Vibrant Matter and Imagism

Let me start out by saying that this week’s readings, especially the excerpt from Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, completely and thoroughly enchanted me. For today, in an effort to organize the abundance of thoughts bouncing around in my head relating to thing theory, I would like to focus specifically on Vibrant Matter.


In my opinion, the most fascinating part of Bennett’s “political ecology of things,” as she sub-titles her book, was her focus on “thing-power.” In Chapter 1, she writes:

            On a sunny Tuesday morning on 4 June in the grate over the storm drain to the Chesapeake
            Bay in front of Sam’s Bagels on Cold Spring Lane in Baltimore, there was:

                       one large men’s black plastic work glove

                       one dense mat of oak pollen

                       one unblemished dead rat

                       one white plastic bottle cap

                       one smooth stick of wood

            Glove, pollen, rat, cap, stick. As I encountered these items, they shimmied back and forth
            between debris and thing—between, on the one hand, stuff to ignore, except insofar
            as it betokened human activity (the workman’s efforts, the litterer’s toss,
            the rat-poisoner’s success), and, on the other hand, stuff that commanded attention in its
            own right, as existents in excess of their association with human meanings, habits, or projects.

She continues, referring again to the list of objects, “[T]hey were all there just as they were, and so I caught a glimpse of an energetic vitality inside each of these things, things that I generally conceived as inert. In this assemblage, objects appeared as things, that is, as vivid entities not entirely reducible to the contexts in which (human) subjects set them, never entirely exhausted by their semiotics” (5). While reading these passages, I was struck by how similar it sounded to the way I learned to write poetry from my absolutely amazing undergraduate creative writing professor. Specifically, Bennett’s argument reminded me of imagism and the desire to accurately portray an image. As Ezra Pound suggested in “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste,” one should strive for “[d]irect treatment of the ‘thing,’ whether subjective or objective.” I think also of William Carlos Williams and “The Red Wheelbarrow”:

            so much depends



            a red wheel



            glazed with rain



            beside the white


The image of this wheelbarrow, and thus, the wheelbarrow itself, seems to exert the thing-power that Bennett describes; as Bennet would say, it vibrates.


Later in the same chapter, I was intrigued by Bennett’s argument that vital materiality does not lessen humanity. She writes:

            If matter itself is lively, then not only is the difference between subjects and
            objects minimized, but the status of shared materiality of all things is elevated. All bodies
            become more than mere objects, as the thing-powers of resistance and protean agency are
            brought into a sharper relief. . . . The ethical aim becomes to distribute value more generously,
            to bodies as such . . . [which] can inspire a greater sense of the extent to which all bodies are
            kin in the sense of inextricably enmeshed in a dense network of relations. And in a knotted
            world of vibrant matter, to harm one section of the web may very well be to harm oneself. (13)

Essentially, Bennett writes that looking at all matter as vibrant connects humans to each other and to the rest of the world in a way that the current “model[s] of personhood” do not typically allow (13). I will admit that I am usually disillusioned with arguments supporting materialism, but as Bennett writes, “American materialism,” in effect, “is antimateriality” (5). Materialism, especially what she calls vital materialism, instead relates to understanding the vibrancy of matter as she describes above.

The Lasting Cultural and Literary Impact

Paul Fussell really elaborates on the lasting cultural and literary impact of World War I in a chapter titled “Persistence and Memory.” Some notable key features of this chapter include the similarities between memoirs and novels, the living memory of war, and the symbolism and imagery of World War I.

Fussell argues that both memoirs and first-person novels are similar in form, but the key difference is that memoirs adhere to facts and call for collected events, and that the boundary between the two genres is unclear. clearly (p. 336). From these arguments, in my opinion, first-person novels can also be considered memoirs because they are essentially the author's experience, and the novel is what the author wants to send through words.

Vivid memories of war still linger because of the brutality of the events, the irony that accompanied them, the psychology of crisis, and even the guilt of cowardly acts. or cruelty, which suggests that memories become an indispensable moral task (Fussell 354). Taking the Vietnam War as an example, I can see that literary works related to war crimes are mentioned many times in the general education curriculum, and I am not surprised that the Vietnamese government also regularly mention these events with banners placed on both sides of the road or in buildings.

Finally, Fussell also addresses the symbols and images of the First World War that still exist in Britain in everyday life in different ways – such as pub closing times, summer time…, or the use of paper money, which demonstrates that the war had a cultural and economic impact (Fussell 341). Fussell shows that ordinary foods such as eggs and chips also become wartime tracers when referring to food shortages and soldiers' diets during World War I (p. 342 ).

Narrative and Nation

One of the first things that stuck out to me after finishing All Quiet on the Western Front was the relative reliability of the novel’s first narrator (I say first since a second narrator appears at the very end of the novel when we learn of Paul’s passing in October 1918). My previous experiences with war novels were Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carrier (1990), in which the unreliability of the narrator is one of the defining features of these novels. Yet in Remarque’s text, the narrator has a relatively frank and honest narrative voice. Where the narrative lapses is in moments when Paul simply cannot find the words to describe the war. A moment of his frank reliability that in the narrative discourse is unreliability is perhaps best seen when he goes to see Kemmerich’s mother after his death, and to spare her the gruesome details of her son’s slow death, he narrates “I have to tell how it happened, so I invent a story and I almost believe it myself” (181). Paul only unreliably narrates events to other characters to spare them the details of the terror and horror of the war front; to the reader, he is unflinching in his gory descriptions of body parts, rotting corpses, and the intensity of violence constantly bombarding him and his regiment. He only withholds in moments when the words simply cannot capture the feeling, such as when Kemmerich’s mother first hears the news: “I cannot write that down” (180). This relative reliability stands in contrast to the other war novels I’ve read, and I wonder if other Great War novels treat their narration in the same way—it begs the question that are narratives of war unreliable?; or, is our language to elusive and to weak to capture the sheer incomprehensibility of that level of human suffering, and the language and modes of narrative address fracture, crumble, and break as a result of that suffering.

 It was also interesting to read a novel from the perspectives of the Germans. So often the literature I come across seems to be from the perspective of the English, as in most of our World War I poets and the modernists who recounted their experiences of the war. In many ways, Germany is taught in U.S. history as “the enemy” of both World Wars, but the novel points out how arbitrary enemies truly are. This is perhaps best summarized in the following passage:

            “It’s queer, when one thinks about it,” goes on Kropp, “we are here to protect our fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their fatherland. Now who’s in the right?”

            “Perhaps both,” I say without believing it.

            “Yes, well now,” pursues Albert, and I see that he means to drive me into a corner, “but our professors and parsons and newspapers say that we are the only ones that are right, and let’s hope so;--but French professors and parsons and newspapers say the right is on their side, now what about that?”

            “That I don’t know,” I say, “but whichever way is is there’s war all the same and every month more countries coming in.” [203-04]

This exchange, which questions the idea of right versus wrong in the war, is then followed up by an interesting rumination on the difference between country and state, and the nature of how wars begin: not between the land, the people, or even the culture—but as the result of a few heads of that mysteriously configured “State.” This scene anticipates a later scene in the novel when Paul kills his first man in hand-to-hand combat, where he mourns afterwards that before the enemy solider had just been an “idea…an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response” (223). Now, he realizes they are both just human, with their own mothers, lives, and fears of death. He laments “Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?” (223). These ruminations posit the absurdity of war and the fictitious labels that were fabricated to enable it: the “enemy,” the “State,” and “national pride.” The novel perfects captures the feelings of futility, hopelessness, and apparent baselessness that becomes a powerful theme among the WWI poets, modernists, and other war-time and post-war writers.

Thoughts on Remarque's novel

This is one the most painful novel I’ve ever read.

The writer, Remarque, demonstrates different aspects of being in a war. He depicts horrible scenes of war, soldiers’ development during war, their reactions to death, loss and loneliness, their perception of reality, and notions of individuality and belonging. Paul, along with his school mates, carries away to the Great War without having any specific and realistic presupposition and they face war rules, trench life, and reality of war which shatter their expectations, “To me the front is a mysterious whirlpool. Though I am in still water far away from its centre, I feel the whirl of the vortex sucking me slowly, irresistibly, inescapably into itself” (27). The novel goes on by depicting soldiers’ situation and difficulties, both mentally and physically. After being in front line, the writer emphasizes on how a soldier is detached from his past personality even in his early 20th. In some scenes, the writer talks about soldiers’ different attitude from others because they fight in reality and experience the real war, “The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces. While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one's country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards—they were very free with all these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through” (10). Moreover, Paul is not an individual anymore and whatever he experiences is somehow similar to his peers because he becomes as a member of a group fighting in front line.

"And we saw that there was nothing of their world left."

What an amazing novel! Given the subject of this course, I wanted to begin by discussing the erasure of cultural memory that Remarque describes in the second chapter of the novel. At the beginning of the second chapter, Paul states, “We young men of twenty, however, have only our parents, and some, perhaps, a girl . . . Besides this there was little else—some enthusiasm, a few hobbies, and our school. Beyond this our life did not extend. And of this, nothing remains. . . . We had as yet taken no root. The war swept us away” (20). Later, describing his initial training, he continues, “We learned that a bright button is weightier than four volumes of Schopenhauer. At first astonished, then embittered, and finally indifferent, we recognized that what matters is not the mind but the boot brush, not intelligence but the system, not freedom but drill. . . . With our young, awakened eyes we saw that the classical conception of the Fatherland held by our teachers resolved itself here into a renunciation of personality such as one would not ask of the meanest servants” (22). In both of these examples, Paul and his fellow soldiers are being stripped of the cultural memory that they had previously developed. All the knowledge that was useful or desirable before the war is replaced by “salutes, springing to attention, parade-marches, presenting arms, right wheel, left wheel, clicking the heels, insults, and a thousand pettifogging details” (22).

Under the surface here, I think there might rest the latent question of how a society that produced works such as Schopenhauer’s could also produce this senseless war. Paul and his peers feel betrayed by those whom they previously admired, such as Kantorek, who “were convinced that they were acting for the best—in a way that cost them nothing” (12). The Kantoreks of the world could not adequately prepare the younger generation for the horrors they would soon face, even though they subjected people such as Paul to “long lectures” encouraging participation in the war effort (11). Through exposure to the war, the younger generation realizes that they are “all at once terribly alone”; as Paul claims, “[O]ur generation was more to be trusted than theirs,” and, finally, Paul and his peers “saw that there was nothing of [the older generation’s] world left” (13). The world for which Paul and the other soldiers are prepared to give their lives is also the world in which “the wrong people do the fighting,” a world that gave them hope for the future and then shattered it by sending them to fight in a meaningless war. As Katczinsky succinctly remarks, “Give ‘em all the same grub and all the same pay / And the war would be over and done in a day” (41).

Relatedly, I thought that Remarque did an excellent job of portraying the internal war, so to speak, between the inherent innocence and youthfulness of the soldiers and the toughness and cynicism that they must show in the actual war. While describing the punishment that he went through during training, Paul states, “We became hard, suspicious, pitiless, vicious, tough—and that was good; for these attributes were just what we lacked” (26). However, despite this hardness, their youthfulness still rests under the surface. For instance, Paul admits, “[W]hen we go bathing and strip, suddenly we have slender legs again and slight shoulders. We are no longer soldiers but little more than boys” (29). He continues, “It is a strange moment when we stand naked; then we become civilians, and almost feel ourselves to be so” (29). With the removal of their gear, they revert to a pre-war state—or, at least, a facsimile of one. Perhaps, in this way, the young soldiers are partially preserving cultural memory. Perhaps, the Great War has not entirely “swept [them] away” (20).

I have plenty of other thoughts, but in the interest of keeping this post brief, I will save them for our class discussion!

The One in Charge Decide the Truth

The novel All Quiet on the Western Front is a piece of literature work has strong kickback after the reading. The story from the novel itself only half "quiet" as the title shows. I guess, perhaps, the reason why the title has "quiet" is not because of the silence from the trenchs, or the fear that seals the mouths of the soldiers. In my opinion, the real reason that cause the dead quite in WWI, which is the soldiers could not tell the truth on what they really had been through. It has been mention multiple times in the novel, at page 113, "I will never tell her, she can make mincement out of me first." Even the leading character of the novel, Paul could not tell the truth of his friend's death to his mother. At page 101, ""With the gas and rest of it." She does not know what she is saying," Paul was trying to deny his mother receving the truth from the battlefield. That cause Paul to feel anxious to face his mother and the world without the war. "I was a soldier, and now I am nothing but an agony for myself, for my mother, for everything that is so comfortless and without end." (116). 

It has an interesting but cruel point of view in here: should the soldiers tell the truth? If they tell the truth, would they face the trial from military? If they lie, they get to survive for another day, or maybe longer. It is a tricky logic in here. They have to lie to their familes in order to survive, despite they have been through countless tragedies on the battlefield. Is it truly worth it to be on the battlefield as a young man and die without telling the truth? Unfortunately, when the war began, military took over, therefore, only through lying could survive the war. Those who told the truth were already dead. 

Short Analysis of Two WWI poems

In Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier,” the speaker presents a fervent patriotism that serves to justify the war or hostility between England and her enemies; he regards the enemy's territory as "a foreign field / That is for ever England," and, as a loyal soldier of England, he feels compelled to reclaim the occupied land for its motherland. Encouraging the reader to adopt a similar mindset, the speaker not only seeks to justify the ongoing conflict but also aims to inspire others with the vision of an "English heaven" adorned with "flowers," "English air," "rivers," "laughter," "friends," and "peace." Implicitly suggesting the concept of martyrdom, the speaker presents two scenarios for the English soldiers: in the event of victory, they will be knighted for extending the "richer dust" of England, while in the case of defeat or death, they will ascend to a heaven suffused with all the memories of England. In comparison to Rupert Brooke's "The Soldier," Isaac Rosenberg's "Break of Day in the Trenches" explores the theme of war from a different perspective, offering a distinct ambiance and message. While Brooke's poem, seemingly narrating the early days of the war, serves as a source of inspiration for both English soldiers and readers, Rosenberg's poem portrays a mundane and repetitive day amid the chaos of war, where the soldier has become disillusioned and questions the purpose of the war or hostility between himself and his enemy. Rosenberg's poem attributes a posthuman significance to the role of the rat, suggesting the modernist theme of epiphany as the speaker becomes disoriented in time and space and gets lost in contemplation. Similar to Brooke, Rosenberg also encourages the reader to "think"; however, while Brooke's invitation is to embrace a pro-war stance, Rosenberg prompts the reader to reconsider the rationale behind the war and challenge the notion of human centrality (anthropocentricism) in the world. The latter’s purpose is exemplified in Rosenberg's depiction of the rat's unique “chance[]” to touch two enemies’ hands and pass their borders without their consent, while they are “sleeping,” suggesting a critique of the arbitrary partitions and conflicts imposed by humans.

The nature of war literature

After completing the reading material for week 4 of the course, I truly have to say that I love war literature very much, especially as an individual who comes from a country that has participated in war literature into two world wars, world war 1 and world war 2, and then the civil war.

Literary war is always a special topic in literature in all countries. If the gun is the deciding factor in the war, then the pen is the weapon to raise awareness and call for everyone's attention about that war. As mentioned in chapter 5 of the book The Great War and Modern Memory, in 1914, there were almost no cinemas, radio or television, so literature was found in books, periodicals or through anecdotes from friends and rumors (Fussell 171). If compared with Vietnam at that period, I can say that the literacy rate of the vast majority of people was very low and they often only heard other people tell stories they had witnessed or told by others. So literature during the war, whether oral or written, also plays an important role in arousing people's awareness of war.

In the chapter “Oh What a Literary War,” it is also mentioned how much people had to read to be able to write at that time (Fussell 175). I can understand this because I have read two works "All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque and "The Unwomanly Face of War" by Svetlana Alexievich. If "All Quiet on the Western War" is the first and complete work about World War I, then "The Unwomanly Face of War" is the completion of the details and circumstances of the events in the battle with other perspectives. In general, I feel that the latter work is something that complements the previous work. So I think that the writer also read previous war works, combined with their own experiences and experience, creating resonance for their own work.

In terms of the use of language in works, the author can exaggerate, fictionalize and add details to make readers feel the harshness of the war. As mentioned in the Problem of Factual Testimony section, it is written “it is rich in terms like blood, terror, agony, madness, shit, cruelty, murder, sell-out, pain and hoax, as well as phrases like legs blown off, intestines gushing out over his hands, screaming all night, bleeding to death from the rectum, and the like.” (Fussell 184). Clearly, the visual language of the war helps readers imagine what war is and how cruel it is. Paul also affirms that: “Whatever the cause, the presumed inadequacy of language itself to convey the facts about trench warfare is one of the motifs of everyone who wrote about the war” (Fussell 185). Here we can see that the ultimate purpose of language is to convey truth, which is the framework of writers in the field of war literature.

Regarding the motivation for writing such literary works, besides the writer wanting to raise people's awareness about war, there is another factor that the writer himself is also the one who suffered the pain. That pain was one so that they took up writing to express their feelings and the experience of the people at that time (Fussell 186). To be able to express his own feelings, the writer used metaphors, rhetorical comparisons, poetic rhythm, rhyming, allusions, sentence structures to express the ideas, and cause and effect relationships in one's own writing style. From there, literature creates convincing and engaging words, which help readers believe in what happened to them. Take “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke as an example, based on the theme and context, we can feel the patriotism in every single word of the poem. I believe that the way we use imagery vocabulary is also the way we can show our emotions and feelings. 

Covered Truth

In Oh What a Literary War, Paul Fussell explains how literature dominated the war and how its main use “could not be artistic or ironic-only consolatory” (182). But it seems that literature could not be depicted war exactly how it was happening. Based on Fussell, there are somethings in the war (smell or noise) that cannot be communicated through language and it cannot be understood (185). Besides, one of the main reasons also could be the expectation of readership and lack of full coverage of the war, i.e. it’s not easy to convey horrible voices or terrifying scenes. Who can really understand the concept of war without even being in a war? Who can value the suffering and pain of soldiers without being a soldier? So, they had to convey the pain and suffering to be understandable and they had no way but to change the truth or even censure that truth. Moreover, the content of it could be effective on the opinion of the readers and they had to censor most parts and use keyword not to hurt the readers or even affect their decision on joining the military. I think they wanted to meet the reader’s expectation which was definitely something beyond the horror situation of the war.

About the horrible context of war, Lloyd George says: “The thing is horrible,’ “and beyond human nature to bear, and I feel I can’t go on any longer with the bloody business” (189-190). Power is decisive in this part. Powerful nations have their own ideologies and seek to preserve it at any price. Of course they censure the truth to continue their dominancy. The result is depicting a manipulated picture of war to public opinion.

The Soldier from the collection of WWI poems is a sense of nationalistic attitude. He doesn’t talk about what he’s been through in war or describe the war scene. Rather, he talks about his country which make him to be in the war and fight for it. This nationalistic passion of him makes the speaker to stay calm and not afraid of war. Comparing to The Soldier, Break of Day in the Trenches depicts more horror and visual image of the war.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Dulce et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen, espouses many of the traits of the literature of the Great War that Paul Fussell outlines in his chapter "Oh What a Literary War." These traits include using literary language to describe the war, a language that does not try to ( nor want to) describe the atrocities experienced by soldiers on the front line. In addition, the fact that many of the soldiers were literate and well-read (in fact, many carried the Oxford Book and shared it while on the front lines) and the rhetoric infused in the literature despite the means to write frankly about the war(Fussell pg 170). As Fussell elaborates, "The problem was less one of "language" than of gentility and optimism; it was less a problem of "linguistics" than of rhetoric. (pg 184)." 

Owen describes the march the soldiers are on and states, "And toward our distant rest began to trudge." rather than saying something like "we marched towards our deaths." The descriptive language found throughout the poem, including "drunk with fatigue" and "an ecstasy of fumbling," is a prime example of Fussel's observation that "finding the war "indescribable" in any but the available language of traditional literature, those who recalled it had to do so in known literary terms. (pg 189)." Those known literary techniques often hid the awfulness of the war and Owen demonstrates this throughtout the poem. 

Fussell opens the chapter with Captain Oliver Lyttleton's writings, which included "An allusion more proper to a sailor than a soldier,(pg168)". I was surprised to find a similar theme that incorporates the imagery of the ocean in Owen's poem, where he describes watching a fellow soldier during a gas attack: "As under a green sea, I saw him drowning" and then again, "He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drawing." 

I was curious about the title and the final line, believing they were significant beyond that it was in Latin. After a quick search, I discovered the title of the poem and the last two lines, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori," come from a Greek poem by Horace (Merriam Webster). The use of this line demonstrates Owen's knowledge of literary traditions. It means "it is sweet to die for one's country." 


What were They Fighting for?

The Soldier by Rupert Brooke demonstrated a British soldier was running out of options being on the battlefield, but to only to serve his nation and face the death soon. From the first two lines “If I should die. Think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field,” the only thing from the soldier wanted others to remember was he on the battlefield, instead of other personal things, such as: hobbies, favorite music, or music. How sad to see a British soldier was suffering the ruling of imperialism. His body and mind were no longer belonging to himself. The only goal he had to focus on was to serve his country. From line 5-8 provides solid evidence of it, “A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam; A body of England’s, breathing English air, Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.”

In order to make the soldiers completely obey the wills of the country, the propaganda of the death on the battlefield has to be beautiful and convincible. “And think, this heart, all evil shed away, A pulse in the eternal mind, no less/Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;” Indeed, the soldiers would never what they died for. Were they died for the country? A victory was far away from them? Or maybe they all did not matters, after all, they were only products were able to be sacrificed under the ruling of imperialism.


A Brief Textual Analysis of Blast

After reading Bornstein’s article where he describes the importance of both linguistic codes (the words themselves of the text) and the bibliographic codes which are “the semantic features of its material instantiations,” I couldn’t help but think about how useful Blast is in a case study of the importance of both of these codes to understanding the experimental vorticist magazine (Bornstein 6). I’ve been fascinated by Blast (and Lewis in general) since completing an independent study on his magazines last year, and one of the ideas that sprung to mind that I briefly explored in that study was on just how important each individual piece of Blast is in order to understand the publication as a whole. Lewis’s Enemy of the Stars is one of his first works of fiction that he published, and it is notoriously complex. It was later reprinted and significantly altered to give it a more cohesive narrative plot rather than the fragmentary narrative space-time that the play has in Blast. I stand my belief that the only way to understand Enemy of the Stars in the original Blast is by reading it alongside the manifestos, where the same concepts, words, and images appear both in the manifestos and Enemy of the Stars (a topic I hope to more fully investigate at a later date). In an effort to better understand Enemy of the Stars from this hypothesis on the relationship between the play and the other pieces in Blast, I used the online Voyant tools to do some textual analysis on the periodical, which produced some fascinating results. The 10 most common terms in all of Blast are:

like (172); life (125); art (121); man (95); little (77); great (76); time (69); good (68); form (66); artist (63)

These 10 terms prove to be powerful analytic lenses for reading Blast. While there is plenty to say about these terms, space restricts what I can say at the moment; so, I’ll briefly focus on the first 6 terms. Since vorticism is all about placing opposing things in conflict (“We start from opposite statements of a chosen world. Set up violent structure of adolescent clearness between two extremes” from “Manifesto II” [30]), it makes sense that the repeated use of simile (the main instantiations of the use of “like”) would be the most common device across the periodical for drawing comparisons between terms and concepts. Reading any of the manifestos indicates the importance that Lewis ascribes to the relationship between art and life. Man, little, and great provide an interesting contrast for thinking about “littleness” and “greatness” of men, a contrast explored most explicitly in the characters of Arghol and Hanp from Enemy of the Stars.

This exercise began as a way to see if I could track patterns between the elusive Enemy of the Stars and the other content in Blast, and what I believe it shows is just how crucial the totality of Blast is to understanding how each individual piece relates to the others. These terms not only mark some of the major vorticist conflicts (life/art, little/great), it also emphasizes some of the important technical aspects in Blast’s various narrative and rhetorical strategies, including its manipulation of time, form, and comparison via simile.

For anyone interested in using Voyant (free software for doing textual analysis), here’s the link:

A Poetics of the Archive and FoMO (Fear of Missing Out)

Voss and Werner's "Toward a Poetics of the Archive" (1999) highlights the doubleness or ambivalent nature of the archive, which is a "both physical and an imaginative site", "public; private site", "a space of pure knowledge; a political space, a gendered space, a memorial space", and "the noun ... metamorphoses into a verb" (i). Above all, the authors point out that "the history of the archive, on the one hand, a history of conservation, is, on the other hand, a history of loss" (i). The study of archives is about leaving things behind as much as about preserving worthwhile human knowledge and passing it down to the future. It is a study of "re-membering" (ii) as it redefines the membership of "who's in who's out," as David Greetham puts it. T.S. Eliot’s "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's "The Futurist Manifesto" both describe this archival anxiety about missing out on the chance to be remembered from the inside and outside of literary history.  

Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1917) is not only itself a kind of an archive of English Renaissance literature that brings new interpretations and attention to those works cited (Dante, Michelangelo, Prince Hamlet, Lazarus, and Homer at the end?) but also a poem about an archivist's fear about making choices due to the limited time and space innate to the traits of the archive. The narrator leads "you" toward the place, the yellow-fogged city of London, very contemporary to the author's experience, but at the same time, to the ideal place of collective memories where there is always enough "time for you and time for me" (10), "a hundred indecisions", "a hundred visions and revisions" (11), the room "where the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo" (11). Borrowing the words from Cyndia Susan Clegg in Voss and Werner's essay, "the historical record cannot, without violence, be made to say anything and everything" (v). Prufrock's indecisiveness, like Prince Hamlet, can be interpreted as a refusal to make a violent choice of archiving, or similarly, as McLeod reminds us, "a poetics of the archive impelled by hypothesis" (vii). Alfred Prufrock's fear of missing out on his youth, however, demonstrates he is also aware that he cannot postpone forever as time is a limited resource, and he must make the decision to "disturb the universe" (11) and start answering the question of "how should I presume" (12) in archiving. At the end of the poem, the postponed archival action, which would have led his readers to "an overwhelming question" (9), ends as a frustrating excuse of "it is impossible to say just what I mean" (14) and the narrator drowns as he listens to "human voices" (16) bringing him out of the chamber of the sea. Paradoxically, the poem makes a successful archive since Alfred Prufrock's hovering about the topic of fear of missing out on something encapsulates a poetic of the archive, which demands the archivists to make decisions, leave the others behind, and impelled loss. 

Marinetti's manifesto seemingly approves much more freedom to express violence toward the tradition and the archive in comparison to Eliot's cautious indecisiveness, particularly focusing on how the speed of modernity where "the hungry automobiles roared beneath our windows" (1) has changed the world. He says, "Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed" (2). Marinetti and his friends struggle to put the future in the superior place to the past and the destructive urge to demolish the act of archiving the humanities or to "want to fight museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice" (2) is rooted from their nation, Italy, has been regarded as a musty ghost of its past glory: "Italy has been too long the great second-hand market. We want to get rid of the innumerable museums which cover it with innumerable cemeteries" (3). The fixation on the present and their young age ("The oldest among us are not yet thirty years old," 4), however, indicates that the violence started over the history of the Italian nation is another form of Prufrock's archival anxiety of missing out something. The loss of control of what to remember, in this case, due to the "innumerable" amount of the archive, leads to the radical and extreme refusal of the past. Asking the question of how much it is true to believe that "art can only be violence, cruelty, injustice" (4) is important in thinking about the poetics of the archive. Ethically, I think it should retain its ambiguity and the paradoxical tension between the violent urge to demolish the past, rendering the whole archiving process as "a useless admiration of the past, from which you will emerge exhausted, diminished, trampled on" (4) and impossibility in choosing which information should be passed on to the future. 

Archives and Cultural Memory


In “Futurist Manifesto,” Marinetti writes about aspects of industrialization as well as social unrest due to working conditions for laborers in the early 20th century. Marinetti writes “we will sing of the great crowds agitated by work, pleasure and revolt; the multi-colored and polyphonic surf of revolutions in modern capitals: the nocturnal vibration of the arsenals and the workshops beneath their violent electric moons: the gluttonous railway stations devouring smoking serpents; factories suspended from the clouds by the thread of their smoke; bridges with the leap of gymnasts flung across the diabolic cutlery of sunny rivers: adventurous steamers sniffing the horizon; great-breasted locomotives, puffing on the rails like enormous steel horses with long tubes for bridle, and the gliding flight of aeroplanes whose propeller sounds like the flapping of a flag and the applause of enthusiastic crowds.” This excerpt is an example of engaging with cultural memory because Marinetti captures the current time in which he writes, including a view of the new technologies being created and the struggle of the working class in being overworked or provided poor conditions as they help companies propel their profits. At the end of this excerpt, when Marinetti likens the sound of propellers to a cheering nation, audiences are remindied that this period of time is to become a part of a larger collective memory surrounding capitalism, and the lengths to which leaders and industry powers will go in order to see it thrive. This time was of course an important era to have archived, but sometimes that may be in ways that exist outside the archive. 

This relates to some of the ideas explored by Paul J. Voss and Marta L. Werner in their essay. They explain “The architecture of the archive and the sentinels who control access to its interior suggest that the conservation and transmission of knowledge has been, at least historically, the prerogative of a few chosen agents, of a coterie of privileged insiders.” The working class Marinetti describes in the previous excerpt would not have had access to the archives that scholars do, which makes their experience all the more important to document so that it is not lost. Later, Werner and Voss discuss David Greetham and how “he works through a ‘quasi-infinity’ of archival strata, surveying cultural refuse from antiquity to postmodernity. In direct contradiction of the "archons" (the supposed agents of coherence and integrity),” and also that in his work “he not only offers a fascinating index of archival exclusions, but also reveals that the archive proper is comprised of ‘garbage,’ ‘cultural scraps’... leftovers… bits of memory’” (iii).  This idea allows people to see how the archive can leave some experiences and people out, like the agitated crowds Marinetti mentions. Therefore, having the scraps or bits of memory can aid in filing in the gaps when archiving certain histories. 

Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" engages with cultural memory in a way that is especially personal and intimate. There are moments in the poem where the narrator comes to terms with the loss of time, and seems to wonder how to capture this intimate history in the right ways. At one point the narrator says:


Would it have been worth while 

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl.

And turning toward the window, should say:

“That is not it at all,

That is not what I meant, at all” (14)


This kind of worry at getting the past “wrong” relates to the Werner/Voss essay because this is a worry shared regarding the archives in general, and how to include the right information, perhaps including the cultural refuse and other leftover information that does not always make it past the walls where archives are kept. 



Container and Content in Prufrock and The Futurist Manifesto

In “Towards a Poetics of the Archive” (1999), Voss and Werner introduce readers to the issues of archival time and space—both physical and theoretical—that will be a throughline in the collection of essays they are introducing. There were two points raised in this introduction that have bearing on T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Futurist Manifesto” of  Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the guiding document of the artists within Futurism/Futurismo. The first point is that they make clear that a “poetics of the archive…is a poetics of recollection, of re-membering, in which all proofs are provisional and subject to revision” (ii). By this, Voss and Werner make a clear connection of archival practices to cultural memory and that reading a poetics within the archive is reading these materials through a framework of looking back into a centuries-long cultural memory made material via the archive. The second part of this formulation is that “all proofs are provisional and subject to revision,” which they later connect to the work of George Bornstein who they argue “maintains that the literary work exists not in any one manifestation but in an archive that brings all the versions with claims upon our attention put together” (iii). By this, the editors—and Bornstein—promote the idea that the nature of the archive emphasizes the multiplicity of a literary work as it exists across archives—whether that be in different editions or in different publication venues (as is the case with “Prufrock”). The emphasis on “revision” and the ever-changing nature of a literary work overtime also emphasizes the archives role in not only storing cultural memory, but also revising it when new materials find their way into our archives. These observations from “Toward a Poetics of the Archive” lead me to consider two ways in which the archive is manifest in both Eliot’s poem and Marinetti’s manifesto: through a lens of both container and content.

In terms of container, we could think about these two publications through the lens of where they exist in the archive and in how many iterations. “Prufrock,” for example, was first published in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse in 1915, and later republished in book form in 1917 in Prufrock and Other Observations, with subsequent republications in different anthologies, websites, and other media over the next century. While there is a strong likelihood of actual content revisions between the poems in the 1915 and 1917 versions (even if it as seemingly trivial as a punctuation or spacing change), I think the more important emphasis here is that what Bornstein calls the “bibliographic codes” of these two containers mean that the poem exists in completely different contexts which impacts our interaction with the poem in both sites (iii). Reading “Prufrock” alongside the other poems and essays in Poetry would likely render a much different understanding of the poem than reading “Prufrock” alongside other Eliot poems in his 1917 collection. I think there is plenty more to say about the magazine itself as an archive within an archive, but I’ll leave that for discussion in our class on modernist magazines. Marinetti’s manifesto, which was also published in several different periodical venues—and in several different languages—raises similar questions about the magazine as an archive and how a text re-creates itself with every new publication and translation.

In terms of content, “Prufrock” certainly celebrates a cultural memory whereas Marinetti attempts to deflate it in the manifesto. In “Prufrock,” Eliot alludes to major cultural figures of antiquity and the early modern period—namely Michelangelo, Lazarus, and Prince Hamlet—to connect his poem to the artistic and cultural references from the archives of literature, art, and religion that he’s drawing from. This becomes an act of re-collection and re-membering for Eliot (to use Voss and Werner’s phrases) that creates an archive within the poem itself, using these cultural signifiers to imbue the poem not only with the names of these individuals from history, but more importantly, with an archive of their work, themes, and histories. There is another interesting connection between Voss and Werner’s introduction and “Prufrock,” which is Eliot’s line that there will be time “for a hundred visions and revisions.” Like Voss and Werner, Eliot seems to understand the iterative nature of the literary work as it exists over time, and the repeated references to time throughout the poem only further fortify the connection that Eliot makes between cultural memory and the literary work. Poems continuously exist in a process of re-creation built on what came before it; Eliot isn’t solely concerned with “newness” (“visions”), but with re-creation (“revisions”) as well.

Marinetti takes a different approach to cultural memory, arguing that it stifles the ability of creating an art that looks toward the future by being restricted and stagnated by the past. He links museums (institutions of cultural memory) with cemeteries, asking his reader “Do you want to rot?” (3). For Marinetti, museums and glorification of the past is a celebration of decay rather than growth, and his indictment of our holding onto the past (including its aesthetic modes) intimates that this has inhibited art from any future progress. In contrast, the Futurists declare “What is the use of looking behind at the moment when we must open the mysterious shutters of the impossible?”, the “impossible” being the rapidly growing technologies of modernity that are juxtaposed against the mythological and natural throughout the manifesto (3). Interestingly, Marinetti also recognizes that while the Futurists wish to break from the past, they also know that this position comes with objections from the belief that the present is a culmination of all that came before it: “Your objections? All right! I know them! Of course! We know just what our beautiful false intelligence affirms: `We are only the sum and the prolongation of our ancestors,' it says. Perhaps! All right! What does it matter? But we will not listen! Take care not to repeat those infamous words! Instead, lift up your head!” (4). This is where the manifesto takes on its most radical vigor, as Marinetti and the Futurists accept the past but make clear their plans to ignore it. Marinetti’s manifesto demonstrates a keen awareness of cultural memory, but it does so with the intention of promoting an art that embraces the speed of modernity rather than the slow, nostalgic remembrance of what has already occurred.