Spatial Forms

The issue of literary tradition is connected to the more general topic of the treatment of history in modernist poetry. In the next chapter we will look at the historical content of The Waste Land and The Cantos, but here I want to address the formal method by which the historical material will be organized. We might reasonably expect that Eliot's, Hulme's and Pound's emphasis on literary tradition would be compatible with a conception of history as a linear progression, an evolution. In his early writings Pound occasionally hints towards this idea (1973: 25), but broadly speaking what is most striking about the three poets' representation of history is its non-linear character. Eliot's 'simultaneous order' and Pound's 'method of Luminous Details' represent history as arranged in space, rather than developing through time.

'We do NOT know the past in chronological sequence', wrote Pound in 1938. 'It may be convenient to lay it out anesthetized on the table with dates pasted on here and there, but what we know we know by ripples and spirals eddying out from us and from our time (1970b: 60). In this statement (note the allusion to Eliot's 'Prufrock') Pound sums up his, Eliot's and Hulme's reaction against the dominant way history had been characterized in the nineteenth century: as progress. Not only does Pound substitute linear history with a circular or cyclical history here, he also emphasizes that we cannot objectively know it. History is our present-day interpretation of the past. The literary critic James Longenbach has argued that their emphasis on history as an experience, rather than an entity in itself, marks Eliot and Pound out as part of the early twentieth-century move towards 'existential historicism' (1987: 13).

'Provincia Deserta' (1915) and 'Near Perigord' (1916) are early examples of Pound's existential historicism. In these poems Pound juxtaposes incidents from Proven├žal history with comments about his own experience of interpreting them: 'Take the whole man, and ravel out the story. / He loved this lady in castle Montagnac?' (1990: 152). Eliot takes a more indirect approach in 'Gerontion' (1919) by criticizing his protagonist's non-existential perception of history: Gerontion is

Existential historicism. Fredric Jameson coined the term in his essay 'Marxism and Historicism': 'existential historicism does not involve the construction of this or that linear or evolutionary or genetic history, but rather designates something like a transhistorical event [.. .]. For existential historicism [.. .] the experience of history is a contact between an individual subject in the present and a cultural object in the past' (1979: 50, 53).

Juxtaposition. The Oxford English Dictionary definition is 'the action of placing two or more things close together or side by side, or one thing beside another; the condition of being so placed'.

unable to experience history as a 'simultaneous order'; for him it is disordered, threatening: 'History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors / And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions, / Guides us by vanities' (1969a: 38). In all three poems, moments from diverse periods of history are placed side by side, as if experienced simultaneously, rather than one after the other. This spatial approach to history had a direct impact on Eliot's and Pound's major works, The Waste Land and The Cantos, which reject linear and chronological narratives in favour of organizing their material by juxtaposition. I now want to look quite briefly at three contemporaneous influences on Eliot's, Hulme's and Pound's method of organizing history: anthropological studies of myth and ritual, early twentieth-century visual art, and the theory of Chinese language put forward by the American philosopher Ernest Fenollosa.

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