Magazine article WLA ; War, Literature and the Arts

The Home Front Waste Land: Williams, Zukofsky, and Epistemology after Eliot

Magazine article WLA ; War, Literature and the Arts

The Home Front Waste Land: Williams, Zukofsky, and Epistemology after Eliot

Article excerpt

How will the dead bury their dead? -Louis Zukofsky

In the wake of World War One, or at least at the end of the first interval of world-wide war that has characterized lived experience since 1914, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922) happened to poetry the way that James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) happened to prose. But what exactly was that happening-what did it mean? There's no sustainable way to doubt that The Waste Land is a powerful poem, regardless of whether you think its effects/affects on the field of poetry have been positive, negative, over- or under-underemphasized or -recognized, or what-haveyou. The real project is figuring out what the impact was-what the power of the poem is. This essay will argue that some of the most interesting effects it has had have been philosophical-epistemological. I want to look at two (of many) poetic works written in (direct) response to The Waste Land, William Carlos Williams' Spring and All (1923) and Louis Zukofsky's "Poem beginning 'The'" (1926/281). This paper isn't about Eliot; it's about Williams and Zukofsky. But their pieces, I'll argue, take up the W WI-inflicted problem of epistemology Eliot's poem foregrounds, attempting to offer home-front reconciliations of Eliot's problematic of inside/outside or subjective/objective-imaginative/real-in the space opened up by The Waste Land.

With regard to form, the three following sections of this essay will discuss Eliot, Williams, and Zukofksy, respectively, with the first functioning as a scaffold for the latter two. In the first, I'll flesh out a brief introductory framing of The Waste Land-less a reading than a suggestion of a way to think about the poem- focusing heavily on Eliot's philosophical work within (and without) the poem. The next two sections, significantly heavier, will focus on readings of Williams' and Zukofsky's answers to Eliot and the problematization of knowing his poem incurs. Most specifically, I'm interested in the way that both poets' works conceptualize the relation of the imagination to reality: similarly yet paradoxically in opposition to the way Eliot's poem does, but also in a way that pre-empts Wallace Stevens' exploration of the imagination/reality tension. Toward the close of my Williams section, I'll introduce and briefly discuss Stevens' Necessary Angel: Essays on the Imagination and Reality, which Spring and All pre-empts. Stevens' collection will surface, as well, in my section on Zukofsky. The titles of each section, you'll notice, are jokey derivatives of lines from the poetry I'm reading in this essay. You'll also notice that each section of this essay, with the exception of this introduction, incorporates a portion of correspondence between the poet I'm discussing and Ezra Pound.

On the one hand, Pound's letters are as cryptic and interesting as anything he or any other (post)modernist has written, and worthy of study in their own right. But on the other hand, I'm using Pound to contextualize my readings because no real discussion of poetry between WWI and WWII would be complete without at least a nod toward how he "was the force upon which many depended and with which all had to contend" (Wright viii).The motivation behind my Eliotic scaffolding and Poundian segues is to focus on Modernist poets other than Pound and Eliot without completely disregarding the influence of either on poetry being written-globally-in the context of WWI. And the motivation to revisit poetry written at the ostensible end of WWI is that, in a half-poetic sense, we're just now entering its hundredth year2. An alternate title for this essay could have been "World War One at 100," following the month-long "Burroughs at 100" posthumous celebration of Uncle Bill's life occurring right now (April 2014) in New York City. "WWI at 100," though, wouldn't be a retrospective; rather; it'd be something in the way of a centennial, a recognition of continuation-a call for help. The epistemological problems of a world ravaged by WWI are as relevant today, as it becomes history's second Hundred Years' War, as they were approximately 100 years ago. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.