chapter  4
22 Pages

Riffaterre and the Semiotics of Poetry

Michael Riffaterre’s Semiotics of Poetry is an ambitious work of literary theory that proposes ‘a coherent and relatively simple description of the structure of meaning in a poem’ (p. 1).1 His earlier work in structural stylistics treated meaning as a function of the perceptions and expectations of the reader-expectations correlated with the probabilities of occurrence established by the ‘macro-context’ of work and genre and by the ‘micro-context’ of the surrounding phrases.2 The statistical orientation occasionally present in his earlier work has now been abandoned, but the study of meaning is still seen as a study of reading, and a semiotics of poetry is in essence an account of the way readers process or make sense of a text. He writes (pp. 1-2):

These are stiff but pertinent requirements. A theory attempting to live up to such standards will have important things to say about reading.