Rational Meaning

A Mannered Grace

Rational Meaning

A New Foundation for the Definition of Words and Supplementary Essays by Laura (Riding) Jackson and Schuyler B. Jackson.

Edited by William Harmon, Introduction by Charles Bernstein, Published by University Press of Virginia 1997, ISBN 0-8139-1682-8.

"The publication of Rational Meaning: A New Foundation for the Definition of Words brings to completion one of the most aesthetically and philosophically singular projects of twentieth-­century American poetry. No North American or European poet of this century has created a body of work that reflects more deeply on the inherent conflicts between truth telling and the inevitable artifice of poetry than Laura (Riding) Jackson."

Charles Bernstein, from the introduction.

Existing only in manuscript since the 1940s but enjoying an underground reputation among friends and advocates, this primary document by one of the most original and influential of American poets and thinkers is now being published as Rational Meaning ,Laura (Riding) Jackson's testament of the necessity of living for truth. Begun as a dictio­nary and thesaurus in the 193os, the work developed into a fundamental reevaluation of language itself Riding, in close collaboration with her husband, continued this monumental project over the succeeding decades, complet­ing it after his death in 1968. The work, which she regarded as a "Magna Carta of the human mind," has heretofore been seen by only a handful of people. Yet the recent resurgence of interest in Laura Riding (1901-1991) is nour­ishing the growth of scholarship and study, in which this culmination of a life's work will play its part as her true significance becomes more widely understood.

At the age of forty, having already produced a substantial and challenging body of poetry, stories, and criticism, Laura (Riding) Jackson renounced poetry and began to concentrate on the discovery of the principles that embed truth and meaning in words. She believed that, if words and meaning could be irrevocably fused, people would become "morally articu­late" and thus could never lie. This inquiry, which reaches out to include literature, philos­ophy, linguistics, and lexicography, would become central to the latter half of her long life and would finally result in Rational Meaning. Included in this edition are essays that Riding wanted published as supplements to Rational Meaning. At the core of Rational Meaning, which aims to restore the truth of language by argu­ing that meaning inheres in words, stands the idea that a total renovation of the knowledge of language is needed, not to develop mere verbal sophistication and respectability but fundamentally to reinvigorate the intellectual processes of consciousness. The book reveals the disastrous extent to which language has been "unlearned" and shows how it may be learned again. Rational Meaning will be essen­tial reading, not only for students of literature but for radical-minded linguists and lexicogra­phers unhappy with the orthodoxies current in their disciplines.

Among Laura (Riding) Jackson 's recent publi­cations are First Awakenings: The Early Poems of Laura (Riding) Jackson and The Word "Woman" and Other Related Writings. Schuyler Jackson's writings have been published in sev­eral magazines, including The New Republic and Time.