The Geometry of Modernism: The Vorticist Idiom in Lewis, Pound, H.D., and Yeats

The Geometry of Modernism: The Vorticist Idiom in Lewis, Pound, H.D., and Yeats

The Geometry of Modernism: The Vorticist Idiom in Lewis, Pound, H.D., and Yeats

The Geometry of Modernism: The Vorticist Idiom in Lewis, Pound, H.D., and Yeats

Excerpt

A famous injunction, engraved on the front of the Pythagorean Academy and reiterated by Plato, dissuaded any from entering the academy who were "ignorant of Geometry." Although knowledge of geometry was not quite a prerequisite for entrance into the groves of modernist art, the language of geometric figures was so widely discussed in avant-garde circles of the early twentieth century that few of the moderns could long have remained ignorant of it. The present study explores the role of geometric forms—and more precisely, a generative preoccupation with using an idiom composed of geometric forms as a means for imagining and articulating desired attitudes and conditions of existence—in the work and thought of four major AngloAmerican modernist writers: Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, H.D., and W. B. Yeats.

"What the analytical geometer does for space and form," Pound noted in 1912, "the poet does for the states of consciousness" (SP 362). Two years later, in his essay "Vorticism," he would echo the analogy, enlarging his scope to include art more generally: "The difference between art and analytical geometry is the difference of subject-matter only" (G-B 91). By invoking geometry to define the task of the artist, Pound was in fact participating in a practice that would become widespread among Anglo-American modernist writers. Though little discussed in modernist criticism, geometric language pervades the writing and thought of Pound, H.D., Lewis, and Yeats. Elsewhere, Pound used not only such comparisons, but even actual geometric for-

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