Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

"Quantum poetics" by Daniel Albright (CUP, 1997)

According to the foreword, "Quantum Poetics is a study of the way Modernist poets appropriated scientific metaphors as part of a general search for the pre-verbal origins of poetry". The author identifies 2 trends -

  • "The investigations of physicists into the nature of elementary particles gave strength to one class of poet: the poet-researcher, the poet-engineer ... the words themselves convey the poememe across the gap beneath writer and reader" (p.18-19). An example is "Pound, with his images, vortices, hard bits of rhythm, was a researcher into elementary particles" (p.24)
  • "The investigations of physicists into the phenomena of radiation gave strength to another class of poet: ... the words per se are of little account" (p.18-19). An example is D.H. Lawrence - diffuse poetry where "the poet of the wave writes, in a sense, only one poem, his whole canon" and there is a "loss of prestige of the noun" (p.20)

He points out that these tendencies were around long before science, and that they're evident in other arts too. He writes that "the construction of poetic ultimates through the theft of the elementary particles of physics is merely an exercise in metaphor, and deceptive metaphor at that. But the success or failure of a work of art has never depended upon the correctness of the artist's theories about art" (p.2). Science was in the ascendency in modernist times, and poets were explicitly alluding to it both in their poetry and essays. "Certain poets, especially Pound, aspired to a genuinely quantum-mechanical view of the poetic act, as if poetry and physics were the same thing" (p.2).

The 2 trends weren't mutually exclusive - most Modernist poets could (like Niels Bohr with waves and particles) see things both ways -

  • "By 1920, Pound had reached the limits of the particle model", (p.26)
  • "D.H.Lawrence, for all his sense that language should aspire to the condition of wireless telegraphy, came to hate many aspects of the literature of the wave", (p.25)
  • "Eliot ... reached the limits of the wave model, and sought relief in particles", (p.27)

Discussing Yeats, he strays too far from the plot, though Yeats' reaction to the rise of Modernism is interesting - "In much of Yeats's work one finds a preoccupation with empty backgrounds ... As Yeats moved away from the doctrine that the proper goal of art is self-expression, towards a colder, more impersonal theory of art, these empty backgrounds started to yield images of a different sort" p.33

Turning to Ezra Pound, we read that had several attempts to identify the essence of poetry -

  • "I believe that the proper and perfect symbol is the natural object, that if a man use 'symbols' he must so use them that their symbolic function does not obtrude so that a sense, and the poetic quality of the passage, is not lost to those who do not understand the symbol as such" Literary Essays, p.9, Pound, 1918
  • "Imagisme is not symbolism. The symbolists dealt in 'association,' that is,, in a sort of allusion, almost of allegory. They degraded the symbol ... The symbolist's symbols have a fixed value, like numbers in arithmetic, like 1, 2, and 7. The imagiste's images have a variable significance, like the signs a, b, and x in algebra", Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts, p.201 1914

He points out that Pound's "image made little distinction between the two terms of the comparison" (p.140)

After that, the few science intrusions are hardly relevant, but there are some interesting quotes all the same

  • "many of the characteristic gestures of Modernist poetry - such as its disruptions, irruptions, abruptions, interruptions of syntax - are based on the old-fashioned linguistics that Saussure and Wittgenstein tried to refute, according to which meaning is generated, not from phonic differentiation or the play of usage, but from primary uralt pan-significant vocables", p.151
  • "Both Eliot and Pound were much struck by the flimsiness of Lessing's division of the fine arts into the arts of succession (nacheinander), such as literature and music, and the arts of juxtaposition (nebeneinander), such as painting and sculpture: for Eliot and Pound, the spatial arts have a strong urge toward unfolding themselves in time", p.156
  • "Much of the vigor of Modernism sprang from the attempt to discover the homologies among the arts", p.164
  • "The Saussurean view of linguistics has generated a method of literary criticism that has proved remarkably successful", p.282

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