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This article develops a semantic model of lyric poetry using the mathematical resources of René Thom’s catastrophe theory. In doing this, its central aim is to show that the semantic organization of the lyric can be understood as an embryonic articulation of the basic actional competencies that underwrite narrative expression. In terms of detail, the model shows that any lyric can be conceived as a system involving three macro-structural components (the speaker’s consciousness, an indifferent or hostile environment and a desired object) whose reciprocal interactions define what Thom identifies as a cusp catastrophe. In turn, this catastrophist system is shown to correspond with A. J. Greimas’ notion of a narrative program, and thus narrative is identified as the superimposition of numerically different lyrical trajectories upon one another. The end result of this is a revised understanding of lyrical semantics that postulates a commonality in how both lyric and narrative refer to the world.

Original publication

DOI

10.1515/jlse.2008.003

Type

Journal article

Journal

Journal of Literary Semantics: an international review

Publisher

Walter de Gruyter

Publication Date

2008

Volume

37

Pages

33 - 53

Total pages

20

Keywords

Lyric, Narrative, Catastrophe Theory, Yeats, Semantics