Notes Toward & So On (2)

In the previous entry under this heading, I focused on the idea that new directions in American poetry & criticism might involve a new perspective toward symbol and image. On the face of it, this doesn't sound very new. Didn't the modernists just about cover this, from WCW to Pound to just about everyone?

The modernist image was an expression of its era, which was in revolt against the dying embers of post-Romantic Symbolism - its vagueness, otherworldiness, dead rhetoric. TE Hulme and Pound, the founders of Imagism, emphasized the difference between poetic and ordinary (functional) language - the latter, Hulme's "counter" language (words as counters) is abstract and utilitarian; the former (in good British empiricist fashion), using sharpened metaphor, striking juxtapositions, and careful attention to individual things, rather than abstract ideas, allows the reader to see the world anew. The focus is on physical perception. It was the dawn of the Photo Age : even with Pound's ideogram, the desire was for instantaneous perception of relationships.

Needless to say, we inhabit a different era now, a cyber-semiotic age. The computer has given new relevance to the complexity of the sign, ie. in the theories of the founder of semiotics, Charles Peirce. "Signifiers" represent "signifieds"; then, in a sort of chain reaction of semiosis, signifieds become signifiers, on another level. We are close to Dante's sense of the fourfold nature of the image. In the previous post, I wrote about a new version of the poetic symbol, rooted not in an otherwordly allegorical system, but grounded in the complexities of earthly reality. I don't have a name for this new image/symbol : but I'm thinking of qualifiers like "resonant", "harmonic", "parabolic" : signifying-symbolic chain reactions, tending toward an artistic and intelligible unity of meaning and impression - ie. "sense".

Over the weekend here in scandal-prone RI, a story broke on the pages of the Providence Journal. A family accused their lawyer, the son of a former State Supreme Court judge - considered a family friend - of taking advantage of their 16-yr-old daughter; under the auspices of providing her with legal counseling, he had corrupted her with cocaine & sex. The father, an ophthalmologist, related how, in the course of giving the lawyer an eye exam, he had discussed his suspicions that someone was victimizing his daughter; the lawyer said he would do whatever it took to find out who it was.

This is an example of a situation resonating with irony. The eye doctor is blind to the fact that the lawyer and family friend, sitting there under his lens, is the very culprit he seeks. Betrayal lurks beneath the level of mere physical perception. In semiotic terms, the "objects", the signifieds, of this account - the doctor & the lawyer - have become signifiers on another level of intelligibility.

I am suggesting that the evaluation of poetry of our age might have more to do with such parabolic symbolism - with whole poetic systems of intelligible representations - than with Hulme's or Pound's instantaneous cognitive-perceptual flashbulbs. This is why I argued previously that the example of Crane's Bridge - perhaps the most complex elaboration of a "grounded"/intelligible symbol in 20th-cent. American poetry - might be a pivotal reference point for a new kind of symbolic poetics.

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