Thursday, September 29, 2016

Robert Sheppard: The Meaning of Form Stefan Themerson and Semantic Poetry

Chapter 9: Stefan Themerson: Iconopoeia and Thought-Experiments in the Theater of Semantic Poetry

The invention of ‘Semantic Poetry Translation’ by Polish-British writer Stefan Themerson in the 1940s and his theoretical unfolding of his ideas in ‘Semantic Sonata’ of 1949, had to wait until the 1970s to be appreciated, but only today it may be formally likened to certain Oulipo techniques. Replacing words with their definitions de-forms and re-forms original texts and allows for an examination of their (often dubious) claims. Offered as a species of ‘translation’, the poems also involve ‘iconopoeia’ as a technique, derived from Apollinaire’s visual practice. ‘Semantic Sonata’ suggests musical form, perhaps inspired by Schwitters’ very different ‘Ur-Sonate’, to articulate a linguistic philosophy of caution, in reaction to a post-War world where too many people believe too many things but do not know enough, as Themerson’s friend Bertrand Russell puts it. (Which sounds horribly like the post-factual world people keep going on about now!)

See here for more. But not a lot of blogging about Themerson. (This was because the chapter was a previously published article.)

For those who can buy the book, or order it for libraries, here are the places