The Image

The Image: talk about the dynamic between image, vortex and symbol in Eliot,  Pound and Yeats.

Start with Pound’s definition of the image: “an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” Highlight the two tensions here: between stasis and movement, intellect and intuition. The vortex is an image in motion. Whereas the image seeks to hold tensions in some sort of accord or balance, the vortex “plunges into the present.” That is, it sees itself as social from the very beginning. It’s the imagist response to the cult of the future, on the one hand, and the the sentimentalization of the past of the other. The symbol is functioning here as something against which Imagism and Vorticism can define themselves. Pound writes (paraphrasing), the lyric voice is bursting into language, the image is sculpture or painting coming over into language (cf. Guadier-Brezka). That is to say, both are taking on a more constructivist dimension in relationship to poetic creation. Now Eliot, in “Metaphysical Poets” (1920), talks about dissociation of sensibility…which I think we can read as something like a repudiation of Imagists claims to effectiveness given the “anarchy and futility” of “contemporary history.” So i think in something like The Waste Land, we see images being torn at the seams by the movement of time or narrative (commas and verse-lines compete for organizational priority). So here I think we start to see, in Yeats, the return of the symbol as the promise of an organic reunification of sensibility. Frank Kermode has shown how “Imagism” is linked to “Symbolism” by way of Yeats: the image of the dancer and the tree at the end of “Among School Children” (1928) can be seen as an attempt to overcome what Eliot would call in “The Metaphysical Poets” (1920) the “dissociation of sensibility.” It’s no accident that the tree and the dance are the two terms that Hegel uses to describe, respectively, the entelechy of the individual and the dynamic between individual and whole in the ethical community. But the incredible conclusion – [something like: chestnut tree, deep rooted blossomer / are you leaf, bud or bole / of whirling body, of brightening glance / how can you tell the dancer from the dance.] – needs to be contextualized within “No Second Troy” and “September 1913,” wherein Helen becomes the means of historical violence and rupture. Importing symbolic or mythic structures onto contemporary history is not necessarily a good thing–by the time we get to late  Yeats, we can see the “searching for a theme in vain” as the failure of the symbol to sustain its unifying capacities.


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