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‘Definition of poetry’: Frege vs. Jakobson



This article presents a comparative analysis of two approaches to describing the reference within poetic statements: the pragmasemantic approach, which builds upon Gottlob Frege's ideas of the poetic sign as "a sign with meaning but without reference," and aesthetic-functional theories of poetic language linked to Roman Jacobson's concept of the poetic func­tion. The pragmasemantic interpretation of the referential capabilities of a poetic sign explores questions regarding the principles of its verification and examines its relationship with ex­tralinguistic objects. From this perspective, the artistic expression's ability to establish objec­tive references is either entirely denied (by Frege) or associated with the actions of "aesthetic operators" (Linsky), specific illocutionary attitudes (Searle), or the recipient's standpoint (Zolyan). On the other hand, the theory of the poetic function of language, as presented in formalism and structuralism, posits that the reference of the poetic sign does not extend to the world of objects but rather to the linguistic environment inherent within the sign. It under­scores the "auto-referentiality" (Faryno) of an artistic statement. Pragmase­man­tics and aes­thetic-functional concepts of poetic reference both contribute to a reduction, albeit from oppo­site angles: pragmasemantics locates the referents of the poetic sign within ‘possible’ (artistic) worlds but somewhat overlooks the unique characteristics of poetic language. In contrast, functionalism sidelines the question of a sign's objective references, steering artistic discourse entirely toward linguistic elements. A potential resolution to this polarity in analytical ap­proaches involves viewing the poetic sign as a bi-referential phenomenon, simultaneously engaging along two axes — extralinguistic and linguistic. This approach enables the consid­eration of an artistic statement not as deficient but, conversely, as abundant in its referential connections. It helps reveal the common semiotic mechanisms at play in any work of art, which motivate the ‘definition of poetry’ as a distinct statement about a unique world.


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