THE THREE BEARS

let's look at 3-D figuration in terms of some familiar images, like the mascot insignia college students use to denote themselves... even paint themselves;  these figures present us, first, with a clearly defined SIGNIFIER, [X];  in the case of, say, ucla, it's a cute bear [the "bruin"];  symmetrically, we grasp an unambiguous SIGNIFIED [Y], i.e., UCLA [the institution];

[X] --> [Y]

the cute bear is what you find emblazoned on sweat-shirts, baseball caps, and the like;  modernism reaches beyond this kind of unproblematic METONYMY;  we cannot grasp the meaning of beckett's "Company", or gogol's "Diary of a Madman", by dismissing their narrators with a logo/label like "disabled"..., and just leave it at that;

neither do these obdurate monologues yield up a satisfying SYMBOL;  pe`res goriot, their "heroes" are not!;  this means we can't approach them as one does the impressive, realistic statue of a bear which enthusiastic alumni recently erected on the ucla campus;  but let's look at the way that figure works:  the relatum in evidence, a bronze likeness of ursus arctos at the epicenter of the campus, is like its reductive metonymic counterpart, the grinning cartoon bear, insofar as it is unambiguously defined;

[X]

but the complementary side of the relation, the one which i. a. richards called the TENOR, is not simply DENOTED, as in a metonym,

[X] -->

instead, it is CONNOTED;

               >  [A]
       /
[X]  { -- >  [B]
       \
               >  [C]
	

this means it comprises an entire constellation of associations, like for instance the wide open western frontier, and primeval power;  every weekend that big ole scary bear lets busloads of tourists know:

"This ain't The Ivy League!"

at the same time, he also creates a palpable impression of what he is, what he represents, and how we, or any right thinking person, should feel about him;  go ahead and try imposing this sort of construal on an image like beckett's

"In another dark or in the same another devising it all for company"

now, we could try to ferret out meaning in modernist prose by resorting to a more subtle ploy for construing literary symbols;  we could assume the perspective called "point-of-view" which informs the modern short story;

[the short story is an incipiently modernist genre which evolved in america and russia in the middle third of the 19th century;]

point-of-view is orthogonal, as it were, to the relentless linear plot line of a novel;  it raises the issue of subjectivity, eccentric or, what's worse, multiple takes on the nature of characters and events; but even from this perspective, we will still fall short of engaging any fully modernist narrative persona, even the first-person ones;  consider for a moment ferdinand, the voice in celine's "Mort a' credit" or francie, patrick mccabe's "Butcher Boy";  if either were a reliable SYMBOL, we could at least start by saying that his naivity, his narratological incompetence and unreliable subjectivity, tell us something about his personality, maybe even raise issues about his integrity;

[dostoevsky is always inviting us to take this route, and at first glance it's tempting, not only for relating to the prose of putative pimply adolescents, but for distancing ourselves from importunate adult literary hacks as well;]

but as we learn from our encounter with the madman's canine correspondents, this doesn't get us even close to what's really going on;

["to start with,  ¿if our storyteller is so lame, what about us?  ¿are we so much smarter?  ¿so then what are we doing hanging in, page after page?  well, it's 'cause we can't put the friggin' book down, don't you see;  ¿but why are we helpless to explain how much fun these pieces are?  ¿and what about the ravishing beauty of their prose?  there must be something more complex than a symbol operating here, something more demanding of us, as readers, than just deciding whether or not to root for [or against] some hapless story teller;]"

the most important thing to realize about symbols in this connection is that, in spite of their expansive construals, no reciprocity of revealed meaning obtains between their vehicles and their tenors;  a mean bear may connote California, but California does not mean a bear;


                        > [ASSOCIATION #1] 
                      / 
[UCLA'S SCARY BEAR] { -- > [BEAR IN THE WOODS]
                      \
                        > [ASSOCIATION #3]

	

this is important because modernist fiction is a dialogic construct, where it's the relationship between the figural teller and his audience [us] which is primary;  the first words gogol published, in "Dikan'ka Tales", are our own;

to imagine a rhetorical juxtaposition whose relata are both open-ended like the signifieds of a symbol, and also reciprocal, we need a conceptual framework which is more generous, hospitable to curiosity;  it has to comprehend not just the figure's evaluative associations, but its DEPLOYMENT and its CONSTRUAL [¿who is encoding, who is recoding, and why?] as a two-way vector;

imagine, then, that early on saturday morning after the big game, a bleary eyed ucla student making his way toward the student union to grab a cup of coffee discovers that instead of the scary bear..., there is a huge statue of a trojan warrior commanding the plaza;

[we'll set aside for the moment totemic association [#1]:  the public humiliation of those curators at the Met, and [#2]:  an unintended, one would hope, coincidence with a common mercantile trademark;]

meanwhile, his equally discomfited counterparts across town at arch rival USC are contemplating the hated, but now recontextualized and somehow unfamiliar, UCLA bear;

the word meta-phora [trans-fer] is what it says on the sides of moving vans in athens: and that's the clue to what we're dealing with; the once symbolic relata in this now metaphoric construct, by being exchanged, have been transferred into a provocative juxtaposition;

 [' ]  <                                            >  [ ']             
         \			                  /                      
[' ]  < -- } [TROJAN WARRIOR] <--> [SCARY BEAR] { -- >  [ ']  
         /                                        \                      
 [' ]  <                                            >  [ ']             
	

they are on the same footing;  we don't take sides, because we are startled into seeing how these totems are congruent;  it's no longer about winning and losing [¿is art really ever about that?];  who won the day before would not, in fact, be a relevant factor as one speculated about the perpetrators of this blasphemy;  its construal entails reexamining the totems, not in their former adversarial context, but in a new, rhetorically congenial relationship;

which brings us to the 'reciprocal' part of modernist figuration; from a dynamic metaphorical juxtaposition like this one, we can learn as much about one relatum as we do about the other;  this follows ineluctably from the realization that they are compatible, and leads, in its turn, to the promise of new corroborative meanings;  ¿for example, mightn't an observer at some remove from the ardor of undergraduate tribal loyalties reflect on the homicide rate among young men wearing different colored insignia out on the streets of los angeles?  ¿couldn't he conclude that the kind of privileged, dilettante totemism signified by either of these sacred images is in questionable taste, anyway trivial? Some such thought must have occurred to the students of the UC system's very young santa cruz campus, because they chose a yellow banana slug for their mascot;

modernist literary discourse is the yellow banana slug of western literature;  its rhetoric does, of course, enlist figures of STYLE, the ones that demand no more than our picking up on the malapropisms of sitcom characters or hacks;  and it also deploys figures of PLOT, the ones which invite us to relate the sociolectic provenance of the narrator to his predicament or even his point of view;  but having set us up with such familiar metonyms and symbols, modernism goes a step further and deploys against us full blown metaphors;  and their purview is literary DISCOURSE itself: not just dialogs between author and reader, but an entire series of cumulative dialogic relations ranging from the problematic fit between signified and signifier at the level of individual words

[a rock group called 'pavement';  a protagonist called 'shelf life']

to dialogs between the past and the future, like the dynamic relationship between any individual work and its tradition

[dostoevsky's underground man, rousseau's confessions... and st. augustine's];

modernism is deconstructing [you should pardon the expression] literacy itself, in the name of puteracy;