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Jan Mukařovský “The Esthetics of Language”

Mukařovský, Jan 1964. The Esthetics of Language. – Paul Garvin (ed). A Prague School Reader on Esthetics, Literary Structure, and Style. Washington: Georgetown University Press, 31-69.

The esthetic function makes of the object which is its carrier an esthetic fact without any further classification; therefore it often manifests itself as a fleeting stroke touching the object, as an accident stemming from a single momentary rapport between the subject and the object.
The esthetic norm, on the other hand, is the force regulating man’s esthetic attitudes towards things; therefore the norm detaches the esthetic from the individual object and the individual subject and makes it a matter of the general relationship between man and the world of things. (31)
[…] we will henceforth call the pole constituted by the pure and unbridled esthetic function, the unstructured esthetic [esteticno nenormované], and the opposite pole of the esthetic norm, the structured esthetic [esteticno nenormované]. (31)
There remains finally the esthetic value. It is a dialectical synthesis of the two poles of the esthetic. It shares with the unstructured esthetic the trend to uniqueness, with the structured esthetic the requirement of supraindividuality and stability. (32)
And this feeling of momentary equilibrium between the uniqeu and the general, between accident and lawfulness, which at the next moment is replaced, both in the poet and the reader, by the desire for a new equilibrium, is the mental equivalent of the esthetic value. (32)
The esthetic attitude, by contrast, has a negative character in the sense that, by denying the external objective, it makes of the thing a purpose in itself. (32)
Both beauty and ugliness belong, however […] only in the area of the structured esthetic and do not hold for the unstructured esthetic where pleasure and displeasure coalesce into an inextricable mixture. (35)
[…] the esthetic consists in the fact that the listener’s attention, which has so far been turned to the message for which language is a means, is directed to the linguistic sign itself, to its properties and composition, in one word, to its internal structure. (35-36)
The unstructured esthetic in language, however, also finds a direct route to the entire community: wihtout losing its essence it may of itself become a social fact by means of imitation. If we hear or read an expression or phrase that we find esthetically pleasing, we are willing, sometimes too willing, to imitate it. (40)
The unstructured esthetic can, however, not merely become temporarily generalized, but may achieve permanence in the form of tradition. (41)
The unstructured esthetic can thus become general, even permanent, without losing its essentially unbounded character as long as it is not subject to systematization. It may, on the other hand, become systematized to a certain extent without ceasing to be unstructured if it is not generalized in this systematicity, but remains confined to a single individual. (42)
A norm, however, at least in the proper sense of the word, presupposes a generally obligatory lawfulness, and therefore the esthetic becomes structured [normované] only in the supraindividual parole. By passing on to this parole we bridge an important boundary: from the free and unique esthetic we procedd to the regulated and impersonal esthetic. (44)
A deliberate effort may contribute to the clarification and systematization of the norms, but not to their creation: the source of the norms is the joint life of the society. (45)
The structured esthetic thus appears even in those forms of language which are not, nor have been in the past, the objects of deliberate cultivation. (46)
Let us first remember that the supraindividual parole is not in itself undifferentiated, but is stratified into a variety of functional forms, such as intellectual and emotional speech, standard and conversational speech, written and spoken language, etc. Each of these functional forms has its own regularity, and the esthetic norms are different for each functional dialect. (46)
What the ethnograpger [Bogatyrev] says here is very interesting for us. The „beauty” of the mother tongue, as is shown by his statement, is not a purely esthetic matter, but is given by the function of „ourness” which is superordinate to all functions including the esthetic. (51)
The differentiation of the esthetic norm in terms of the functions of language, which we have discussed above, is another proof of its modifiability: the esthetic norm, being dependent on something as variable as the purpose of the verbal response, will obviously also vary with time. (52)
The perfection of the esthetic norm does not occur, as has been just stated, by abrupt changes in the development, but by a consistent effort which usually occupies a more extended developmental period. (53)
The esthetic perfection of language is thus a matter of common consensus. Therefore a throughly worked out set of esthetic norms for the language becomes a shackle for the individuality. (54)
The basic part played by the unstructured esthetic is to counteract the automization of the act of speech, to individualize it over and over again, with regard to both the personality of the speaker and the uniqueness of the linguistic and extralinguistic situation from which the act of speech stems. (61)
The unstructured esthetic finally furthers in both the individual and society the taste for constant changes in language […] (62)
These two aspects of the esthetic thus appear before us as two mutually opposite forces, ever struggling for dominance without the complete victory of either; their mutual relation can be called a polarity, or in other words, the structured and unstructured esthetic in language […] form a dialectic antinomy which at the same time holds them together and keeps them separate. (63)


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