A taxonomy of imagery in poetry (2019-ongoing)
Having received EU Structural Funds (project No 09.3.3-LMT-K-712-19-0204), I am currently working on a project aimed at developing a stylistic taxonomy of imagery in (prompted by) poetry. A proto-version of my model can be found in the publication below:
D. Castiglione (2020), ‘The stylistic construction of verbal imagery in poetry’, in Znaki czy nie znaki? [‘Signs or not signs?’] III, Józefina Piątkowska & Giennadij Zeldowicz eds. University of Warsaw publications, 43-79.
The notion of imagery is central to literary criticism as it underpins some of the most palpable experiences we have when reading fictional literary texts, prose and verse alike. Yet, its practical use is fraught with impressionism as the verbal image appears based on a relativist ontology that varies with readerly differences, both intrinsic and strategic (e.g. one
may have a more visual or a more auditory memory, or give emphasis to more abstract, propositional aspects of a text). As a consequence of this, the verbal image also appears substantially independent from linguistic forms, which makes it problematic for stylistic analysis. This paper addresses and undermines the latter assumption and, in doing so,
sets out the basis for a stylistic model of verbal imagery. My approach is twofold: on the one hand, I identify a “nuclear” image on the basis of semantic and syntactic criteria – this
I call the image-frame as opposed to more extensive realizations (i.e. image-complexes)
or dynamic ones (i.e. image-scenes); on the other, I attempt to map semantico-grammatical variables onto perceptual effects, focusing on shooting distance and image resolution. In doing so, I draw inspiration from the complementary attempt of Kress and van Leeuwen, who in “Reading Images: the Grammar of Visual Design” (2006 ) propose an array of correspondences between visual strategies and grammatical structures. All the verbal images presented and discussed in this article come from Wilfred Owen, Marianne Moore and Philip Larkin: three poets who have effectively exploited the potential of realist mimesis (i.e. a faithful reproduction of external reality) within a twentieth century aesthetics.
Difficulty in poetry (2012-2018)
This was the subject of my PhD thesis and it resulted in two publications: an article on Language and Literature and a nearly 400 pages monograph. Even so, there would be much more work to be done in this research area, and I’m planning new articles.
D. Castiglione (2019), Difficulty in Poetry: a Stylistic and Processing Model. Palgrave, London.
This book theoretically defines and linguistically analyses the popular notion that poetry is ‘difficult’ – hard to read, hard to understand, hard to engage with. It is the first work to offer a stylistic and cognitive model that sheds new light on the mechanisms of difficulty, as well as on its range of potential effects. Its eight chapters are organized into two thematic parts. The first traces the history of difficulty, surveys its main scholarly traditions, addresses related themes – from elitism to obscurity, from abstraction to intentionality – and introduces a wide array of analytical tools from literary theory and cognitive psychology. These tools are then consistently applied in the second part, which includes several extended analyses of poems by canonical modernists such as Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane, alongside those of postmodernist innovators such as Geoffrey Hill, Susan Howe and Charles Bernstein, among others. This innovative work will provide fresh insights and approaches for scholars of stylistics, literary studies, cognitive poetics and psychology.
D. Castiglione (2017a), ‘Difficult poetry processing: reading times and the narrativity hypothesis’, Language and Literature; 26(2): 99-121.
This study presents an experiment that uses reading times as a measure of the processing effort demanded by ‘difficult’ poems, where difficulty is defined as a text-driven response phenomenon associated with resistance to reading fluency. Reading times have been used before to explore the processing of literature, but seldom with the aim of shedding light on difficulty. There is then scope to redress this research gap, also in light of Shklovsky’s claim that the technique of art is ‘to increase the difficulty and length of perception’. In the current experiment, a group of participants read six poems on-screen. The poems are by Mark Strand, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Geoffrey Hill, Susan Howe and Jeremy Prynne, and have been selected based on critics’ remarks on their difficulty or lack thereof. An extract from a novel by JG Ballard was also included to find out how its narrativity would compare, in processing terms, to the more elliptical narrativity of Strand’s and Pound’s poems. The time spent on each line was recorded by software E-Prime, commonly used in psycholinguistics. The results indicate that three of these texts – Ballard’s, Strand’s and Pound’s – were read at a much higher speed than non-narrative poems by Stevens, Hill, Prynne and Howe. The proposed explanation was that it is sufficient for readers to recognize traces of a narrative schema to read the text fluently, even if such text is low in coherence. By contrast, when prototypical narrative features cannot be mapped onto a text, the processing effort as measured by reading times remarkably increases. Overall, the results refine our understanding of the relationship between difficulty and the stylistic strategies associated with it.
Reviews on contemporary Italian poetry (2010-ongoing)
This is not really a research project, but rather a constant critical practice (in Italian). My +100 reviews/notes/analyses on contemporary Italian poetry are collected (and monthly updated) on the Critica del testo poetico (Criticism of the poetic text) website, where I integrate my stylistic training with a more hermeneutic and evaluative attitude.