Stuff of Literature, The

Physical Aspects of Texts and Their Relation to Literary Meaning

By E. A. Levenston

Paperback : 9780791408902, 177 pages, April 1992
Hardcover : 9780791408896, 177 pages, April 1992

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Table of contents


1. Introduction

2. Speech and/or Writing: Literature and the Media of Language


Problem Cases
i. Ballads
ii. Revisions
iii. "Emblem" Poems
iv. Shaped Poems
v. Concrete Poetry


3. Spelling


i. Establishing the Norms
ii. American Spelling
iii. The Poetic and the Informal
iv. Diacritics
v. Studying the Deviations: Archaism
vi. Spelling and Dialect
vii. Interlanguage
viii. Eye Dialect
ix. Eye Rhyme
x. Puns
xi. Finnegans Wake


4. Punctuation


i. The Role of Punctuation
ii. On the History of Punctuation
iii. Punctuation in Tristram Shandy
iv. Current Norms of Punctuation
v. Iconic Punctuation
vi. Absence of Punctuation: Prose
vii. Punctuation in Modernist Verse
viii. Patterned Punctuation
ix. Punctuation and Closure
x. A Note on Closure in Prose Fiction


5. Typography


i. Introduction
ii. The History of Italics
iii. Other Typefaces


6. Layout


i. Layout and Genre
ii. Layout and Deviations from the Norm
iii. Tristram Shandy
iv. Modernist Fiction
v. Concrete Poetry
vi. A Note on Acrostics


7. Translation


i. Introduction
ii. Graphic Devices in the Target Text
iii. Graphic Devices in the Source Text
iv. In Conclusion


Appendix A


Version A
Version B


Sources of Texts


Text Results





The total meaning of a work of literature derives not only from what the words mean, but from what the text looks like. This stuff of literature, graphic substance or the physical raw material, is explored here in Levenston's comprehensive survey.

Levenston discusses the main literary genres of poetry, drama, and fiction, and the extent to which they may be said to exist primarily in written or spoken form, or both. He then examines spelling, punctuation, typography, and layout, the four graphic aspects of a text which an author can manipulate for additional meanings. Also explored are the problems raised for translators by graphically unusual texts—and by the possibility of producing graphically unusual translations—and some of the solutions that have been found.

A wealth of examples and analysis is offered, including poetry from Chaucer to Robert Graves and e. e. cummings; fiction such as Tristram Shandy, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake; works from Samuel Richardson to Ronald Sukenik; drama from Aristophanes to Bernard Shaw, and Shakespeare. Attention is also paid to graphic contributions in other literary traditions, from the Hebrew of the book of Psalms to Guillaume Apollinaires's "Calligrammes".

E. A. Levenston is Professor of English Linguistics at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


"Levenston confronts a wonderfully diverse range of visual phenomena and maintains a pleasing balance between prose and verse. Anyone interested in the visual form of literature will appreciate this diversity and balance. " — Richard D. Cureton, University of Michigan