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Title: The end of modernism in English poetry
Author: Emig, Rainer
ISNI:       0000 0001 0856 3076
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1992
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'End' as 'goal' and 'limit' is explored in signs, symbols, metaphors, metonymies, and myths in the works of G.M. Hopkins, Yeats, Eliot, and Pound, before the study examines the aesthetics of modernist poetry which - through psychoanalysis, economy, and language philosophy - presents itself as one facet of the 'modernist project'. Modernist poetry struggles with its material, the lacking motivation of signs, the unstable connection of signifier and signified. Already in Hopkins this creates tensions between mimetic endeavour and construction. Appropriation and distancing as compensation strategies prefigure modernism's tendencies of simultaneous expansion and reduction. They produce impasses, evident in attempts to signify the self: absence, dissolution, and submission to myth, recurring limits in modernist poetry. Yeats's poems avoid mimetic tensions by focussing on opaque signifieds of symbols, intertextuality rather than empiricism. Yet the excluded 'outside' in the shape of history questions works and their creator. Again, silence, dissolution, or superhistoricism become refuges, leading to dissolution of symbols into metaphors and metonymies or their sublimation in myth. Eliot's poems seemingly return to realism. Yet their focussing on everyday life disguises the internalisation of reality in psychological landscapes. Difficulties of drawing borderlines between subject and object(s) result: objects become threatening and characters mutilated in reifications, processes expressed in shifts from metaphor to metonymy. Pound's stabilising strategies reify language itself. His personae try to legitimise poems by incorporating histories of others, but produce overcharge and disintegration. Imagism refines modernism's reductive move, but creates monadic closure. Attempts at impersonality and superhistoricism lead to the dominance of the suppressed. Vorticism's construction/destruction dialectic does not tolerate 'works'. Only the ideogrammatic method achieves the shift to signifiers only which enables poems to 'include' reality and history at the cost of blindness towards themselves. Psychoanalysis displays analogies in its holistic concepts and simultaneous internal delineations, its distrust of signs and incomplete and lacking constructs deriving from them. Modernist poetry's struggle with tradition in order to legitimise its existence mirrors the individual's subjection to the 'law of the father'. Individuation is achieved by mutilation; the return to imaginary wholeness preceding it, although Utopian goal, remains impossible; it appears in poems as self-destruction. The economy of modernist poems shows their fight against expenditure, creation of artificial value through symbols, eventually a reductio ad absurdum in poems producing only themselves in reification. Work and subject become borderlines when reality shifts into the text altogether and the signified is eliminated. Language philosophy reproduces the positions of modernist poems towards reality, admitting the separation of language and objects: Nietzsche in disqualifying truth, Wittgenstein uncovering language's impotence. Again the excluded appears as the mystical which Heidegger re-integrates by setting up language as reality's creator and receptacle of Being. The nominalist upside-down turn of his linguistic universe is analogous to modernism's myth of itself. Adorno criticises the closed nature of works as statements and advocates a 'true' modernism in the fragmentation of the work and openness towards heterogeneity. Like Baudrillard, he stresses the riddle of art which permits its orbital position, neither detached from societal conditioning nor completely subjected to it, thus capable of unveiling the relativity of master-narratives. The 'true' modernist poem displays its tensions and 'sacrifices itself in order to remind its reader of the damages of existence.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English poetry ; History and criticism ; Modernism (Literature) ; 19th century ; 20th century