ENGLISH 685:002 / SUSAN TICHY / FALL 2005
WEEK 7: OCT 13: WORLD WAR I &
Featherstone: Part II: David Jones
Featherstone: Part III: David Jones: from Preface to In Parenthesis
Penguin: poems by David Jones, E.E. Cummings, Mina Loy
(Optional: poems by Richard Aldington, Ford Madox Ford, T.E. Hulme, Margaret Postgate Cole, D.H. Lawrence, Guillaume Apollinaire, Georg Trakl, Guisseppe Ungaretti.
T.S. Eliot: “The Waste Land” (you may find this poem in his Collected Poems, in many anthologies, or on line. To find it on line, go to http://www.bartleby.com/ and search by author for Eliot, then by The Waste Land and Other Poems.) Or download it from Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1567
Jeffrey Walsh on Cummings' war poems: from "Poetic Language: First World War," American War Literature 1914 to Vietnam. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. Page numbers follow.
Every war has two histories in literature: it has its own internal history in which literature may record a particularity of circumstance; and it has another history, its place in that wider history of events and nations that transcends the immediate and interprets situations more comprehensively in time. The most effective war writers are generally those who manage to live long enough after their military service to unite both kinds of history. Cummings is such a writer, a poet who had limited but first-hand knowledge of death in war as an ambulance driver and who suffered imprisonment through the vagaries of bureaucrats. His military training at Camp Devens sickened him by its crude uses of anti-German propaganda. Drawing upon these various personal experiences Cummings searched for an appropriate iconoclastic aesthetic in the new art forms that he admired. In the dozen or so poets that he wrote explicitly concerning the First World War and its effects upon individuals we encounter a modernist sensibility at work, demythologising, taking war out of the laudatory tradition of verse, and enacting a complete break with past war writing in the United States. 25-26
The attack was managed by the poet in two ways: he draws upon the stylistic and linguistic innovations of modernism to satirise the language of military conformism, and he creates a cacophony of oppositions and voices.. The quirky personalities of his speakers in the portrait poems are affirmed through variety of idiosyncratic linguistic effects or idiolects such as colloquialism, mispronunciations, oratorical modes of speech, literary quotations or self-conscious archaism. The critical intelligence surrealized in these wry collocations gives Cummins' personae an edge over the uninformed 'most people'. His war poems also frequently capitalize upon the appeal to experience, and are peppered with knowing phrases such as 'I have seen' or 'take it from me kiddo'. 27
Quotes from Allyson Booth's Postcards from the Trenches: Negotiating the Space Between Modernism and the First World War.
Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. Page numbers follow each selection.
The military trains its officers to interpret maps one way that is, "in exactly the same way as every other officer will interpret" them (Keegan c 9). Modernist works, of course, train their readers to interpret in just the opposite way, cultivating an awareness of and an appreciation for multiple points of view. Puns and patterns in a book like Finnegans Wake, for example, will not only emerge differently for different readers, but will articulate and modify one another in the course of one and then repeated readings, as memory preserves, erodes, and distorts the accumulated networks of interconnection. (99)
While the Kaiser worried about "encirclement," his chief strategists organized the German army for a project of "envelopment," thus articulating an offensive strategy that was nearly identical to the Kaiser's articulation of his worst defensive fear. Count Alfred von Schlieffen, chief of the German general staff from 1891 to 1906 developed a plan to obliterate France in six weeks using seven eighths of the German army; the other eighth was allocated to the task of holding the Russian front. Convinced that Russia's best defense against a German invasion would always be simply to "withdra[w] within her infinite room" (Tuchman 19), Schlieffen convinced the German general staff that to subdue France should be Germany's first priority. His prescription was that the German army should swing around Belgium as far west as Lille, which, though forty miles inland from the Channel, is far enough west to have been memorialized in a vivid dictum: "[L]et the last man on the right brush the Channel with his sleeve" (Tuchman 25). In their adoption of the Schlieffen Plan, then, Germany appropriated the tactic it most feared. Terrified of encirclement, they struck back with envelopment.
There is an eerie continuity between Britain's rhetoric of accusation at the beginning of World War I (rape) and its predominant metaphors of strategy (push) during the war. The first day of the Battle of the Somme July , 1916 was called "The Big Push" and was celebrated in newspapers at home; "push" expressed a British compulsion to move forward. A similar continuity can be seen between Germany's accusatory rhetoric of encirclement and Schlieffen's plan of wheeling around the edge of Belgium, enveloping the French resistance. That the vocabulary of accusation for both countries should correspond so closely to its metaphors of strategy indicates how the way in which a country habitually reads the world is the same way in which it is liable to write the world. England, outraged by rape, responded with a push. The Kaiser, obsessed with encirclement, supported a general staff committed to envelopment.
The degree to which both England and Germany seem to have internalized their own versions of enemy behavior England committing the act it decried in Germany and Germany committing the act of which it accused the rest of Europe suggests how each country's perception of the world was based on habitual patterns. The issue of factuality receded before the pressure of such imaginative habits. However, as Scarry has taught us, deeply ingrained perceptual reflexes are felt to have factual authority precisely because the more deeply ingrained they are, the more difficulty we have distinguishing between what we really see and what our expectations are conditioning us to see. When fictive metaphors are mistaken for factual descriptions, it reinforces the tendency to dispute another nation's version of the "facts." What such nations are really arguing about is whose fictions will be allowed to be the official fictions whose fictions will, by mutual agreement, be endowed with the status of factuality. (74)
Given soldiers' admissions of the ways in which war makes linear plots and categories like factuality seem suddenly frail and inadequate, how is it that such books are understood by their contemporaries as "clear and simple"? If combatant works and modernist works both gum up the conventions of narrative, how is it that modernist novels seemed so alien and combatant ones so accessible? The explanation, I would suggest, lies not in form but in content. For civilians, war is a strange and inaccessible experience, so for glitches to appear in renderings of it is not as noticeable as it is for glitches to appear in the representation of everyday life. When smiles flicker across the faces of the dead in a work by James Joyce, when ghosts haunt the houses of Henry James, and when Woolf takes liberties with her narrators, we are ruffled by the way in which these tactics seem not to conform to the ways in which we usually understand experience our experience, for we have mostly all seen bodies in coffins and walked the corridors of empty houses. Consulting ourselves as our own expert witnesses, we reject the modernist tendency to be disoriented by that which we have an investment in trusting. A disoriented soldier is not threatening in the same way, since most of us are liable never to have to test his version of the experience of combat against a version of our own.
Thus, no matter how many times linearity is disrupted in a war memoir no matter how painfully a narrator falters their modernist erasures of connective logic sink for us into virtual invisibility, precisely because we expect war to be chaotic. To read modernist civilian narratives, on the other hand, is to be forced to read our own homes through a grid that we may want to believe is more fitting to war, to participate in a world where disorientation is a quality of our collective civilian consciousness. That the safety and organization we think of as inherent to a civilian culture are merely imaginative structures, easily replaced by the imaginative structures that also suit war, suggests that we are negotiating a dangerous world indeed. If we were to acknowledge that interchangeability, peace would begin to seem as dangerous and as disturbing as war.
Susan Schweik on Ezra Pound's Cathay Poems, War & Gender: from "The Masculine V-Letter," A Gulf so Deeply Cut: American Women Poets and the Second World War.
University of Wisconsin Press, 1991. Pages 99-100.
Pound's Cathay: For the Most Part From the Chinese of Rihaku, From the Notes of the Late Ernest Fenollosa [published in 1915] is, as Hugh Kenner has disclosed, “largely a war book, using Fenollosa's notes much as Pope used Horace or Johnson Juvenal, to supply a system of parallels and a structure of discourse.”
Its exiled bowmen, deserted women, levelled dynasties, departures for far places, lonely frontier guardsmen and glories remembered from afar, cherished memories, were selected from the diverse wealth in the notebooks by a sensibility responsive to torn Belgium and disrupted London… (Kenner: The Pound Era, 202)Kenner's vocabulary and simile here feminize Pound distinctly. "Sensibility” and "responsive” are words with valences at least slightly feminine, and in the end the volume is especially prized not only as like but as the “oriental" lady who, eyes and language downcast, offers no direct reproach. In these respects Kenner follows Pound, who willingly adopted feminine positions and voices at moments in Cathay. Speaking the war poem in Chinese, speaking it translated, was one way for Pound the noncombatant to speak the language of femininity in wartime without risk. As translator he could protect himself, exploring his civilian situation without exposing too much; as translator, he could also prevent the Cathay poems from in any way, however inadvertently, feeding the war machine. Even in late 1914, certainly in 1915, the gulf between England's "two nations" - front and home - was yawning, and soldiers' antiwar poetry was building that gap into its ideological and polemical structures. Choosing a third nation, the emblematically foreign China, Pound could write poems sympathetic to the values and experiences of those "left behind' without betraying the "frontier guard."
Read next to Owen's "The Letter" or "S. 1. W.," Pound's "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter" seems a discreet defense of the noncombatant, a validation of what she (and he) feels and knows. This poem about dedication to absence allowed Pound to affirm delicate feeling and an ethic of care and relation which extended beyond the brotherhood or combatants in wartime (qualities linked to the sensibilities of art); it allowed him to represent elegiac grief without gush, since the Chinese effect of the poem lies in large part in its tightly stressed reticence. Since the letter's strongest implication is of a deep, almost unspoken erotic and affectionate bond between the absent man and the waiting woman, a bond which seems to carry some kind of vital knowledge outside social convention, it seals the gap which a text like Owen's "The Letter" opens between the genders.
The exotic Chinese setting of "The River Merchant's Wife" calls the modern English reader's attention to the patriarchal obedience structure which has shaped and constrained the wife's voice. This poem, like many Western texts, exploits the Western projection of sexual oppression onto the "Orient" -but only in order to deny it. The wife's arranged marriage is, her letter "artlessly" reveals, a love match after all. One of the rhetorical effects of this move in the context of Great War discourse is to repudiate charges that women cheerfully wave "adieu" out of resentment, vicarious glee, or aggression; another is to locate women’s renewing loyalty to men outside systems of sexual inculcation and familial arrangement, to recover a pure heterosexual alliance untainted by war's gendering systems. Kenner argues that the Cathay poems "paraphrase an elegiac war poetry nobody wrote"; but I would argue that in its defense of women and of remaining bonds between men and women "The River Merchant's Wife" bears strong resemblance to any number of Great War poems written by women, including Farjeon's "Easter Monday" and Lowell's "Patterns, " in which adieus are shown to falter and significant connections to persist.
The river merchant's wife's position was, in fact, to some extent Pound's own. He was, after all, sending typescripts of some poems in Cathay as literal letters to the front, to Gaudier Brzeska. (After the book came out in print his friend wrote from the Marne that he kept it at all times in his pocket.) Pound's choice of poems to send to the trenches in manuscript is interesting, for he selected not examples like his "River Merchant's Wife" which represent some version of his own situation, that of the one "left behind," but poems which explore the position of his correspondent, the ones which speak in the voice of combatants - the sorrowful, obliquely outraged "Song of the Bowmen of Shu" and "Lament of the Frontier Guard." Gaudier Brzeska very much appreciated these choices; "the poems," he wrote after receiving them, "depict our situation in a wonderful way." "Our situation” means primarily, I assume, the condition of trench warfare, the implied combatants' "we" excluding the civilian Pound even as the praise of Pound's poems, and that simple verb of realism "depict,” embrace him into the corps .
In Cathay as a whole, then, speaking the war poem in Chinese, speaking it translated, was one way for Pound the noncombatant to speak without obvious falsehood or reprisal the one language of masculinity in war time which seemed to matter: the language of the soldier. He could do so through Rihaku (Li Po) without making illegitimate or exploitive claims. Instead of the audacity of dramatic monologue, he offered the simple mediations of the interpreter. Depicting men's war "in a wonderful way," he confirmed his own poetic manhood. In Pound's "non Chinese" Great War poems, that confirmation is even more pronounced; the delicately fetishized women and discreetly semieroticized male bonding in Cathay are replaced by gender in extremity. Parts IV and V of "Mauberley," with their critique of the "dulce et decorum" formulation, openly enlist in the ironic "war poem" tradition of the soldier poets. Any reader who doubts the heightened and declared masculinity of that tradition in Pound's hands should consult the famous line concerning the "old bitch gone in the teeth," one of the most overtly misogynist moments in twentieth-century war literature.
Featherstone: Part I: Chapter 5 (on Herbert Read)
Featherstone: Part II: Herbert Read: from Sorel, Marx, and the War & from To Hell with Culture
Many more poems by cummings appear on the American poems site: http://www.americanpoems.com/
Some web resources on David Jones:Modernism: American Salons: David Jones.
The Complete Review: A Literary Saloon and Site of Review. Review of In Parenthesis