, and neighborhoods, and communities of meanings. These meanings simultaneously interconnect with one another and with the writer and the reader of any poem… any work of art. The term textual duplexity then, seems to me to describe the process as well as any term I could come up with.

I sent an email back to the reader, explaining how I had come up with the term and thanking her for reading what I had read so carefully. I also let her know that I am quite open to any and all other terms or metaphors that could better describe how I imagine poetry to function.

I will keep the readers of MontanaWriter posted when, and if, I find a better term or metaphor. In the meantime, I am going to live with the hypocrisy of my latinates and continue to use the term “textual duplexity.”

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