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Deictic close reading

Keywords: deixis, indexicality, emotional/modal deixis, deictic network, deictic plot, pragmapoetics, close reading, poetry

The article suggests, inspired from practical didactics, the use of pragmapoetic deixis analysis as an approach to enrich close reading of poetry. When applying the pragmalinguistic theory of deixis and the analytic philosophical theory of indexicals to poetic texts one will soon notice that beside the traditional spatial, temporal and personal deixis it is necessary to speak of emotional, or modal, deixis. The latter functions on the scale of positive and negative connotations, or of subjective distance, which is the mental counterpart of spatial relations. In addition, poetry amplifies the intuitive deictic, egocentric quality of the (ostensive) words of natural kind. On the formal level, however, we notice a congenital enhancement of discourse (or text) deixis, which is manifested in self-reference using linguistic equivalence. The theory is exemplified by a deixis analysis of a short poem by Ene Mihkelson, revealing its orientational reference system as a deictic network onto which an imaginary plot of the poem is projected as a subjective spatial and temporal movement of imagination. Note that a deictic plot is wider than a lyrical/ poetic plot, the latter being a concretisation of the deictic potential created in the author’s or reader’s consciousness in the course of reading. Accordingly, we can pass through three levels of analysis: (1) deictic network as the orientational frame of reference of the text to be analysed, (2) deictic plot as the possible spatial and temporal dynamics of the poetic thought within that frame of reference, and (3) lyrical plot as the concretisation of a potential deictic plot in the conscious mind of the author or reader.

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