"Courting Some Others: John Ashbery's "Paradoxes and Oxymorons""

Claiborne Rice

Critics using cognitive linguistics as a tool for analyzing short poems often focus on elements of a poem that converge to produce a single effect. However, there is nothing inherent to cognitive linguistics as a theory of language that restricts it to such application. John Ashbery's lyric poem "Paradoxes and Oxymorons" is not amenable to a conventional reading that looks exclusively for a unity of effect. Rather, Ashbery's use of deictic elements, particularly "this" and "you," at the beginning of the poem have repercussions throughout the poem that work to disperse what might be considered a unified effect.

After a brief look at the pragmatics of second-person pronoun usage in English and the cognitive linguistic analysis of deictics based on the notion of the subjectivity scale pioneered by Langacker (1989, 1990, 1991), three implications of Ashbery's usage will be identified:

Finally, the poem hints that acceptance of its own inability to contain these conflicting elements is a response to Wallace Stevens's characterization of the Romantic meditative lyric as a blessed rage to order.

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