TS Eliot and Impressions of the Mind Week 4 (Blog 2 of 8)

“Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither 
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, 
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.” 

There are so many layers to this poem, so I’m just going to focus on what I can see from just the beginning passage that speaks to me. There are instances such as above where the speaker wants to communicate but cannot convey his feelings through words or sounds. His visage is ‘neither...Living nor dead’ and so he lives in a trance or shocked state. Why can he not speak, why do his eyes not work? He had a closeness with the woman that is now a mental/emotional chasm he cannot cross. Is Eliot referring to PTSD or something else that haunts him? What I can glean from this passage is the speaker must be under severe psychological strain that is a metaphorical coffin he can’t escape. 

The line ‘looking into the heart of the light, the silence’ with failed eyes, he knows is there, but does he see this or not? I’m not sure. I can only speculate what he means by ‘heart of the light’ in the poem. Does he mean his relationship with the woman, the goodness in others or love? I believe based on the speaker’s words he has an inability to recognize this connection, and his fugue state is the cause of it. When there is ‘silence’ there is an emptiness in him, and he can’t respond. What should be fleeting moments of happiness being reunited with the woman he loves are lost because his mind his too mentally scarred with other impressions to absorb them. 

Figure 5 and Collage

Hage presents the use of journals by Tzara and the Dada movement as an umbrella for many art forms, which jells with my understanding of literature generically: it houses epic and myth, pastoral poetry, closet drama, and more recently, absurd graphic machines that explode standard syntax in preference of a mechanized repository of names.

In a less tired way, I mean to say that the machines in Hage’s “Fig. 5” constellate verbal names less through spoken or written language than through graphic depictions of the machines that connect them. Syntax is more graphic than verbal. Instead of claiming that Tzara invented emoji, I am surprised to learn from Hage that the longer the movement carried on, the less its key players created art. The more they wrote about the term and its semantics.

Over the summer I worked at a conference wherein scholar Rona Cran gave a keynote about collage and Bob Dylan. Cran drew more from the high modernist moment more than I expected. I was compelled to think differently about collage. It’s an apparent, but inessential, chaos. It’s the Sims of art.

In the spirit of Dada, I (tried to) read the manifesto in its original French. I recognized words from my semesters in French class, and it was a good refresher, but by and large, I couldn’t accurately translate one full sentence. Instead, the reading experience left me awash, lost in a collage of mystifying, unfamiliar words and English cognates.

The Great Split - Aesthetic Formatting in Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” (2/8)

Horace’s Latin adage echoes through Owen’s poem–nearly inescapably–as the title orients the reader with romantic allusion in mind. But the title doesn’t complete the well-known lyric; it only evinces the positive half of the antithetical whole–”it is sweet and fitting,” the poem begins. Yet, Owen alludes to patriotic fervor only to satirize it, juxtaposing it against ineffable terror. In fact, Owen waits to reconcile the phrase until the poem’s last line, making it obvious: those that think it sweet to die have not existed in the same spaces as these soldiers, they simply haven’t “pace[d]/ Behind the wagon (Owen 17-18), too. Owen even recognizes the impossibility of such an empathy; it could only come in “smothering dreams” (Owen 17), but not reality–in other words, in a space not of their own.  

Though by introducing the popular verse and withholding its culmination until the last lines, Owen both visually splits his poem and cognitively breaks the reader’s expectations, thus instilling vulnerability within the reader, as an opportunity to explore the space between the lines. In this, Owen calls attention to the formatting of his piece, highlighting the spaces between the bookended proverb to ensure the reader feels a similar fissure. In doing so, Owen’s utilization of a physical space in his poem’s layout conjures images of geographical dissonance, too. As such, the poem brings to mind other liminal spaces, like between trenches, or “no man’s land”. Morbid atrocities between opposing factions reverberate between the Latin lines; a debilitating march through horror, “vile, incurable sores” (24), and gruesome death occupy the distance between seemingly patriotic lines, serving to mirror the reality of such a fraught space. Between the fabricated heroism of war–the organic heart of these imagined spaces–only suffering remains.  

In an international context, Owen’s use of space elicits thoughts on continental separation, as well. For many, the war was “over there,” but Owen’s piece attempts to reframe how those that can’t be a part of his now, can still embody his feelings of now. One cannot exist on the periphery of a war, Owen demonstrates; they must situate themselves in the middle, in the spaces between the popular rhetoric, the propaganda, and the comfortable home fronts, should they continue to spout “old Lie[s] (27).  



The editor of Camera Work uses the word “vagaries” to describe the post-impressionistic, expressionist artists of the day, of which Matisse and Picasso are a part. I decided to take this idea and run with it, seeing where the literary/written texts are vague and where they become, if at all, concrete and clear. It’s a question of how far the artist is trying to keep the audience, what distance exists between the audience and the work through “technical manipulation”—“absurd, unintelligible, radical or revolutionary.” Starting with Stein, whose writing is designed to recreate in language what/how the visual artists of the day are painting, the text is designed to be analogous. Stein is incredibly vague: pronouns without clear nouns, run-on sentences with syntactic knots, verbs without direct objects, contradictory and unclear phrases, and a lack of any external referent. In this sea of vague wording Stein conjures, I will say that certain words come to the fore (the words repeated over and again) from a background of syntactic static and nonsense. In the Matisse criticism, Stein brings to the fore “certain,” “express” (in relation to the what the artist is expressing), “something” (the direct object, the result of the artwork, what is being “expressed”), a few other verbs that create a dynamic, ever-moving piece—knowing, hearing, suffering, listening, etc. In the Picasso essay, the “one” that turns into “this one” is what is given the most emphasis, but the thing being referenced by “one” is never made clear.

Tzara creates static, as well, in which the ideas he is driving at become vague; his tactics are a bit different, though. While Stein uses language without clear referents, Tzara embraces an excess of references that obscure his meaning. Take this sentence from the first full para: “To impose your ABC is a natural thing— hence deplorable. Everybody does it in the form of crystalbluffmadonna, monetary system, pharmaceutical product, or a bare leg advertising the ardent sterile spring. The love of novelty is the cross of sympathy, demonstrates a naive je m'enfoutisme, it is a transitory, positive sign without a cause.” The sentence begins with his initial idea of imposing order through one’s rhetorical purpose: “ABC.” He assigns this to the category of a “natural thing,” a tendency humans typically do. As he makes this idea concrete, however, he overloads the audience with nonsense or complex references that don’t clearly connect to his main point. The last sentence in this excerpt shifts topic to make a blanket comment on novelty and its relationship to sympathy (I think?). The word “transitory” sticks out here—his references are also moving, never stable, and thus meaning never coheres (whereas Stein’s writing is stationary through repetition).

The other vagaries going on in Tzara are the paradoxical statements that forego a firm, solid conclusion: “I write a manifesto and I want nothing, yet I say certain things, and in principle I am against manifestoes, as I am also against principles.” This play on dialectic thinking refuses to sway to either side of the dialectic. “There is no ultimate Truth,” Tzara writes, which is a statement extending of the idea that human psychology obscures that which we see and how we thinking about it. Really, though, Tzara takes issue with logic itself: “What we need is works that are strong straight precise and forever beyond understanding. Logic is a complication. Logic is always wrong. It draws the threads of notions, words, in their formal exterior, toward illusory ends and centers. Its chains kill, it is an enormous centipede stifling independence.” In this way, Stein and him are similar—they follow logical patterns and use words that suggest logical conclusions; but they reach firm ground. Their writing is left adrift, “transitory,” uncertain.

Reflection on Reading “A War Film” by Teresa Hooley for Week of 9/5 – (MW Blog Post 1/8)

In “A War Film” by Teresa Hooley, the speaker begins with her reaction to seeing a war movie. It is a mixed reaction, where sorrow meets pride and anguish meets glory. There comes a shift, however, “when [her] day [i]s done.” This is a transition in the text, and it is where the war comes home for the speaker. It becomes personal.

I think the beginning shows that the mother does at first identify with some sort of patriotism or emotional draw to the concept of war; I read the first stanza as saying that she felt her heart rise and breath catch at the film. Here, she might believe such conflicts are necessary and see the importance and distinction of being a soldier. It becomes contextualized for her in a unique way, though, at the thought of her son going to war. She speaks of the “sudden terror that assaulted [her}” as she imagines the “body [she] had borne…A part of [her]” being “taken away” to war. She seems him “tortured,” “torn,” and “slain.” The language conveys the strength of attachment that she feels. He is torn apart and torn from her. She is not on the battlefield, but it’s as if she is present there. This is not an indirect experience of war. There is no more glory; her son’s body is instead desecrated, “rotting…out in the rain.”

She asks in the poem, “How could he know” the fear she felt at the thought of losing him as well as “How should he know” why she kissed him repeatedly. The use of “could” makes me think she’s also asking how an innocent being could understand violence like this and possibly how a child, a son, could understand a mother’s love. The later use of “should” makes me think that she’s also asking how a parent could explain war to a child and then answer the underlying question of why they brought them into such a world.

Hooley’s poem ends with the mother stating, “He thought that I was daft. / He thought it was a game, / And laughed and laughed.” These lines reminded me of a trope in war movies, where mothers stand on the doorstep and beg their sons not to go to war. They cry, and their sons stand solemnly or try to smile, encouraging her that this must happen or that they’ll be fine. In these scenarios, it’s implied that the mother is well-meaning but silly or selfish; she doesn’t understand that the war is bigger than her, than her son or family (the forced center of a woman’s life in earlier eras). Their sons think that they know better (because of youthful naivete, arrogance, the glamorization of violence, its association with traditional masculinity, etc.) or possess greater integrity; she could not understand that it’s about honor and a man’s duty. In this poem, her son laughs because he’s young and unable to understand, but to me, these lines could also foreshadow this type of interaction, where her son wants to go to war and thinks his mother is daft for discouraging him. It’s a point in their relationship when her love becomes tedious, naïve, stupid, feminine, etc.

To me, this poem flips the concept of sons knowing war better than mothers. In this scenario, she is the knowing party. She is not the innocent one being protected. It’s an interesting idea to know evil through love and understand war and loss through bringing life. She understood the draw and “glory” of war at the beginning, but her ”silly” love enlightens her fully in the end. Her sacrifice is not the beginning of a soldier’s story but a story and experience of war in itself. It’s a different perspective than I normally see, a different kind of grief and fear. It demonstrates that what has been visually depicted as a mother “not understanding duty” could be her understanding it too well. It could be a rejection of it, a rebellion, where she doesn’t believe that she should have to sacrifice her son. The poem juxtaposes a mother who views her child’s life as precious with a country and conflict that sees it as a resource, and I think that you see her disillusionment progress throughout the poem.

Dadaism and Definitions 2/8

            If Dadaism ever deigned to define anything, it was the ideology of anti-institutional expression: art was ultimately for and by the artist. Tzara liberated the term (Art with a capital “A”) from mass opinion and consumerism by first challenging the conventions that surrounded it. Duchamp’s fountain is the perfect example of this, because a urinal –mass-produced and utilitarian— had no value or meaning to members from what Tzara would call the “bourgeoisie” class. This installation challenged how art is defined while presenting something ready-made and without a market outside its original function. Dada did not cater to any audiences. Secondly, Tzara asserted that art should neither be explained nor understood, and this claim separated Dada from most other isms. Gertrude Stein’s articles in Camera Work serve as the literary equivalent, filled with contradictions, repetitions, and run-ons that defy organization. While reading these was difficult, I encountered more of a stream-of-consciousness or abstract thought pattern from them than nonsense. At the same time, the words slip out of focus and make it impossible to come to the end of a sentences with a conclusion.

             “Flip-Flap” reiterates both of the previous claims: art does not manufacture feelings for those “who dare not create.” The laugh in Rhoades’ poem is one complete, reactive, and enigmatic definition for Dada. Matisse and his paintings present another. The individualistic nature of each figure, the fact that none are so carefully arranged but seem to have their own motivations, and his linear treatment of these figures all communicate deconstruction, subjectivity, and existential joy.

            Before studying this aspect of the modernist era, I was having trouble creating a distinction between it and other literary periods; after anti-manifestos and subjective still-life’s, it’s become easier to understand that while Modernism might echo backward through earlier literary works, it is its own event.

Dadaism and Periodicals (2/8)

Dadaism was heavily reliant upon periodicals and magazines to circulate their "protestation" against schools of art and the limitations and corruptions of such systems. Interestingly enough, though the contributors argued against such an accusation, dadaism became a type of system of art (mostly considered a movement). I did not see much on Dada and race relations, but since it was paired with the propaganda posters, I would be interested to see what potential art came out of Dada related to race. 

Tristan Tzara wrote: "The love of novelty is the cross of sympathy, demonstrates a naive je m'enfoutisme [translator said "couldn't care less attitude"], it is a transitory, positive sign without a cause. But this need itself is obsolete" (Dada Manifesto 1918). Dada itself is kind of a novel thing to view, though. Much of Dada's work is presented through magazines, which deteriorate quickly and are, in a sense, replaced periodically. By nature, each piece is somewhat novel--new, exciting, and unusual. DADA, the magazine itself is very vibrant and filled with bold lettering, unique placement, and, simply put, entertaining to view. Maybe I am putting too much thought and meaning upon the idea, but the fact that each issue would become "obsolete" upon the publication and release of the next really hammers home the idea that "Dada is nothing." It fades away after a little while. 

Due to Dada being a protestation, independence and techniques being employed for visibility to audiences are necessary to its success. Having an audience while also being independent seems like a contradiction, but I think the contributors to DADA would agree with Ezra Pound's subtitle to The Little Review: "Making no compromise with the public taste." They must have subscribers, and the artists must be viewed by someone, but the audience must be willing to subscribe to the artists and editors' own ideas rather than being catered to. The intriguing design and odd appearance are great eyecatchers, but they are made according to the magazine's own taste and goals.

What is Modernism? (No really.) 1/8

            The introduction to A History of “Modernism” presents various contexts that not only apply to Modernism as definitions but also outline the permutation of each definition throughout the signification process; it could be ventured that Modernism is the diagnosis and not any one of its collected symptoms, just as Sherry argues for a “special present” of which the modernist has been made aware. This term, special present, is involved with recognizing “crisis time and time in crisis,” and Modernism also occupies this tension-point: decadence versus progress. Is the “ache of modernism” growing pain or arthritis? It might not be either and, instead, inhabit the question.

            Society deconstructs time. Time dismantles society. Time itself decays. The reason Modernism proves so difficult to outline lies in how Just Now (as an element of one definition) is transitory and how scholars apply their own ideologies to it over time. I am interested in exploring Modernism as a “no man’s land” and a connecting line across artistic eras. It is somehow both cyclic and new tradition as well as decadence’s potential.

            I approached Modernism: Evolution of an Idea with these questions. As Latham and Rogers focus on Modernism’s development and response, they present ideas put forward in earlier conversations. For example, Modernism is partially a reaction to “the violence of mass identity.” This concept, while politically charged, led into New (again) Modernist Studies, which was self-referential and applied modernist frameworks to Modernism in history.

            (While trying to understand Modernism sort of feels like that moment where you share your screen on Harvey, and it’s this endless cycle,) I have drawn a definition-adjacent conclusion from these two readings. Modernism might be the space in which a person inhabits the present, becoming aware of its unique era, rejecting the mass subscription to past ideologies, and driving toward the next "now" inside a disenfranchised time. Looking back on these first impressions, I barely even addressed the characteristics of Modernist work or how pioneers of the movement approached language.

A History of Modernism - Sherry

Having not had the most experience studying modernism so far, I truly thought that modernism in this context would be an entity that is vague, too abstract, or possessing some other kind of unclear nature. In one sense, I do find it difficult to subscribe to only one definition I've read in this text, but Sherry succeeds in giving the reader a certain freedom to decide, making sure to include ample historical context. From what I've gathered, I think I would choose to view modernism as a force which spans centuries, but never means one single thing. As modernism ages with the generations that study the term, the one trait that can be identified is that it always has this urgency to it. Scholars born centuries apart can understand the "right now" which modernism is concerned with no matter its other subject matter.

 I came to this opinion about it by taking in the various definitions supplied by this work, wherein Sherry points out this urgency with which modernism is always concerned. One quote on p.6 gave a great example of the way modernism can be identified with no matter the specific terms or moment in history. Sherry writes, "and so the verbal token of crisis time - conveying not just the expectation of change or renovation but the feeling of an acute present, a preoccupation with and in a brink instant, of living in a Now explicitly different from a Then or even a Next" (6). This idea was, at least to me, a wonderful way to explain the larger than life entitity that is "modernism." To describe its nature as crisis time, an acute present, and the Now was a nice way to tie its reach together for me. 

Latham and Sherry--An Attempt to Understand (1 of 8)

Sherry and Latham both operate on known ideas surrounding "modernism." While Dr. Latham does state that "there is no such thing as modernism--no singular definition" (Latham 1), he does give a great way of understanding what contributed to this great cacauphony of different styles, ideas, and forms. Meanwhile, Sherry acknowledges the controversy of the word "modernism" itself as he gives a historical framework from which readers can attempt to draw conclusions about modernism.

One thing that I noticed in both texts was the idea that modernists were focused on the present, but not in a urgent or naive way. Instead, the two scholars give these ideas of a long present. Sherry describes this view as "a vision of days winding away into a future that is at once infinite and diminishing, an eternity that is both meaningless and menacing" (7). It seems as though the present is both overwhelmingly arriving constantly, but it is always slipping away. This view of time fits well with many of the things going on historically--everything was constantly shifting from war to peace, from prosperity to depression. Not only were there many events going on, but technology was rapidly shifting and would continue to do so, even until now.

This push and pull of time passing by is kind of mirrored in modernist writing styles. Dr. Latham wrote a lot about the importance of literary tradition in modernist literature. The writers were not tied to it in any particular force, but tradition was a way for them to push some boundaries--almost like a visual/textual representation of how time was not stopping but felt so long. Traditional forms from all over were used, but they were adjusted to fit the writers' needs or goals.