Technologies of Communication

In more material ways, new technologies shifted poetic styles. The typewriter completed the move towards the poem as a design on the page begun by Mallarmé in Un Coup de dés, making way for the ludic typographies of e e cummings and A. R. Ammons's Tape for the Turn of the Year (1965), written on adding-machine tape. In the new technologies of reproduction, Friedrich Kittler has argued, language is disconnected from subjectivity, becomes a pure system, describable in the manner that the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure was developing in the early years of the century. At the very least, the technological (re)production of language exacerbated the split between what Charles Olson was to call 'discrimination (logos)' and 'shout (tongue)' (Olson, 1989, p. 155). Such de-natured language might even be occult, as in the babble of voices at the seance table which seems to inform The Waste Land, or the automatic writing techniques used or referred to by the Surrealists, Stein, Williams and others. Modernist typographers also revolutionized design; Bob Brown imagined new machines for reading and printed poems in microscopic typefaces.

More importantly, science and technology provided new metaphors for poetic communication: telegraphy, telephony, radio and even television all suggested the possibilities of a swifter and less mediated transmission of ideas; as did the related pseudoscience of spiritualism (always important in modernism as a way of reclaiming science for the human). The Italian Futurists as well as Pound and other anglophone modernists (under the influence of Fenollosa on the Chinese written character) promoted the fantasy of an unmediated language, whether mathematical or picto-graphic, shorn of ambiguity and interpretive uncertainty, transmitted directly to the reader. The modernist poets were all fascinated by wave-forms as a model for the transfer of energies. In 'Psychology and Troubadours' (1912), later published in The Spirit of Romance, Pound had declared that 'Man is — the sensitive part of him — a mechanism . . . rather like an electric appliance, switches, wires, etc.' (Pound, 1952, p. 92). F. T. Marinetti's idea of the 'wireless imagination' is taken up in Pound's enthusiasm for radio broadcasts as a direct mode of communication, and in Wyndham Lewis's enthusiasm for radio work. In Canto 38 Pound depicts Marconi meeting (and in some sense supplanting) the pope.

A second outcome of the technologizing of writing is a stress on the 'efficiency' of the poem — as if it were the object of the scientific management or streamlined design. In Pound's various Imagist and Vorticist manifestos, he repeatedly insisted that the poet's approach should be that of the engineer or surgeon, using no word which does not contribute to the effect, stripping out the 'subjective' element, the 'waste'. This was a programme Pound shared with contemporaries: with Marianne Moore, whose poems not only celebrate scientists and American efficiency, but themselves seem like carefully engineered and precisely observed experiments (many of them stamped out on a syllabic grid like industrial products). As Lisa Steinman shows, Moore refuses an opposition of science and poetry, stressing instead the pragmatics of thinking, and holding in tension her idealized version of America's modernity with its commercial reality (Steinman, 1987, pp. 113—32). William Carlos Williams, trained in the new specialized and rationalist Flexnerian medicine, like Pound and Moore stressed the clinical eye of the poet and the efficiency of the poem, a programme exemplified by his stripped-down language and emphasis on the edge, the cut. In his introduction to The Wedge (1944) Williams was still insisting that 'A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words'; a machine which, in a characteristic dovetailing of the organic and the mechanical, must be 'pruned to a perfect economy'.

Modernist aesthetics found a ready response in literary criticism in the period between the wars, which also sought to ground its authority in notions of scientific objectivity and exactitude. The New Criticism, claiming that it had succeeded in isolating the poem as the unit of analysis, aspired to a scientific objectivity. I. A. Richards — famous for his experiments with unlabelled poems and undergraduate readers — begins the Principles of Literary Criticism (1924) with the claim that 'A book is a machine to think with'. Here and in The Meaning of Meaning (co-authored with Ogden) Richards is obsessed with the physiology of literary response in a way which has its origins in the physiological aesthetics of the nineteenth century. Yet in Science and Poetry (1926) Richards also stresses that the two are opposed, like Matthew Arnold giving poetry a central role in balancing experience. The poetic career of Laura Riding represents one end-point of this rationalism: just as Richards turned to the certainties of communication in positing a 'Basic English', Riding abandoned poetry in the late 1930s, escaping what Jerome McGann calls the 'Kantian ghetto' —

the 'lying word' of metaphor — for the ideal of exact definitions which was to culminate in the dictionary of rationalized concepts prepared with her husband Schuyler B. Jackson.

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