19 August 2008

Excerpts from Jean Rhys' Letters on WSS

Here are some excerpts from a few letters written by Jean Rhys and addressed to her editors. They should give you an idea of her writing process, and also her ideas about language.

March 3, 1964
"I feel that I've just about exhausted everybody's patience with delays and alterations, but, as I told Miss Athill I've always known that this book must be done as well as I could - (no margin of error) or it would be unconvincing. I reckon that I've spent about two and a half years on it. Working steadily I mean. Stopping so often was just bad luck ..." (Wyndham and Melly, 253).

March 27, 1964
"But have finally settled on Rio. It would be so lovely not understanding what anybody said - and I haven't a word of Portuguese. I've always wondered why people want to - so much better not. Very peaceful, I think." (256). (regarding a trip)

"I'm not mad keen on the title but all the others I think of like 'Solitaire' which is the French for our Mountain Whistler, or 'Before the Break of Day' or 'Speak for me' aren't attractive or they are 'used' or have the wrong number of letters (very superstitious about that)." (257). (regarding the title of the book, which at that time, was not yet Wide Sargasso Sea)

April 14, 1964
"Now about the book - I was rather down with this and that, so flew to writing poems. This I've always done (aged 12 or 10 when I started)" (261).
She wrote four, but one of them helped her finish the book. She included it in her letter after a long explanation. Here is the poem:

Obeah Night

A night I seldom remember
(If it can be helped)
The night I saw Love's dark face
Was Love's dark face
"And cruel as he is"? I've never known that
I've tried my best you may be certain (whoever asks)
My human best

If the next morning as I looked at what I'd done
(He was watching us mockingly, used to these games)
If I'd stared back at him
If I'd said
"I was a god myself last night
I've tamed and changed a wild girl"
Or taken my hurt darling in my arms
(Conquered at last. And silent. Mine)

Perhaps Love would have smiled then
Shown us the way
Across that sea. They say it's strewn with wrecks
And weed-infested
Few dare it, fewer still escape
But we, led by smiling Love
We could have sailed
Reached a safe harbour
Found a sweet, brief heaven
Lived our short lives

But I was both sick and sad
(Night always ends)
She was a stranger
Wearing the mask of pain
Bearing the marks of pain -
I turned away - Traitor
Too sane to face my madness (or despair)
Far, far too cold and sane

Then Love, relenting
Sent clouds and soft rain
Sent sun, light and shadow
To show me again
Her young face waiting
Waiting for comfort and a gentler lover?
(You'll not find him)
A kinder loving? Love is not kind
I would not look at her
(Once is enough)
Over my dead love
Over a sleeping girl
I drew a sheet
Cover the stains of tears
Cover the marks of blood
(You can say nothing
That I have not said a thousand times and one
Excepting this - That night was Something Else
I was Angry Love Himself
Blind fierce avenging Love - no other that night)

"It's too strong for Beke"
The black woman said
Love, hate, or jealousy
Which had she seen?
She knew well - the Devil!
- What it could mean

How can I forget you Antoinette
When the spring is here?
Where did you hide yourself

After that shameless, shameful night?
And why come back? Hating and hated?
Was it Love, Fear, Hoping?
Or (as always) Pain?
(Did you come back I wonder
Did I ever see you again?)

No. I'll lock that door
Forget it. -
The motto was "Locked Hearts I open
I have the heavy key"
Written in black letters
Under a Royal Palm Tree
On a slave owner's gravestone
"Look! And look again, hypocrite" he says
"Before you judge me"

I'm no damn slave owner
I have no slave
Didn't she (forgiven) betray me
Once more - and then again
Unrepentant - laughing?
I can soon show her
Who hates the best
Always she answers me
I will hate last

Lost, lovely Antoinette
How can I forget you
When the spring comes?
(Spring is cold and furtive here
There's a different rain)
Where did you hide yourself
After the obeah nights?
(What did you send instead?
Hating and hated?)
Where did you go?
I'll never see you now
I'll never know
For you left me - my truest Love
Long ago

Edward Rochester or Raworth
Written in Spring 1842

April 28, 1964
"I have tried to show this man being magicked by the place which is (or was) a lovely, lost and magic place but, if you understand, a violent place. (Perhaps there is violence in all magic and all beauty - but there - very strong) magicked by the girl - the two are mixed up perhaps to bewildered English gent, Mr R, certain that she's hiding something from him. And of course she is. Her mad mother. (Not mad perhaps at all) So you see - when he gets this letter all blows sky high. And so - I've fixed up the letter, written in his interview with Daniel whom Mr R detests but believes. (Why) I could guess that too I think - because he wants to - that's why .... The slant has been altered. It is not so tame - that's all. Additions do it .... The love drink on Obeah Night merely releases all the misery, jealousy and ferocity that has been piling up in Mr R for so long. He pretends to think he's been poisoned - that's only to pile up (again) everything he can against her and so excuse his cruelty. He justifies it that way. (It's often done). I do not think that it justifies him at all. I do think it explains him a bit" (269).

Wyndham, Francis, and Diana Melly, eds. The Letters of Jean Rhys. New York: Viking Penguin
Inc., 1984.

Derek Walcott on Jean Rhys

Since Derek Walcott was taken off the reading list, I've been pouting as I bought the book.  So while I was thumbing through my copy of Wide Sargasso Sea, I found this poem in the back and I thought I'd share it with you.  If I understand it correctly, the speaker is looking at a photograph and imagining what Jean Rhys's world was like and how the conception of this novel was engendered.  There appears to be allusions to events or places in Rhys's life upon which Brooke might be able to shed some light?

Jean Rhys

In their faint photographs
mottled with chemicals,
like the left hand of some spinster aunt,
they have drifted to the edge
of verandahs in Whistlerian
white, their jungle turned tea-brown--
even its spiked palms --
their features pale,
to be pencilled in:
bone-collared gentlemen
with spiked moustaches
and their wives embayed in the wickerwork
armchairs, all looking coloured
from the distance of a century
beginning to groan sideways from the axe stroke!

Their bay horses blacken
like spaniels, the front lawn a beige 
carpet, brown moonlight and a moon
so sallow, so pharmaceutical
that her face is a feverish child's,
some malarial angel
whose grave still cowers
under a fury of bush,
a mania of wild yams
wrangling to hide her from ancestral churchyards.

And the sigh of that child
is white as an orchid
on a crusted log
in the bush of Dominica,
a V of Chinese white
meant for the beat of a seagull
over a sepia of Cornwall, 
as the white hush between two sentences.

Sundays!  Their furnace
of boredom after church.
A maiden aunt canoes through lilies of clouds 
in a Carib hammock, to a hymn's metronome,
and the child on the varnished, lion-footed couch
sees the hills dip and straighten with each lurch.
The green-leaved uproar of the century
turns dim as the Atlantic, a rumourous haze
behind the lime trees, breakers
advancing in decorous, pleated lace;
the cement grindstone of the afternoon
turns slowly, sharpening her sense,
the bay below is green as calalu, stewing Sargasso.

In that fierce hush
between Dominican mountains
the child expects a sound
from a butterfly clipping itself to a bush
like a gold earring to a black maid's ear--
one who goes down to the village, visiting,
whose pink dress wilts like a flower between the limes.

There are logs
wrinkled like the hand of an old woman
who wrote with a fine courtesy of that world
when grace was common as malaria,
when the gas lanterns' hiss on the verandah
drew the aunts out like moths
doomed to be pressed in a book, to fall
into the brown oblivion of an album,
embroiderers of silence
for whom the arches of the Thames,
Parliament's needles,
and the petit-point reflections of London Bridge
fade on the hammock cushions from the sun,
where one night
a child stares at the windless candles flame
from the corner of a lion-footed couch
at the erect white light,
her right hand married to Jane Eyre,
foreseeing that her own white wedding dress
will be white paper.

14 August 2008

Gandhi resources

An excellent resource on Gandhi is David Arnold's book, Gandhi: Profiles in Power.

Anand's lost sentences

From Anand's memoir (The Bubble) where Anand describes the process of editing Untouchable:

"I have so far used the language of the mocking bird indeed. I read my garbled, gargantuan rhetorical prose: “He saw giant masses of black bodies, stinking by the foulairtake of each ignoble creature, herdedinchains, to enter the doors of hells, held ajar by the horned doots of Yama, himself in Yab-Yam embrace with yami, sweating the oil of sweat, above the blood that oozed from flesh lacerated by whips, fear-stricken at being pushed into the ocean of filth, which exuded the smell of death,” etc. Bathos! With the smell of Christian hell about it! And the fall! Infected by the neurosis of after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden!"

And here's how Anand described the process of Gandhi's editing of his work (this is from The Little Plays of Mahatma Gandhi):

Gandhi: Mocking bird with a vengeance! Such big big words! You don’t know, that Harijans sigh, moan, groan and say a few words! They never talk in such big words! You want to make them into Dr. Johnsons!

K.C. Azad: (Humbled) I have been following the method of James Joyce. Stream of consciousness of characters! He has coined a new language. With puns! Satirical words! Joined words! Poetic phrases! … I thought if I also use big words, and make puns, English people will think I have mastered the English language …

Gandhi: I thought the same in London! Then an English friend, a Quaker, told me to write simply. I began to translate into English from Gujarati. Why don’t you write in your language?

K.C. Azad: I have no language. My mother tongue is Punjabi. But the Sarkar has appointed English and Urdu as court languages! … Except Bhai Vir Singh and Dhani Ram Chatrath Poets! Few of us write in Punjabi. The only novel writer is Nanak Singh. There are no publishers in Punjabi or Urdu. Even Dr. Muhammad Iqbal writes in Urdu and Persian not in Punjabi! No one can earn a living as a writer in Punjabi. In English—my novel may get published in London

Gandhi: Acha! Write in any language that comes to hand. But say what Harijans say! And the poor say! Translate their speech literally. Don’t use ‘Thees’ and ‘Thous!’ Above all you must be sincere! Truthful! Write of life as it really is! … Of the poor! Few writers have written about the poor! Only Sarat Babu! And Prem Chand! – I hear!

Anand truly a Modernist?

In thinking of Anand as a "Modernist" writer, I found it odd that his work was rejected 16 times before being published. Compared to the other writers of this period, why was his work less popular? On the one hand, he was a highly-educated, high-caste Indian. On the other, he was committed to Marxism and international socialism. He advocated Indian independence, but did so in London, the center of imperial power.

In an essay entitled, Mulk Raj Anand's Passage through Bloomsbury, critic Kristen Bluemel suggests:

"...the gap between the reception in leftist circles of Anand's radical fiction and his radical nonfiction suggests that Anand’s diminishing reputation among leftists had less to do with any failures of the literary imagination, and more to do with many English leftists' allegiance to England's imperial identity and specifically its right to rule India..."

She goes on to say:

"...While it is true that Anand was influenced by many of the same intellectual and political texts that other modernists and intermodernists read, his 1930s fictions struck most readers of the time as radically different for the following reasons: they are exclusively about India and Indians, are the first examples of Indo-Anglian fiction to adopt outcastes or social pariahs as their heroes, they use English in a new way to communicate Indian idiom, and they integrate the political speeches of the period’s most prominent Indian political figures, Gandhi and Nehru. More generally, Anand's fiction is regarded as a cornerstone of the first generation of Indo-Anglian writers who came to represent independent and postcolonial India..."

You can check out the full article below --- definitely worth a read.

12 August 2008

Clothing and Identity in "Untouchable"

Throughout Untouchable, Anand includes descriptions of clothing -- what the clothes look like, where they come from, what they mean to the wearer, what they mean to others. For this reason, clothing seems to play a major role in characterization. We learn early on that Bakha "apes" the English by wearing their hand-me-down boots, etc. as a way to elevate himself (at least in his own eyes) above his peers. The English soldiers treat him like a human being, and for the first time, he is able to look at his situation and resent it. So, he begins to reject certain aspects of his culture (whenever possible) and to take on those of the English -- sleeping under a thin blanket, though it causes him great discomfort, wearing their clothes, smoking cigarettes. "He had been told that they were sahibs, superior people. He had felt that to put on their clothes made one a sahib too. So he tried to copy them in everything, to copy them as well as he could in the exigencies of his peculiarly Indian circumstances" (11).

Also, there is the scene in which Bakha remembers pretending to marry Ram Charan's sister when they were children -- "Ram Charan's little sister was made to act the wife because she wore a skirt. Bakha was chosen to play the husband because he was wearing the gold-embroidered cap" (86-87). And yet, the clothing does not make the marriage real, nor does it make Bakha an Enlgishman or a sahib. It almost seems as if the characters seek to identify themselves through their choices of clothing, but it ends up being more of a disguise.

This extreme preoccupation with clothing and outward appearance is also present in all of Jean Rhys's novels. In Wide Sargasso Sea, for instance, Antoinette believes that Richard would have recognized her if she had been wearing her red dress, and she spends a great deal of time obsessing over the garment. Is this a common characteristic of British modernism?

09 August 2008

Tie in to present day...

The article is called "India's untouchable icon aims for Delhi."


Mulk Raj Anand -- a biography

Here's a piece I wrote for India Today on Mulk Raj Anand (it was for their 60 most important Indians issue, 60 years after independence). It will at least give you a sense of the scope of his literary and extra-literary life.

08 August 2008

The Irish Catholic Church - A brief overview by no means complete

Prior to the Norman invasion, the Catholic church in Ireland remained "Irish."  "Irish monks and abbots, with their rejection of episcopal authority and harsh rules of discipline, were becoming increasingly anomalous.  Between 640 and 1080 there was no written correspondence between the Irish Church and the Papacy.  No Irish armies took part in the Crusades, and while Irish monks and missionaries still went to the continent to preach and study, others became lax in their observances, some even ignoring the rules of celibacy"  (62). Pope Gregory instituted reform of ecclesiastical reform and included Ireland in this.  To this end, he used Henry II as his instrument of reform which finally began after a series of skirmishes between Henry and the high kings of Ireland (64).  At the end of 1171 the archbishops and bishops of Ireland accepted "Henry's temporal supremacy" (65).  "Within a generation, most of the leading Churchmen in Ireland were Norman, and the loyalty of the Irish Church to the British Crown -- even in centuries of after the Reformation -- was established (65).  

Henry  VIII introduced Protestantism and firmly established British rule.  He reorganized the way property was distributed doing away with the customs of Brehon Law and common ownership of property.  Irish chiefs were to surrender the tribal lands in exchange for the regranting of those lands to them personally.  Thus for example, "the chief of the Ulster O'Neills, Con, submitted on this basis in December 1541, taking the title of Earl of Tyrone ahd having his eldest son recognized as his successor" rather than his other son or his nephews who had legitimate claims under Gaelic law (82).  Protestantism initially did not have a strong foundation as there were few towns and no strong middle class, which traditionally formed the basis of that congregation.  In 1592 Queen Elizabeth I established Trinity College as part of an attempt to "counteract the growing tendency for young Irishmen to journey to universities in Catholic Europe where they could learn seditious ways" (85).

At one point Catholicism and the cause of a 'free Ireland' were synonymous and so the English government sought to suppress this by means of excluding Catholics from serving in government and banning Catholic priests from Ireland (100-101).  By the 1690s Irish parliament was completely Protestant.  In 1695 the Irish government began enactng the Penal Laws against Roman Catholics in Ireland.  These laws were completed by 1727 and lasted about 100 years (114-115).

"By the end of the seventeenth century, Ireland had effectively been conquered.  Almost every generation during the previous two hundred years had experienced military, economic and political attacks" (115).  At this time and through the 18th century, the native Irish were treated little better than slaves.  Reform through the efforts of Wolfe Tone enacted the Catholic Relief Act of 1793 which gave propertied Catholics the "right to vote and enter the professions, though not to stand in elections" (134).

In the 1800s the drive for Irish nationalism (e.g., Irish Republican Brotherhood) somehow pushed the church to identify more and more with the British government (171).  "The Church became increasingly hostile to any movement that threatened the political or social status quo.  Not until 1886 did the Church formally endorse home rule for Ireland, and even then only as 'representing the legitimate aspirations of the Irish people.'  To the Church, legitimacy meant remaining within the framework of British law and practice.  It rapidly distance itself from rebellious nationalism after [Daniel] O'Connell's early successes, condemning the Fenians, the 1916 Rising and, in 1920, the IRA.  In return for Catholic Bishops' influence on behalf of constitutionalism in Ireland, successive British governments acknowledged the special position of the Church: a position so strong that in 1885 the Church secured the Irish Party's acceptance of a major voice for the clergy in the selection of parliamentary candidates" (172).

If as these excerpts suggest that the church was involving itself in politics, then the religious aspect of the church seems to be tainted.  The church is giving unto Rome its due, yet neglecting the due owed to God.  No wonder there is ambivalence in Stephen.

Ranelagh, John.  Ireland An Illustrated History. New York: Oxford, 1981.

07 August 2008


I finished Portrait and I had an overwhelming feeling of sadness for Stephen. I was left with a sense of how alone he must have felt. Where his family, friends, country or religion could offer him no solace or comfort. I am grateful that I have people in my life that I can turn to. I'm glad I read it, but I prefer to read selections that would inspire me to be better. To be honest, I was a little depressed and I wanted to find Stephen and be his friend.
I was unsure of the change in format at the end where it looks like journal entries. What is the significance of this?

05 August 2008

Stream of consciousness

The style in which Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is written has a different feeling in its stream of consciousness. I am comparing it to the type of stream of consciousness found in Mrs. Dalloway. In Mrs. Dalloway I would be reading and the point of view would jump from one person into another. It's as if you could jump into other characters' minds for that moment and listen to what they were thinking. We are privy to many opinions and ideas.
The emphasize changes in the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to one person, Stephen. Although I have not finished Portrait, we are primarily in Stephen's mind then out. When we are out of his head we get descriptions of what is happening around him. It seems like we are looking at the world through his eyes.
I don't know which style I like better but both are challenging to read. One last thought, I wonder if the gender of the writer had an influence on the way the stream consciousness was written. I know Woolf wanted to write a book in the manner in which a woman would think. Did Joyce have the same motivation? Did he want to model his writing after the thinking of a young man?

Mulk Raj Anand, recordings

I found recordings of Mulk Raj Anand reading from Untouchable and thought that others might be interested in them.

04 August 2008

Modernism vs PostModernism in Nightwood

Forgive me if this question as posed in class, as I had to miss lecture due to a conflicting business trip. Considering the themes presented in Nightwood, I was curious why some critics consider the novel modernist while others consider it postmodernist?

According to postmodernist philosopher Jean-François Lyotard:
"The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself; that which denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of a taste that would make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia for the unattainable; that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but in order to present a stronger sense of the unpresentable."

If this is to be accepted as true, can we make a case that Nightwood is actually postmodern IN modernism? And why would this not also be true for Stein?

02 August 2008

The Fight Scene in "Nightwood"

There is a fight scene involving Jenny and Robin at the end of the Squatters chapter. Snehal asked why it is necessary. I don’t know that I have anything like a complete answer but here are my thoughts.

In an earlier post I said I thought that Robin was trying to regain the innocence of childhood; she was, in effect, devolving back to childhood from adulthood. I think that is what the child, Sylvia, who mysteriously appears in that scene represents. That’s why she and Robin have such an immediate connection. Robin is drawn to her and, in a sense, takes control of her.

In the carriage, Jen, who is already in a near panic over the possibility of losing Robin, sees this connection and finds it unbearable. She lashes out at Robin. But it isn’t a fight at all; it is a violent, passionate, desperate act of love. Barnes can’t write a sex scene and still get the novel published. This “fight” is the closest she can get to the act of lovemaking between two women. I hesitate to call it a rape, but it certainly comes very close. Jenny “takes” Robin right there in the cab and they end up in a grotesque embrace with Jenny’s breasts covering Robin’s hands. When it’s over, the child speaks for Robin “Let me go! Let me go!”

Robin runs away but shortly after this event, she leavers Nora and goes away with Jenny. This more than anything else is what got me thinking about the fight as a metaphor for sex, rather than an actual fight.

I don’t quite know what to make of the English girl who is present during all of this. The best I can do right now is to suggest that she’s there as a cover, to make it appear that Robin’s interest is in an adult rather than a child. I know that's weak and I'd love to hear other ideas.

01 August 2008

Sin in Portrait of an Artist

I'm not sure whether people have delved into Portrait of an Artist, but I'd like to discuss sin and the religious extremism portrayed in the novel.  Although I haven't finished the novel, I would like to discuss religion in the first few chapters.  Stephen appears to be tortured by his ideal of religion and the religion that surrounds him.  Although he fears sin, he goes against his moral upbringing and still sins.  It's almost like he has a dual side to his personality.  He tries to be over pious and christian, which leads him to denounce Christianity and give into his desires.  I'd like to pose a question to the class:  Is Joyce making a commentary on religion extremism, and if so, what are the pitfalls for a young man such as Stephen?  How does this yo-yo between sin and morality help carve his identity later on in the novel?  


A few of you mentioned that you might be interested in thinking more about Djuna Barnes. I wanted to recommend the work of Mikhail Bakhtin on the "carnivalesque" as a place to begin to think about how Barnes turns her attention towards the transgressive and perverse elements of human life in order to humanize them. For Bakhtin, and other theorists of the carnivalesque, the lampooning of power and the freedom (through spectacle) of transgression made aspects of the carnivalesque deeply related to questions of freedom and emancipation.

Resources for Joyce's A Portrait of an Artist

Robin's Innocence Regained?

OK, so this may sound a little over the top but I've been mulling over the problem of Robin, especially in light of that bizarre ending. My thought was triggered by the Doctor's statement on page 105 that it would be much better if people were born at death's door and gradually grew younger until at last they were infants searching for a womb to crawl into. I suspect, rather than simply going insane, this, or something like it is what is happening to Robin throughout the novel. She, knowingly or unknowingly, is seeking a return to childhood innocence and ultimately the womb, where presumably she will eventually be reborn. (There are several references to reincarnation in the novel--all made by the doctor).

Early on she is described as having a childish face. Later the doctor describes her as someone who needs "permission to live" and someone to tell he she is an innocent (p.125) On page 155 he describes her as an innocent. Nora refers to her as a child and ultimately as her child (p.166) and raises the whole issue of incest again.

I think that may be why throughout the novel, Robin is increasingly driven to wander away from every adult relationship she has. And as the story progresses those wanderings become longer and more intense. Ultimately she wanders away from Jenny and returns to a place where where Nora - her mother- can find her. That scene with the dog reminds me more than a child playing with a dog than anything else.

Does this make sense to anyone else, or am I totally crazy.

31 July 2008


I may be missing something very obvious, but one question I have while reading Stein and Barnes concerns why they are considered a part of "British" modernism. What definition of "British" do either of them fit? I read that Barnes wrote Nightwood in Devonshire, however Paris (and the U.S.) seem to be much more central to these writers than England. Still, does "British" mean much more than location? If so, what does it mean?

The other issue I've been pondering centers around their homosexuality/bisexuality, in particular the seeming lack of discussion around it. There seems to be more talk of D.H. Lawrence as sexually scandalous. I was surprised to hear that Gertrude and Alice were such popular celebrities and yet so out in their sexuality. Did people at the time look the other way? Would it have been much different for two men?

More on Stein

Thanks to everyone for allowing me the opportunity to share my understanding of Tender Buttons. For anyone interested in hearing her read OBJECTS, you can do so FREE at: http://beemp3.com/download.php?file=205371&song=1+-+Objects.

After going back through my notes, I wanted to leave you with these thoughts:

-Stein is not worried about making sense, but rather "how" to make sense
-Meaning is a byproduct of repeated encounters with her text
-Tender Buttons provides no answers, it's distinction being to establish relationships that we never knew existed
-Become aware that no 2 words are ever exactly the same

Finally, I found this quote by Wallace Fowlie published Dec. 22nd, 1956 in the Saturday Review most appropriate:

"For this is poetry about poetry...A word used by Gertrude Stein does not designate a thing as much as it designates the way in which the thing is possessed, or the way in which the thing is destroyed, or the way whereby the poets has learned to live with it."

Tender Buttons

I'd like to thank J.C  for that extremely informative and helpful presentation on Tender Buttons, without which I probably would have been lost.  I would like to further ponder her use of words in Objects and whether there are certain words which are masculine, vs others which are feminine.  Notice how she pairs words, such as, Galzed Glitter, Dirt and not Copper, Nothing Elegant.  I highly believe the paring of words have something to do with male-female couplings, etc. Almost like she gives the words gender roles.  Any thoughts on that? 

Stein and Repetition

After thinking over "Tender Buttons" and our class discussion of Tuesday, I'm still having trouble understanding the purpose of Stein's use of repetition. I don't see how writing the same word (such as "yes") over and over makes a poem. As Emilie stated in class, if we were to do this and turn it in to a creative writing class, we'd get an F.

I cannot help but wonder if Stein was published and rose to fame more because of who she was than because of what she was doing.

30 July 2008

Gertrude Stein's influence

For details about the legacy of Stein's poetry on American poets and poetics, check out this entry in Wikipedia about the Language Poets of the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps of interest to some may be how Stein's prestige influenced women: women were more than half of the Language Poetry movement. Incidentally, E.E. Cummings was another who was deeply influenced by Stein.

Djuna Barnes

While I am loath to recommend using Wikipedia as an authoritative source, I found its entry on Djuna Barnes quite useful. You can read it here. Pay attention to the deatails about its publishing history (how Faber and Faber published it, with an introduction by TS Eliot, in an expensive edition, etc.)

29 July 2008

The Metro

In A Station Of The Metro by Ezra Pound
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

When I first read this poem, I wasn't impressed. It was short, uncomplicated and it didn't even rhyme;but as we discussed it further in class it grew more interesting with each reading. I thought it was very clever to incorporate the title as part of the poem;by providing a place where the poem is occurring. There are no excess words, every syllable contributes to the picture Pound is creating. Next, I could visualize the metro and all the faces of the passengers start to blur and become ghosts before my eyes. Their features becoming hazy and they begin to resemble each other like the petals. The petals are not identical but they are so similar that it would be difficult to tell them apart. It is a very vivid image and I find it amazing since the description is so short. Then the metro and the bough are being compared. It's a very elegant comparison juxtaposing nature and machine against each other. I have grown to like this poem very much.

The poem has left an image on my brain.


Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Head of Ezra Pound


Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912

It's important to consider the differences between cubism and vorticism, despite the similarities in some aspects of their styles (the hard, sharp lines; the interest in movement; the estrangement of the visual field by reorganizing the picture plane; etc.)

25 July 2008

Gertrude Stein

For Tuesday's class, we will read Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons, which is available entirely online here. Please do start work on Djuna Barnes' Nightwood (which does take a little bit of effort to get into). I haven't been able to locate an online version, so you may need to order it from an online bookseller if you haven't already located a copy.

23 July 2008

More on TS Eliot

Since we talked a little about Eliot's politics on Tuesday, I thought some of you might find the following useful. It's an extract from a longer piece by Terry Eagleton on Eliot's politics and poetics published in the London Review of Books:

"Yet as one who had never believed in liberalism, Romanticism or humanism in the first place, he was energised as well as alarmed by the cataclysm. It may have helped to put him into a sanatorium, but it also turned his thoughts towards a constructive solution. If civilisation lay in ruins, then there was a momentous opportunity to sweep away this heap of broken images and start afresh. Or rather, start once more with the good old things, moving forward to a classical, orderly, tradition-bound past in the face of that squalid cult of anarchic subjectivism, self-expressive personality, economic laissez-faire, Protestant ‘inner light’ and Bolshevik subversion which Eliot lumped together with cavalier indiscriminateness under the name of ‘Whiggery’.

"This Janus-faced temporality, in which one turns to the resources of the pre-modern in order to move backwards into a future that has transcended modernity altogether, is at the heart of Modernism. The pre-modern in Eliot’s poetry is a matter of Fisher Kings and fertility cults; in his prose it is a question of classical order, Tory traditionalism and the Christian church. In both cases, however, a discredited individualism must yield to a more corporate form of being, roughly at the time when laissez-faire capitalism was giving way to its international monopoly version. Whether as slain god or submissive Christian, the point of having a self is to give it away. It is the Romantic-humanist heresy which holds that we should nurture our egos rather than abnegate them. ‘Tradition’ is the order to which the poet must perpetually surrender his selfhood, and writing a poem involves an extinction of personality rather than an affirmation of it. It is no accident that Eliot wrote his doctoral thesis on the philosopher F.H. Bradley, late Victorian deconstructor of the autonomous self. As a rootless, sexually ambiguous American émigré turned pin-striped London banker, his own personal version of that entity had been in question for some time."

Pound poems

As promised, here are the Pound poems that we are going to cover:

I'm working off the New Directions Paperbook edition of Selected Poems of Ezra Pound, but you should feel free to work from any edition. Be wary of some of the on-line versions of the poems which are not always reliable.