Gary Soto
Exchange on Soto

From alumverse-owner Wed May 22 11:09:14 1996
From: Al Filreis
Subject: Re: Toll Evaders Subject To Persecution
Date: Wed, 22 May 1996 06:59:32 -0400 (EDT)

Al wrote: I think Joe's helping us much here. I think the key notion is substitution. Meaning is, after all, the substitution of one thing (symbols - e.g. words) for another thing (an actual thing). The word "points to" a thing in the world and is in a sense *exchanged* for that thing. Meaning is a kind of currency. But as Joe points out: in a system made of what seems to be logical, indeed causal exchanges (or substitutions) one begins to notice that we these equivalences are not natural or inherent but *made*. Soto is wondering whether this has to be. And he's quietly, almost modestly wondering it. He's not sure he can socialize his daughter another way. I agree with Joe (and others who've posted earlier on this point) that the father in the poem (presumably Soto) is accepting this arrangement with some melancholy. But he does raise the question of socialization through the poem, so it's there as a suggestion we readers can't ignore. Must the machine of meaning be such that crayons purchased *entail* guns gotten?

Marc replied: Interesting that you think of the word as an exchange for the thing itself--I believe we are trying to sell something when we use language, but its more a matter of incantation than barter. I speak, and if I do it well, you'll see things my way. My ideas, if I'm skillful, propagate themselves across wires, across other minds, magically taking on a life, multiplying. More often, of course, they get lost altogether--unless I'm Whitman or E.D., then they echo through millions, vibrate through centuries. I don't believe economic exchange is much of a metaphor for this process, but I take it you do. Explain--I'm feeling dull tonight.

Al adds: Words are (often meant to be) pointers. A word denotes a thing in the world. I say "hammer" and point to a hammer or hammers generally. The word after a while more or less (often less) effectively "stands in" for the thing. Things are presences. Words are theoretically lacks - they represent or re-present or stand in for things that aren't (don't need to be) present. This is their greatest power. They do things to - or work on - the world of things; they often (some argue always) slightly don't quite "get" the world. They slightly mis-denote. They can help re-shape (perceptions of) reality. This system of imperfection (not-quite-"accurately"-naming-things) is, in one sense, POETRY. Now socialization is learning the language. Children grow up and learn about the proper standings-in. They play with the representational system. They aren't born knowing the right values (in the sense of the exchange system described above). They have to learn what word yields what thing. They pay in and take out. Tips filter like rain, wetting the new roots of a child. Fathers tell children "It works like this." It = How Things Work. This is not just about the economy. It's about the economy of meaning. It's a poem, so think of Ashbery's "What Is Poetry": language is...well...let's say...this image or that; *there*, I've done it (says Ashbery). Put in goldfish and get out hat. Put in crayons and get out broom. It's a social system in which all individual choices filter out into a series of not-quite-predictable effects.