Poetry, Politics, and Culture: Argument in the Work of Eliot, Pound, Stevens, and Williams

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Transaction Publishers - 279 pages

A salient feature of modern poetics is its direct connection with cultural history and politics. Among the great American poets of the twentieth century, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams offer a significant contrast with T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Where the latter advocated a theocentric or reactionary response to the cultural crises of modernity, the former affirmed an essentially humanist and democratic social and aesthetic ethos. In Poetry, Politics, and Culture, Harold Kaplan offers a penetrating comparative study of these representative and distinctively influential poets.

All four poets wrote in an atmosphere of cultural crisis following World War I, caught as they were between outmoded belief systems and various forms of artistic and political nihilism. While each believed in poetry as a source of cultural values and beliefs, they nevertheless experienced loss of confidence in their own vocation in a world characterized by scientific, rationalist thinking and the mundane struggle for survival. For each, therefore, the poetic imagination was a means of restoring order, or building a new civilization out of chaos. In trying to define a revitalized culture, the four exemplified the perennial quarrel between Europe and America.


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Introduction and Argument
Dissociations Natural and Supernatural
The Silhouette of Man
Purgatory and Apocalypse
A Problem of Order
The Old Sublime
The Vortex of Art
Esthetic Politics
The Imagination as Value
The Dehumanization of Art
The City as a Man
A Peculiar Majesty
The Sign and Presence of the Human
Cultural and Humanist Poetics
Poetry Culture and Politics
The Ethical Humanism of Emmanuel Levinas

Prejudice and Abstraction
A Confidence in the World
A Malady of the Quotidian
The Necessary Angel of Reality
Bakhtin and the American Poets
A Note on Ethics and Dialogue in the Works of Levinas Bakhtin Mandelshtam and Celan

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Page 4 - Those masterful images because complete Grew in pure mind, but out of what began? A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street, Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can, Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone, I must lie down where all the ladders start, In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.
Page 8 - Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance...
Page 10 - And served us right for having instituted Downward comparisons. As long on earth As our comparisons were stoutly upward With gods and angels, we were men at least, But little lower than the gods and angels. But once comparisons were yielded downward, Once we began to see our images Reflected in the mud and even dust, "P. 221. " Cf. Bertrand Russell on science as "power knowledge" in The Scientific Outlool( (New York, 1931), pp.

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