The Line Between Logical and Literary.

What does it mean to straddle the line between the logical and the literary? Our vernacular use of the word “literal” has the connotation of “intended” or “most obvious and easily deciphered,” yet that which is heralded as the most literary is typically the most cryptic and confusing blend of metaphor, allegory, intertextuality, and imagined exploration into realms that are not “obvious” nor “intended.”

Think of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. At once absurd it is also methodically organized, showcasing Wallace’s expansive philosophic and technical vocabulary through pharmacological language and his pioneering use of footnotes. These become integral to a canonical “literary” text of the late 20th century. So where does this then leave the dichotomy between inspiration and rationalism? In reading of the Duende, the writer’s vehement assertion of the inspired and literary as of more value to the poet than the logical is clear. Yet, an irony remains as poetry ascribes body to sentiment in the form of words and letters, compressing inarticulable thoughts into tiny lines and swoops on paper. Our words are technically syllogisms combining to form sums of sentences necessary to create any literary sentiment or symbolism. In other words, the literary is dependent on the logical.

Could this be just another expression of the primeval dichotomy between order and chaos? Writers use both revision and inspiration. Syllogisms and sentiment. Perhaps it is not that logic is the issue, but an illogical emphasis on its utility. Engineers build bridges between lands, while artists build bridges between minds. As much as we encourage our engineers to have some sense of aesthetic, we should not discourage our writers to have some sense of rationality.    

One Reply to “The Line Between Logical and Literary.”

  1. There’s an interesting question about the relationship between form and function here: engineers need to prioritize function, perhaps, and take form (aesthetics) where they can get it. Yet the field or architecture keeps wanting the texture, the aesthetics, even pushing far enough that function can fail. I think you’re right that writers might start at the other point, the aesthetics, and that function (in your example above, utility and also rationality – more on this below) can seem secondary, but must not be lost.

    But I’m curious, I think, about rationality, one of the words you don’t interrogate. Yes, it relates to reason, but because of ideas of calculation, of mathematical ratios – which might take us back to form. So too utility: the utility of a bridge may not only be its crossing but the aesthetics of the way it draws the eye to a city or imposes on an approaching army and so on. The utility of a poem isn’t only its logic or its meaning.

    I’m not in disagreement with you, but just wondering whether there’s room for such terms to be bridges between form and function, content and style, and so on. I think I see you wrestling with that on the page in your past workshop poem, so it’s great to be thinking about the theory here. (And, again, Keats’ “hedge-crickets sing” – where does THAT fit in all this?!?!)

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