“Discovering” the Fictional Worlds of Lyric Poetry


The Subject as the Center of a Fictional World Not trying, at least for the moment, to discriminate various hierarchical levels, functions, and communication situations of the agents who act simultaneously in the work of verbal art, I would like to examine the possibilities contained in the following thesis: the fictional world of a lyric poem, or its central part, is represented by a subject. Few theoreticians have been interested in the topic of fictional worlds in lyric poetry, some of them generally disclaiming its fictionality. The thesis on the subject as a particular world in lyric poetry was formulated clearly by Paolo Meneses, who also presents a selection of quotations to support his statement. Among them, Karlheinz Stierle’s formulation seems to be promising: “the ‘speaker of the utterance’ is a function of [lyrical] discourse…. He or she is a speaker in search of an identity, a speaker who is articulated in the process of this quest” (436). Stierle’s emphasis on the processuality of this subject has to be confronted with the opposite view. For Jan Mukarovsky, probably, the definition of lyric poetry by means of subjectivity was both trivial and too conciliatory towards the identification of the aesthetic with an expression of emotions. Therefore, he declared this subjectivity of lyric poetry to be derived from the trait that he considered to be more fundamental, namely from the “particular treatment of the theme (content)” (71). He sought this particularity because lyric poetry aims at the dissolution or weakening of the temporal dimension (which, let us add, includes Stierle’s processuality of the subject). From the point of view of discriminating lyric poetry and its fictional worlds from the range of narrations, we have to agree with the Prague theoretician: the temporal dimension, compared with narrative, is surely pushed to the background in lyric poetry. In the lyric poem, the subject is not primarily presented in his or her temporal changes but rather as a “system” of both paratactic and hierarchically organized components. On the other hand, Mukarovsky’s one-sided dependence of lyric subjectivity on “treating the theme” must be changed into a bilateral relation, if we take into account that it is precisely the subject where paradigms and systems are present and that precisely this presence makes possible the manifold presentation of the same theme, which for Mukarovsky is the source of the weakening of temporal linearity in lyric poetry; Mukarovsky as defender of the Durkheimian (ontologically vague) “collective consciousness” would not agree with this opinion, and it could be a reason for the dominance of temporal dimension over the subject, or its dissolution, in Mukarovsky’s delimitation of lyric poetry. My view on the subject of lyric poetry is here in conscious opposition to the contemporary concept of the subject, as formulated, for example, by Jonathan Culler: “the self is dissolved as its various functions are ascribed to impersonal systems which operate through it” (Pursuit 33). If we look at the subject as an individual using systems and paradigms for his or her own functions and operations, we can probably find the way to the processuality of the lyric subject; Stierle’s search for self-identity as a movement among these systems contained inside the subject, up and down through the paradigms and from one paradigm to another, is often verbally projected into a lyric work. Such a surfing of subject through the subject represents, of course, quite a different processuality than that we know from the worlds of narrative. Successivity remains, of course, an elementary dimension, one arising from the character of the material of verbal art, but the order of elements and their causal connections, which are vital for narration, are not relevant in this model of lyric poetry. The course of time is directed by the course of mental processes of the subjects and by the factors that are independent of any mimetic time, factors connected with natural and conventionalized temporal dimensions of poetic forms.