‘The Drama is Wholly Subjective’: Pound and Science



I have argued that Pound is richly symptomatic in his confrontation of the crisis of modernism’s inherited dislocation, as represented by the parallel tendencies of Symbolism and Naturalism. This literary crisis can itself be read as a reflection of a larger dislocation, registered at different levels in various discourses, and associated with a particular stage of crisis in the development of industrial capitalism, on the eve of the First World War, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the birth of the mixed economy and Welfare State. One should not forget the radical state of political, social and economic confrontation existing in Britain during Pound’s early years there.1 For an author, the crisis expresses itself as a rupture in his relation with his audience; the problem is located as a search for a productive role for the artist, and hence for a suitable language. It is thus technically located, for such a poet as Pound, in the application to his poetic vision of a practical ‘hygiene’ of ‘prose’ values, and, most especially, in a revision of the technique of metaphor as the locus of the dis juncture of the subjective and objective. We have also observed how Pound is influential in proposing a modernist resolution: an attempt to regain an audience by a posture and a technique which would offer a new synthesis of the poet’s specialised subjectivism with the ‘objectivity’ or ‘concreteness’ of ‘prose’. The project is contained initially in the literary values of Imagisme as a critical movement, its public existence as a historical movement, in Pound’s particular technique of the Image, and the theorisation of the ‘Serious Artist’ — subsequently to be extended fairly continuously through Vorticism and the theory of the Chinese script, towards its practical fulfilment in The Cantos.


Scientific Discourse Scientific Language Industrial Capitalism Chinese Script Scientific Reference 
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  1. 1.
    As in the crisis of scientific materialism I describe below, industrial capitalism was finding itself confronted with its own consequences at this time: increasingly dramatic cycles of boom and unemployment, major financial crises, conspicuous urban poverty alongside technological development, and diminishing returns at the margins of colonisation. The major change, in English terms, began with the Liberal Party victory of 1906 and Lloyd George’s ‘People’s Budget’ of 1909, which precipitated a major constitutional crisis, provoked by the radical rebellion of the Tories. The story is masterfully told in George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England: 1910–1914 (1935; New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1961). We find here ‘not a record of personalities but of events; and not of great events but of little ones, which, working with the pointless industry of termites, slowly undermined England’s parliamentary structure until, but for the providential intervention of a world war, it would certainly have collapsed’ (pp. 71–2). Apart from the problems caused by the Tory rebellion, the consensus was under attack from Militant Suffrage, Ireland, and massive industrial agitation, mainly in the mines, docks, shipping fleets and transport system. If the First World War represents a major crisis in industrial capitalism and a new stage of imperialism in the wake of nineteenth-century expansion, it did not, of course, resolve more than the immediate crisis which caused it. It did, however, give rise to a number of modernist proposals which sought to restore forms of order through models for the synthesis of those forces responsible for confrontation. These ‘solutions’, too — such as the pseudo-organicism of fascism or the welfare economics associated with Keynesianism and the New Deal — only postponed, for shorter or longer periods, the disorderly effects of the contradictions they concealed.Google Scholar
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© Martin A. Kayman 1986

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