Yeats and the Logic of Formalism

Yeats and the Logic of Formalism

Yeats and the Logic of Formalism

Yeats and the Logic of Formalism

Synopsis

"Yeats and the Logic of Formalism "deals with formalism as a philosophy in Yeats's works and how that in turn affects both his art and his social vision. Vereen M. Bell's linking of formalism and philosophy stems from a meditation by Yeats in a manuscript note: I am always feeling a lack of life's own values behind mythought. They should have been there before the stream began, before it became necessary to let the work create its values. In Bell's reading, formalism is not simply a philosophy of art but a philosophy of life as directed by art existential at its source and unpredictably political in its applications. Bell examines formalism as an ideology and evaluates its credibility in Yeats's practice in relation to other theoretical discourses and in the context of the turbulent cultural and historical circumstances under which Yeats worked.He invokes and elaborates upon Edward Said's reading of Yeats as a special kind of colonial subject. He revisits in this context the issue of how much Yeats and Nietzsche have in common and argues, in the manner of J. Hillis Miller, that the primordial is for Yeats what formalism ultimately sets itself against. "Yeats and the Logic of Formalism "mediates between older, traditional readings and recent materialist critiques of Yeats's work in an effort to restore a balanced perspective. The author centers most of his discussion on Yeats's poems as acts of thought, both as poetry and as a body of ideas. Within this context hemaintains that Yeats as a modernistis essentially aligned with Wallace Stevens in the project of creating supreme fictions. Formalism in this function, he argues, is an ideology without content.As such, it compelled Yeats to remain unsettled in his outlook.On the other hand, it enabled him, as Richard Ellmann has pointed out, to continually adapt and readapt "himself to the changing conditions of his body and mind and of the outside world.""

Excerpt

What follows in this study is yet another “master reading” of Yeats's poems. I express it in this ironic way in order to observe one of the conventions that has persisted in Yeats criticism since the mid-sixties, forced upon us by the energy, subtlety, and the capaciousness of his mind. Amy Stock felt obliged to say in 1961: “There are more ways than one of approaching most poets, and I should be sorry if the hypothetical reader mistook mine for the only one.” Thomas R. Whitaker wrote at the beginning of his foundational study in 1964, “We continue to pool our efforts at understanding and judgment,” and he cites Allen Tate as having pointed out the obvious, “'that Yeats had a more inclusive mind than any of his critics has had.'” “Yeats's masktheory,” Edward Engelberg says, “seems, when applied to poetic theory, essentially an attempt to escape the tyranny of a single identifiable persona; or to invest the persona with personae that defy a categorical definition or reduction.” the capacity Yeats had for reinventing himself and his own ideas was his most distinctively modernist trait, and it kept him from being claimable for any single master-reading or ideology. Richard Ellmann gave this explanation:

Our backs against the wall, we cannot decide whether reality is
adequately described by our intimations of a state of completeness, or
whether it is describable only as the opposite of all that we can see or
imagine. in either case the artist must be its interpreter. Affirmative
capability does not free him from the responsibility of intellectual
search or understanding of experience, as negative capability might
seem to; rather it forces him to live, as well as to write, in such a way
that his consciousness will be inclusive. Any narrowness, any adherence
to a given affirmation beyond the moment that it satisfies the whole
being, any averting of the eye, destroys the vision. … “Affirmative capa
bility” is suited to a time when man is not regarded as a fixed being with

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