Scholarly article on topic 'Semantics of the Symbol: Main Theories About the Symbol and the Themes of Symbols in Alexandru Macedonski's Poetry'

Semantics of the Symbol: Main Theories About the Symbol and the Themes of Symbols in Alexandru Macedonski's Poetry Academic research paper on "Computer and information sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Computer and information sciences, author of scientific article — Elena Gagiu Pedersen

Abstract This paper deals with the semantic structure of the symbol in theory and practice. Therefore, in the first part, the emphasis is laid on the main theories about the symbol, seen as a constant source of new significances and expressiveness. In the second part, the article approaches the themes of symbols in Alexandru Macedonski's poetry, which acquires a very expressive value by the use of symbols with high productivity.

Academic research paper on topic "Semantics of the Symbol: Main Theories About the Symbol and the Themes of Symbols in Alexandru Macedonski's Poetry"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 180 (2015) 586 - 592

The 6th International Conference Edu World 2014 "Education Facing Contemporary World

Issues", 7th - 9th November 2014

Semantics of the symbol: main theories about the symbol and the themes of symbols in Alexandru Macedonski's poetry

Elena Gagiu Pedersen *

University of Pitesti, Faculty of Education Sciences, Romania

Abstract

This paper deals with the semantic structure of the symbol in theory and practice. Therefore, in the first part, the emphasis is laid on the main theories about the symbol, seen as a constant source of new significances and expressiveness. In the second part, the article approaches the themes of symbols in Alexandru Macedonski's poetry, which acquires a very expressive value by the use of symbols with high productivity.

© 2015Publishedby ElsevierLtd. This isanopenaccess article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of The Association "Education for tomorrow" / [Asociatia "Educatie pentru maine"]. Keywords: symbol; semantics; theories; expressiveness; symbolistic poetry.

1. Introduction

The semantic structure of the symbol has often been left aside, as it acted as an element of comparison both for those who analyzed certain aspects of metonymy, and for those who were interested in the study of different structures and metaphorical implications. First, the symbol was not treated as an independent figure in the textbooks on romantic or classical rhetoric (Fontanier, 1968: 78,79,84), secondly, an accurate description of the figure could not be achieved, because of the various typology of symbols and thirdly, the logical and semantic relations between

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +0721942000 E-mail address: gagiuelena@yahoo.com

1877-0428 © 2015 Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of The Association "Education for tomorrow" / [Asociatia "Educatie pentru maine"]. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.02.164

the terms of the symbol were and are much harder to formalize than in the case of the metonymy and the metaphor.

The symbol, which is a figure with high frequency in the poetical text, is absent from The General Rhetoric belonging to the Group ^ from Liège (Group 1974). Neither Du Marsais (Du Marsais, 1981) nor Fontanier (Fontanier, 1968) indicates the symbol among tropes. O. Ducrot and Tz. Todorov do not handle the symbol as an autonomous figure. They examine the symbolic relationship in the contiguity report of signifiers. So does H. Lausberg (Lausberg, 1967), who notes some symbolic metonymies both in classical texts and in modern works.

2. Main Theories about the Symbol

Considering the symbol as a trope, Mihaela Manca§ gives it the following definition: "the name of an object, conventionally chosen to designate a whole class of objects, an abstract notion or a predominant feature that it can be related to" (Manca§, 2005: 358). The symbol includes two major features: "it is a name which is always extracted from the semantic field of concrete objects" (Manca§, 2005: 358) and the substitution of a term by the other has a motivated character. Mihaela Manca§ classifies symbols into three categories: conventional symbols converted into poetical symbols, proper poetical symbols and obscure poetical symbols (Manca§, 2005: 364-390).

The symbol (gr. symbolon / lat. symbolum "conventional sign") is "the figure of speech by which an abstract idea is expressed with the help of the name of an object belonging to the physical or animal world, on the basis of an easily perceivable analogy" (Dragomirescu, 1995: 255). What makes the symbol similar to the metaphor and the metonymy is the technique of substitution, based either on an analogy or on the relation of logical contiguity. What differentiates it from these figures is the frequency and the dimension of the significance.

For Gabriela Duda, the symbol is "the analogous relation between an aspect of the ideal world and an element of the visual material world" (Duda, 2000: 72). The basis of the relation which is established between the symbolized aspect and the symbolizing element is one of mediation, the literary symbol being built on an existing relationship of designation that can highlight both a denotative meaning and a connotative one.

The symbol is seen as "a concrete sign which, by the disclosed representations or by the suggested similarities, it conventionally designates something different from what it is" (Bâlu, Iancu, 2006: 15). In the symbolistic aesthetics, the informational data irradiated by the essential analogies of the universe are found concentrated in the symbol, which is no longer a substituted image of an abstract idea.

In a very general definition given by Rodica Zafiu, the symbol is "a concrete image, which has its own significance, but on account of a certain specific correspondence, another abstract sense is identified" (Zafiu, 1996: 37).

The symbol can be analyzed from two angles: of the person who uses it or of the one who discovers it. In the first case, the symbol is a rhetorical means, as it is used for the indirect transmission of general meanings. In the second situation, the symbol is the instrument of an action of psychological identification or of mystical revelation, being subject to deciphering in order to identify, beyond appearances, a profound sense. So, it can be said that the symbol exists through the relation that is established between the concrete object (image and meaning) and the abstract meaning reference is made to.

In Eugen Negrici's opinion, symbols are "mediating words"( Eugen Negrici, 1988), placed in the text to keep the reader close, in an attempt to determine him to keep looking for the idea. Dámaso Alonso (Dámaso 1977) perceives the symbol from the perspective of continuity. To his mind, the symbol comprises the poem or includes a few stanzas, respectively verses. For Bousoño (Bousoño, 1975), the symbol is limited to a word, very seldom extending to several verses. I. Coteanu, defines the symbol as being "the sign which sends to the object by another sign" (Coteanu, 1973: 24.).

The symbol is a metalogism which modifies the relation with the referent and alters the context, an element which allows it to exist as a symbol. The decoding perspective is changed by means of the symbol, which draws the symbolic reading of other words. The decoding process can be progressive: from the symbol to the text, the surrounding words being in the semantic field of the symbolized, the symbol being found in the recurrence clues of the symbolized context and regressive: from the message to the symbol, not being equally emphasized by all textual units.

Gabriela Duda believes that "the analysis of the literary symbol goes beyond a strictly figurative analysis. Any trope, any sequence can acquire the status of symbol, to the extent that it stands as a sign of another significant reality. The symbol means a place of convergence of the writing conventions, whether they refer to a cultural and literary competence prior to the act of writing, or they are generated in the individual process of creation" (Duda,

2002: 118,119).

The symbolization process, which generates symbolic meanings, has two complementary movements. The first is based on the condensation of meanings, as the signifier evokes more than one signified (Todorov, 1974: 242). The second "refers to establishing a relation between the meanings which are present at the same time at several levels of hierarchy of the text" (Duda, 2002:116).

Besides recurrence, and key - position (Monroe, 1958: 406), features assigned to the symbol by Monroe Beardsley, the incompatibility between context and the apparent meaning of the figure can be considered as a clue of the presence of the symbol.

The symbol, together with the allegory, forms a dialectical unity where the terms mutually highlight one another; therefore Tudor Vianu describes the two figures in a contrastive way, considering that the allegory is at the same time, the sign and the significance, and the symbol is just the sign.

Regarding the symbolic system, Levy-Bruhl's conception is understood only by inversion, the characteristic feature of the symbolic usages, being, according to him, the absence of the system.

T. Todorov asks whether "this alleged absence of the system is rather the clue of another system, which Levy-Bruhl is unable to discern, but could be released from his examples. A symbolizer evokes several symbolized not for lack of a system, but because each symbolized can convert into a symbolizer. Levy-Bruhl quotes the following example: the leaf of a tree symbolizes the trace left on it (by metonymy), it sends us to the person who stepped on it (also by metonymy); it symbolizes the tribe he belongs to (by synecdoche)" (Todorov, 1983: 336).

Among symbolic systems, the language has a special place, at least out of two reasons: "Firstly, it is almost wholly based on pure or arbitrary convention. The second special feature of language is far more important. Language alone is able to relate its symbols to every part and every sort of human experience" (Robins, 1968: 13,14).

According to L. Hjelmslev, the symbol is a non - sign, a monoplane entity, and for Ferdinand de Saussure, the symbol is a "transmission error of some words which first had their very direct sense" (Todorov, 1983: 397). Saussure identifies the symbol with the signifier (Saussure, 1998). Saussure's symbol is always motivated and defined in relation to the interpreter: "the modern reader is motivated to give a symbolic interpretation due to the deficiencies, the omissions, the errors of the text transmission" (Todorov, 1983: 397).

For Ch. S. Pierce, the symbol is an unmotivated sign (Net, 2005: 66), which is defined in relation to the object, the use of the symbol not being based on a motivated convention. Signs "may be related conventionally and so used, and they are then called symbols " (Robins, 1968: 13).

The symbol can be found both in the tradition of humanity and in the capacity of each creator to create new representations or ideas: "the symbol is characterized by the expression of the species in the individual or of the genus in the species (...) by expressing the eternal by and in the ephemeral" (Wellek, Warren, 1967: 249).

Adrian Marino regards the symbol as "a sign and also as a cipher of absolute realities, of the deepest cosmic zones" (Marino, 1980: 189), in other words the symbol can be said to represent some cipher ed writing of reality.

"In its substance, the symbol is a sort of comparison between the concrete and the abstract, where one of the terms of the comparison is only suggested" (Vulcanescu, 1987: 35,36).

In the folklore, magic gestures, incantations, carols appeal to symbols, which "persist in ritual creations in the form of linguistic signs which define objects, gestures, attitudes to be interpreted in a limited system of significances" (Ursache, 1976; 236).

Henri Morrier classifies symbols into two categories: conventional symbols and contingent symbols. Morrier mentions some images that appear in dreams and which have a symbolic significance, as they would express relations of the sexual instinct, repressed by shame (Morrier, l961).

The modernist elements in the symbolistic writings come, according to Jean-Nicolas Illouz from several aspecte: "on behalf of the symbol and of the suggestion, they suppose on the one hand, a theory of the language that sets ahead the indefinite sliding of the signified under the signifier, and on the other hand a thought of the work that relates the work to the opening of its reception" (Illouz, 2004: 175).

The symbol is a constant source of new significances and expressiveness. As a method of expressing the artistic image, the symbol "presupposes the homogeneity of the signifier and of the signified in the sense of some organized dynamism" (Durand, 1963: 20).

3. The Themes of Symbols in Alexandru Macedonski's Poetry/

Aiming at building an expressive language, Macedonski uses the symbol, a means specific to symbolistic poetry, by which the signifier, whose image it renders, can have multiple interpretations. The symbol gives access to new possible significations and Macedonski's liricism acquires a special expressive value, by using it with high productivity.

By symbol, the poet makes reference to other realities, as on the basis of some analogue connections, for example, a concrete object can become the symbol of an abstraction, of an idea, of a situation, of certain emotions.

It can be said that Macedonski prefers to use symbols, as he relies on their function to generate impressions which easily make readers sensitive. The poet turns a certain word into a symbol, by its recurrence, by semantic convergence, or by cultural allusion. We witness this phenomenon in The Rondel of Gold (Macedonski, 1966b: 200), where, for example, the initial description of a state and of a landscape dominated by heat and light becomes symbolic vision.

Death is a theme which is specific to symbolistic liricism and Macedonski appeals to several concrete terms, which he transforms into its symbols. First, we signal the abyss in the poem On the Harp (Macedonski, 1966a: 357): §i zilele frumoase cad una cate una / Intr-al eternitajii abis nejarmurit. Then, the ashes, in Intimate Accents, by the technique of suggestion, is used in order to make reference to the same notion. This may be the spiritual or the physical death: Pastreaza-abia cenuga din mii de simjaminte (Macedonski, 1966a: 319).

Another term, a symbol of death, which has immediate impact on the reader, is the grave. In the poem The Night of November, (Macedonski, 1966b: 37): Deschisa gedea groapa, cogciugul sta deschis. The same significance is also held by the word tear. In the aforementioned poem, the friends who take the poet to the grave appear in black and in tears.

In Macedonski's poetical language, the idea of death is also given by some terms of the animal kingdom: the raven, the crow, the bird of ill omen, the wolf. In A Day of Winter, Corbi gi ciori-nnegresc pe sus... (Macedonski, 1966b: 108), Lupi pradalnici gi migei... (Macedonski, 1966b: 109). In The Song of the Rain, Spinteca inima-n doua / Cantecul ploaiei de cobe... (Macedonski, 1966b: 178). In Macedonski's verses, we notice other concrete terms which suggest the notion of death: the coffin, the hearse, the shroud, the stone, the blood.

The town is one of the symbolistic themes, Macedonski takes over in his lyricism. We discover a town, which is the symbol of degradation: either as an area of corruption, or prostitution. In the poem A Day of Winter, the poet manages, by the technique of suggestion, to create the image of towns flooded by corruption: Dar de nas, de nu le-ajungi, / Sub manugi au gheare lungi. / Viscol, crivaj nu-i atinge, / Soba-n veci nu li se stinge... / Sunt boieri sau boieriji... Vai de oamenii cinstiji. (Macedonski, 1966b: 109). Similarly, the poem The Night of November (Macedonski, 1966b: 36) depicts a corrupted Bucharest, where there is no justice, the attraction of easy money dehumanizes people, virtue is a murder and the worst murder is virtue. The same Bucharest, as a symbol of decadence, is identified in The Night of February (Macedonski, 1966b: 80) as well. Here, the phenomenon of prostitution turned men into wretched, cruel, vile villains, and women, in walking dead bodies.

It is interesting to note that the decayed town has a macabre setting, whose symbols are highlighted by auditory, chromatic, olfactory, tactile synestheses. For example, in the poem A Winter Day (Macedonski, 1966b: 108), the sky and the field are gloomy, ravens and crows blacken the sky, the wind roars in the trees. In The Night of November (Macedonski, 1966b: 40), horrible worms with a gray body invade the poet's dead body.

But the sombre setting is identifiable not only in the towns of decadentism, but also in many other lyrical areas. In the poem The Song of the Rain, the symbol of the macabre setting is registered by rain, by its destructive nature. It is known that water is the symbol of life, of fertility, but in this poem, the water in the form of rain, almost turned into flood, is that water of dissolution, which brings sadness and sorrow in the soul of the poet: Ploua, ploua... — Ploua cat poate sa ploua... (Macedonski, 1966b: 178), Afara e trist ca gi-n casa, — (Macedonski, 1966b: 178), Fiinja mea gi simjirea / Sufar gi plang amandoua... (Macedonski, 1966b: 178). The patter of rain becomes an ominous song, predicting the spiritual death of the poet: Ploua cat poate sa ploua... / Rapana-n geamuri ca-n tobe... / Spinteca inima-n doua (Macedonski, 1966b: 178).

Another symbol of what is sinister is marked by the signifier lead. Thus, in the poem A benefit (Macedonski, 1966a: 380), the diva on the stage has a tear of lead in her eyes. In The Fatal Dream (Macedonski, 1966b: 146), we find out that the noose, the iron, the fire and the lead interweave in order to build the fatal dream of the poet.

Vagueness, ambiguity, mystery are specific notes of the symbolistic language. Thus, Macedonski's poetical creation provides the reader with an entire arsenal of terms, that become symbols of these concepts.

We note that some elements of nature and of the cosmos bear the symbol of mystery. For example, in The Comfort of Disinheritance (Macedonski, 1966a: 324), the valleys are deep and obscure and in The Night of May

(Macedonski, 1966b: 58), the forest is ever deeper. In The ship of Death (Macedonski, 1966b: 72), the garrulous depth symbolizes the sea and it is in the middle of it that the ship of death ran, digging precipices. In The night of May, mystery is symbolized at the level of cosmos, as stea cu stea vorbegte-n culmea diamantatului abis (Macedonski, 1966b: 57).

In Macedonski's poetical language, the symbol of mystery is found in certain terms which express abstract notions. In the poem The Salines (Macedonski, 1966a: 309), the chaos is dark, in The Night of April (Macedonski, 1966a: 316), love itself becomes a mystery and the human soul turns into an enigma. In The Night of December, "the situation of the emir, fascinated by the bright image of Meka becomes the symbol of the human soul, always tried by other temptations of the unknown" (Balu, Iancu, 2006: 36).

Another feature of symbolism, which can be identified in Macedonski's liricism, is evasion and it is achieved in the same places which are symbols of the absolute: where everything is light, perfume, splendour in The Night of June (Macedonski, 1966a: 336), towards a star in Answer to a Few Critics (Macedonski, 1966a: 376), towards some eternal light in The Night of November (Macedonski, 1966b: 41), towoards the skies in the poem Castles in Spain (Macedonski, 1966b: 61), towards a radiant peak in The Night of March (Macedonski, 1966b: 67), to Meka in The Night of December (Macedonski, 1966b: 160 - 166), towards the unfulfilled dream in The Rondel of Gipsies (Macedonski, 1966b: 202), towards unthinkable areas in The Rondel of Departure (Macedonski, 1966b: 202), towards the peak of wandering, where Fo-hi is taken away by his Chinese dream in The Rondel of Opium (Macedonski, 1966b:228).

Regarding nature, in Macedonski's lyrical language, one can notice the poet's preference to cultivate those olfactory sensations offered by the fragrance of flowers. It is about roses, lilies, chrysanthemums, flowers of apple, apricot or peach. The poet often combines olfactory sensations with chromatic and auditory sensations with musicality and suggestion, managing to obtain verses full of expressiveness.

In The Rondel of the Blooming Rose, the blossoming of the rose becomes the symbol of detachment from contingent, the symbol of the permanent regeneration of nature: O roza-nfloregte, suava... / Ca nor risipit e necazul. / Puternic ma poarta extazul / Spre-o nalta gi tainica slava (Macedonski, 1966b: 216). The poet feels that nature offers him a lesson of wisdom and seeing the rose that blooms again, he feels able to start a new existence, to subject the unfavorable destiny for ever. "By this rondel, Macedonski can be integrated with Verlain's symbolism, with that affective poetry, which some researchers separate from symbolism itself, with that intellectual poetry, of knowledge of the secret structures of the world" (Alexandrescu, Rotaru, 1967: 80.).

In The Waltz of the Roses, in terms of an erotic script, whose protagonists are the roses, the lonely hiprose and the evening wind, the poet highlights one of the motives with the highest productivity in symbolistic poetry. It is about the fall of rose petals, which "may be a suave representation, even enchanting of death, of the passage of time, of melancholy, of dematerialisation" (Zafiu, 1996: 41,42).

The same symbolistic motive is identified in The Rondel of Dying Roses, as well. By an exceptional combination of musical suggestions, roses become the symbol of death, of decomposition, of the slow disaggregation of things: E vremea rozelor ce mor, /Mor in gradini, gi mor gi-n mine (Macedonski, 1966b: 212), In tot, se simte un fior. / O jale e in origicine. (Macedonski, 1966b: 212), Curg valmagaguri de suspine, / §i-n marea noapte care vine /Duioase-gipleaca fruntea lor... (Macedonski, 1966b: 212). The poet finds himself, among these, a victim of the same universal law.

By suggestion, musicality, chromatic and auditory synestheses, the poet gathers in the poem Rose Daybreak, roses, almond trees and nightingales under rose skies, in order to build the symbol of death again: Pe sub migdali gi pe sub roze / S-au dus in umbra zambitori; / Curgeau lumini din ceruri roze, / Vocalizau privighetori. (Macedonski, 1966b: 68).

It is interesting to notice that in The Rondel of the Roses from Cigmegi, the rose becomes the ultimate essence of reality: Avantul simfirilor mele / Ma duce-ntr-o sfera senina / De ceafa lumegtilor rele, / In care, pe frunte-mi se-nclina /Mari roze bogate gi grele (Macedonski, 1966b: 213).

The rose is the symbol of collapse, but especially of ascent, of the fight against defeated obstacles in The Rondel of the Waterfalls of Roses (Macedonski, 1966b: 214, 215), and in The Rondel of the Nightingale in the Roses, the rose is the symbol of supreme beauty, the motive appearing in the relation rose - nightingale: O vraja gi alba g-albastra / Din ceruri, spre lume s-avanta. / A nopfei sublima maiastra / E-ascunsa-ntre roze, gi canta. (Macedonski, 1966b: 215).

In The Rondel of August Roses, the rose stands for the hope which did not die, for the confidence in survival in spite of any obstacles, of preserving dignity and pride: Zadarnic al viefei cuvant / A stins bucuriile mele, /Mereu

cand zambesc, uit, gi cant, / In ciuda cercärilor grele, /Mai sunt incä roze, - mai sunt. (Macedonski, 1966b: 216).

In The Sacred Fire, roses and lilies get the consistency of a synesthesic lyrical symbol: Pretutindeni sunt parfume, crini suavi sau roze dalbe (Macedonski, 1966a: 360). In The Night of May (Macedonski, 1966b: 57), the roses and the lilac harmonize with the musicality offered by the song of the nightingale, during a blonde night, generating an olfactory ecstasy to suggest the revival of nature and life: §i-n noaptea blondä ce se culcä pe campenegti virginitäfi (Macedonski, 1966b: 57).

In the sonnet Avatar, the white-rose flowers belong to the peach trees and their fall becomes a symbol of the passing of time: Ninseserä dinpiersici suave Jlori roz-albe... — /Au curs de-atunci noiane de veacuripäganegti... — (Macedonski, 1966b: 159).

In the poem Spring, by the technique of suggestion, Macedonski emphasizes that the fall of the apple flowers generates soul exaltation: Sub Jlori de mär / Ce mi se scuturä in pär / Se umple suJletul de soare; (Macedonski, 1966b: 74). The poem Among leaves is an ode of happiness and love, in an ecstatic atmosphere, where we can find the gilliflower, the rose, the carnation, the flowers of apple, sourcherry and cherry. By the method of suggestion and of the olfactory synestheses, the poet turns the lilies from the Rondel of lilies, in an olfactory paradise: In crini e befia cea rarä (Macedonski, 1966b: 201).

Conclusions

The first approach of this paper was to bring into relief the main theories about the symbol, a figure with high frequency in the poetical text, but often left aside, because of its various typology and because of the difficulty in formalizing the logical and semantic relations between the terms of the symbol. Therefore, the symbol is seen as a trope, as a concrete sign, as a rhetorical means, as an instrument of an action of psychological identification or of mystical revelation, as a metalogism which modifies the relation with the referent and alters the context, as a non-sign, as an unmotivated sign, as a cipher of absolute realities, as a figure in relation to the metaphor, the metonymy and the allegory.

In the last part of the paper, the stress was laid on the reasons why Macedonski prefers to use symbols. He counts on the fact that they allow the access to new possible meanings and therefore, his poetry gets an exquisite expressive value. As well, he relies on their function to generate impressions which easily make readers sensitive.

In the end, this article tackled the net of symbols in Macedonski's poetry which aims at topics specific to the symbolistic poetry: the town, the macabre setting, death, ambiguity, mystery, evasion. The town is the symbol of degradation, corruption, prostitution, decadence, injustice, dehumanization. The decayed town has a macabre setting whose symbols are highlighted by auditory, chromatic, olfactory, tactile synestheses in a poetical language of a high expressive value. Death is symbolized by concrete terms and words from the animal kingdom. The symbols of ambiguity, mystery are several elements of nature and cosmos and various abstractions such as chaos, love, the human soul. Evasion is achieved in the places which are symbols of the absolute:

Regarding nature, the paper brought into relief that the poet was attracted by the olfactory sensations offered by the fragrance of flowers, which he often combines with chromatic and auditory sensations with musicality and suggestion, managing to obtain verses full of expressiveness. The poet transforms the flowers into symbols of the detachment from the contingent, of the permanent regeneration of nature, of the passing of time, of death, of melancholy, of dematerialization, of the fight against obstacles, of collapse, of ascent, of supreme beauty, of hope, of dignity and pride, of life, of spiritual exaltation.

References

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