Henri Meschonnic criticized structuralist linguistics for assuming that progress lay with ever-increasing specialization, and for narrowing its scope to exclude the literary. For Meschonnic, a linguistics that does not take account of the poetic – particularly of rhythm – is closing its ears to the very heartbeat of language. Rhythm is at the core of a language-body continuity which structuralists ignored because they considered it unconnected to meaning. That, for Meschonnic, was their primordial error, and he argued tirelessly for ‘the continuous’ in language and linguistics. The programme he devised has certain problems. He never makes clear where the structuralism which he rejects starts and ends; indeed, he himself can be seen as a structuralist along the lines described by Cassirer. Both Saussure and Benveniste occupy a curious position in Meschonnic’s structuralism. Meschonnic’s tendency to idealize the Hebrew language and Biblical texts, contrasting them with Greek language and thought in a way that borders on, and sometimes crosses into, Orientalism, is also problematic. A comparison with Havelock’s treatment of the evolution of Greek from Homer to Plato, however, suggests that the Romantic and Orientalizing aspects of Meschonnic’s treatment are merely contingent, not essential, to the position he is taking.
- Henri Meschonnic
- language and body