Death

Thoughts on Gephi

While I still don't fully understand the program and probably never will, Gephi was really fun to play around with, and I actually found it easier to understand than some of the websites we've visited. I won't lie, though. At first I thought the placement of the nodes was completely random and had no idea what was going on. It was only when I experimented with coloring the nodes that I realized how they were related to one another. The layout and placement were extremely intricate, but I found that the more you played around with colors and themes, the easier it became to read. Obviously more general nodes like "poetry" were cluttered and highly populated while author's names were less connected. It surprised me that "death" was the most populated overall.

Once you understand how Gephi fuctions and how to best understand the correlation between the nodes, the program is a very helpful and interesting tool. I enjoyed using it.

Experiences with Gephi

In the humanities, it’s always nice when technical, “objective” sources agree with what we’ve come to believe is true through more subjective interpretation. This is what happened with regards to our conclusion from last week that death is the major scripton of the September 1918 Little Review. Death has the highest degree of any terms, 60, while the average degree is 15.6. In some format that I happened upon (full disclosure, I have no idea how I got Gephi to do this), the size of the label corresponds to the degree of the item. Death, in comparison to the other items, is huge. Clearly, it is a key piece of this magazine.

Another interesting element of the network graph is pentagon/star formed by 5 major topics of The Little Review: Death, Poem, T.S. Eliot, Poetry, and Art. Each of these important scriptons (they all have a degree of at least 22) is connected to the others in the pentagon. Beyond emphasizing the importance of each of these scriptons, I’m not totally sure how to read this pentagon graphic, or even if it needs to be considered in greater depth.

Though I was initially quite frustrated with Gephi, I do think that it is a very cool program, especially for people who are visual learners. I’m constantly drawing up timelines, looking at maps, and drawing arrows in my notes because I love being able to physically see connections and relationships. Like a lot of things with technology, it’s a program that takes some practice, and I know my frustration was a product of my lack of knowledge, not the quality of the program. No, it’s not the most intuitive program, but it’s not terribly difficult figure out if you give yourself some time to read directions and just play around. I can definitely see myself using this program in the future, assuming I can learn how to create the data sets that form the backbone of the graph. 

Regenertaive Death and Internationalism

In reading through the April 1919 issue of Poetry, the clearest differences between what has been covered thus far in the course are the overt references to death and the depiction of regeneration.  As our distance reading of The Little Review corpus exemplified, there was little if any explicit mention of death, which directly contradicted our in-class discussion regarding the permeation of death throughout most of the pieces in the September 1918 issue.  In direct contrast, the April 1919 issue of Poetry directly addresses death specifically from the outset of the issue.  H.L. Davis’ “A Field by the River” depicts a scene of decay and death in the natural world, as two women walk “among willows and high cold weeds” (3).  Davis’ “The Spirit” evokes the notion of nature’s cyclicality as the speaker comments upon “the fattening young weeds / Appear, all green, their veins stretched, among their dead” (6).  Both Roy House’s “To a Dead Mouse in a Trap” and Roger Sergel’s “The Gift of Death” make death as their primary focus explicitly clear through the titles, which continues in the content of their respective poems.  Besides these explicit references to death and decay that differentiate this issue from much of what we have read during WWI, the issue emphasize death as a regenerative process, primarily through aligning death with other cyclical, natural processes.  In doing so, this issue seems to be potentially addressing the nihilism or despair surrounding the destruction and staggering death rates of World War I by re-contextualizing these deaths within larger natural processes that are beyond human control.  Through this emphasis on regeneration in nature – not surprising as it is the Spring Number – this issue of Poetry seems to be attempting to put forth a means through which to conceive of a post-WWI world.

The May 1927 issue of transition was distinct from the magazines that we have read previously in its emphasis on internationalism.  Unlike our discussions of The Crisis and BLAST! that emphasized the nationalist themes running throughout each text, this issue of transition seems more intent on establishing a notion of identity as international in scope.  While the “Glossary,” identifies the magazine’s objective “to trace the various international currents in literature today,” the content of the literature is also focused on the international rather than the national (182).  In the opening “The Young European,” the narrator confesses that he “cannot locate myself so precisely in Europe, nor perhaps at any point on the planet” (9).  Unlike the patriotism that bordered on jingoism and xenophobia in WWI propaganda that we discussed, Rochelle constructs a protagonist unable to pin down his roots and frustrated in his efforts to escape, rather finding that he continues “reliv[ing] a time already old to me” in each country that he moves to (16).  Through his continued travels, the narrator comes to realize that nationalistic identities are fraught with the same issues and anxieties regardless of region, thereby espousing a motion towards an internationalistic sense of the world and identity.  This sentiment is furthered in Larbaud’s “Europe,” where the setting of the sea also connotes this internationalism.  As a liminal space, the sea offers the speaker a space within which to exist that is free of national/political borders.  The contributions also emphasize an international scope, as there are translations listed from French, German, and Russian.  Through this emphasis on re-contextualizing the world with an international scope, this issue of transition seems to be – like the previously mentioned issue of Poetry – espousing a means through which to conceive of the world in light of the atrocities caused during WWI that were aligned with nationalist sentiments.

Opposing Factors: Network Graphs and the Themes of Joyce and Eliot

While I was toggling between filters on Gephi, I found the most interesting information to be the sort of "over-arching" themes of Joyce and Eliot.  When you select the filter "Eliot,"  the words "immortality" and "aesthetics,"  and the words "death" and "religion," oppose each other on the graph.  Alternatively, using the "Joyce" filter, the graph formulated creates a triangle of "irony," "greatness," and "mediocrity."  

By looking at how these words are related to one another, comparing Joyce and Eliot, one can "read" the major concerns, and the interior conflicts, of their work.  For Eliot, he is concerned with each of the four terms described, but he is also interested in their relationships.  He wonders, in many of his poems, if aesthetics are immortal, and he wonders if religion is dead.  Further, can his aesthetics immortalize him, and can the lack of religion, or too much religion, kill?  

With Joyce, it seems that the irony of his own greatness is his exposure of mediocrity, especially in Bloom's life.  OR, that the irony of life is that everything great is truly mediocre and vice versa.  Perhaps, because this data is subjective, this is more of a reading of individual students' readings of the work, but it nevertheless indicates to some degree the message that these works create.  

Post-War Publication of Narrative Poetry

    During World War I, Poetry magazine often included poems that related indirectly to the war in their emotional out-pourings on subjects such as death, as well as poems that served reflected the need for distraction in the form of romantic adoration of women as figures of innocence. In the post-war issues of Poetry, narrative poems make a distinct appearance in the magazine, indicating a shift in the consciousness of writers. As opposed to urgent emotional pleas, or brooding personal thoughts, which often were included in the previous volumes, there are many more imaginative and emotionally distant poems which take the form of narratives and songs.
    One such poem is “Crescent Moon,” by Elizabeth Robert Madox, which appears in the July issue of 1921, which includes three lines of non-word syllables, representing singing, in a poem which is only nine lines long. The subject matter itself is light--children delighted by catching sight of a crescent moon--and the rhyming pattern is similarly very simple. In January of 1922, another more distinctly narrative poem was published: “The Witch of Coos,” by Robert Frost. This poem is unusual in its inclusion of heavy quoting of two characters which appear in the text, even including the labels “The Mother,” and “The Son,” before each speaks. This imparts a theatrical mood, which is furthered by the narrator’s lack of emotional response within the poem. The events are recounted, and the response is left up to the reader. “White as the Snow,” by Edward Sapir, is a third poem that reads like a story, with no emotional response written in, and--like the other two poems--includes quoted dialogue. The subject matter includes a woman’s evasion of an unwanted marriage.
    The trend toward narrative poetry in post-war times may have reflected a lack of urgency, along with a sense of relief, and the desire for entertainment. Such poems being published during the so-called ‘roaring 20’s’ follows the decade’s interest in indulgence and freedom: the reader is left to chuckle, rejoice, or be astonished--with freedom of choice and individuality unifying these poems in their themes.
 

Coterie Sings a Poetic Dirge

In the year following World War I, a great deal of darker themes became apparent in various poems published in the magazine Coterie. 1920 brough about a new freedom to discuss more sordid topics, as the world had just been affected by a great war. There are many poems that depict images of loss and death quite literally from the battleground, as well as figuratively, (as in lost love, and such); however, several of these poems in particular have something beyond that in common, and that is that they allude to references of music in the poetry.

In the April, 1920 issue, a poet named Conrad Aiken had a set of peoms published which are both reminiscent of life and ponder on death. Both exhibit a strong sense of music within their context. The first poem, "Portrait of One Dead" tells the somber story of a woman caught between life with and without her lover, who had gone for reasons that are unexplained. Her life at both stages is contrasted by a world with music and without: "This is her room: on one side there is music-/ On one side not a sound./ At one step she could move from love to silence..." The halls and the rooms of the house itself are described as "sonorous," the love letters she receives are "fragrant with music," which ignites a sense of reverberance in the reader; one can almost feel the vibrations of the music. The sensation of sound is so prominent, it becomes metaphorical for the girl's life. In the poem she dies, which is best described in the lines, "You do not know how long she clung to the music,/ You did not hear her sing," as if the playing of the music runs parallel to her physical life. The poem that follows directly after, "Coffins", again describes life as music: "We are like music, each voice of it pursuing/ A golden separate dream, remote, persistent,/ Climbing to fire, receeding to hoarse despair." The poem depicts a winter night in a town where death looms, inevitable, to take its inhabitants. Aiken is adament about using music as a metaphor for life. When death is in the eyes of someone, it is as thought the music runs out: "They are blown away like windflung chords of music;/ They drift away; the sudden music has died." It puts music in the light of being merely a span of time; It glissandos, crescendos, carries through the wind and is gone, fleeting, like life. He goes so far as to personify music as "sinister" and "troubled."

These themes are apparent again in the same issue and in later months. Further into the issue, a poem by C. B. Kitchin called "Requiem- July 17th, 1919" alludes to music in its very title. A requiem being a prominent musical piece that is sung as a mass at a funeral or in time of death, the work depicts a gruesome scene of death that disturbs the scenario of a peaceful, quiet night. In the September, 1920 issue, a poem called "An Unreturning Thing," by Gerald Gould describes the death of a child like "the hush before the orchestra begins." These poets not only describe music as an essential factor of life, but it is to them, as though, it is life in itself.