Lecture 02 - Days of Swine and Roses (4 April 2012)
Lecture 2: Days of Swine & Roses Babbitt, William Carlos Williams, & Ferdinand de Saussure English 104A Spring 2012 4 April 2012 O, be some other name!What’s in a name? That which we call a roseBy any other word would smell as sweet […] ― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, II.ii.42-44
“The categorical fixity of Enlightenment thought wasincreasingly challenged, and ultimately replaced by anemphasis upon divergent systems of representation. […]Tentative at first, the idea exploded from 1890 onwards into anincredible diversity of thought and experiment in centres asdifferent as Berlin, Vienna, Paris, Munich, London, New York,Chicago, Copenhagen, and Moscow […] Most commentatorsagree this furore of experimentation resulted in a qualitativetransformation in what modernism was about somewherebetween 1910 and 1915. […] In retrospect, […] it is hard not tosee that some kind of radical transformation did indeed occurin these years. Proust’s Swann’s way (1913), Joyce’s Dubliners(1914), Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers (1914), Mann’s Death inVenice (1914), Pound’s ‘Vorticist manifesto’ of 1914 (in whichhe likened pure language to efficient machine technology) aresome of the marker texts [...]”
“[...] some of the marker texts published at a time that alsowitnessed an extraordinary efflorescence in art (Matisse,Picasso, Brancusi, Duchamp, Braque, Klee, de Chirico,Kandinsky, many of whose works turned up in the famousArmory Show in New York in 1913, to be seen by more than10,000 visitors a day), music (Stravinsky’s The rite of springopened to a riot in 1913 and was paralleled by the arrival of theatonal music of Schoenberg, Berg, Bartok, and others), to saynothing of the dramatic shift in linguistics (Saussure’sstructuralist theory of language, in which the meaning of wordsis given by their reference to other words rather than by theirreference to objects, was conceived in 1911) and in physics,consequent upon Einstein’s generalization of the theory ofrelativity with its appeal to, and material justification of, non-Euclidean geometries.” ―David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity
The Word“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” ― John 1:1“As St Paul admirably put it, it is in the ‘Logos’ […] that we ‘live, move and have our being.’” ― Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (tr. Ben Brewster, quoting Acts 17:28)
Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913)● Swiss linguist, author of Cours de linguistique générale (The Course in General Linguistics) ● Published posthumously by former students in 1916 ● First translated into English in 1974 ● Highly influential in early- to mid-twentieth- century thought
The (Saussurean) Linguistic Sign ● Language (and other systems of meaning) consist of signs: elements of meaning consisting of symbols that point toward something in “the real world.” ● Signifier: the thing that does the pointing (a word, for instance) ● Signified: the thing that is pointed to (the thing in the real world)
The Arbitrary Nature of the Sign● One of Saussure’s most influential principles: signs are arbitrary ● The relationship between the signifier and the signified is not “natural”: it is determined by culture (has a history, and does not come somehow from inherent properties of the thing itself) English: tree Finnish: puu French: arbre German: Baum Italian: albero Latin: lignum Russian: дерево Spanish: árbol Etc ...
This is not “naturally” obvious … “Why, Huck, doan’ de French people talk de sameway we does?” “No, Jim; you couldnt understand a word they said— not a single word.” “Well, now, I be ding-busted! How do dat come?” “I don’t know; but it’s so. I got some of their jabberout of a book. Spose a man was to come to you and say‘Polly-voo-franzy’- what would you think?” “I wouldnt think nuffn; Id take en bust him over dehead.” ― Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), ch. 14
For Saussure, meaning is based on difference between signs “bat” “cat” “Matt”
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) ● Physician, poet ● Today’s poems are from Spring and All (1923) ● Key terms (for our purposes): ● Free verse ● Imagism ● Modernism
Imagism● Most influential 1912-1917● Amy Lowell’s famous definition (1915-17): Imagist poetry is … ● Free to choose its own subjects ● Free to create its own rhythms ● Expressed in common speech ● Presents an image that is … – Hard – Clear – Concentrated
The Red Wheelbarrowso much dependsupona red wheelbarrowglazed with rainwaterbeside the whitechickens
For context …“My love is like a red red rose That’s newly sprung in June:My love is like the melodie That’s sweetly play’d in tune […]” ― Robert Burns, “My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose”“O Rose thou art sick.The invisible wormThat flies in the nightIn the howling storm [...]” ― William Blake, “The Sick Rose”
The Rose (The rose is obsolete) The rose is obsolete but each petal ends in an edge, the double facet cementing the grooved columns of air---The edge …............................ The rose carried weight of love but love is at an end---of roses (Williams, “The Rose” lines 1-5, 21-22)Juan Gris, “Roses” (1914)
● The rose is stripped of symbolic associations. It is not a figure for romantic/sexual love.● It is simply a rose … and the occasion for reflection. Somewhere the sense makes copper roses steel roses― (lines 18-20)● Williams’s rose is not soft, not organic, but hard, metallic, sharply defined.● Williams’s metallic rose is made by “the sense” – created in the mind, defined by difference, in the way that Saussure said that words have meaning.
But if it ends the start is begun so that to engage roses becomes a geometry― (lines 10-13)● The end of the symbolic order of language opens new possibilities for meaning.● Meaning, defined by difference, is mirrored by the hard consonant sounds in the poem (“copper,” “cuts,” “column” …)● And by the typographical feature of the long dashes that separate words from each other, cleanly, as Saussurean signs are given meaning by their separation.
Harry Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951)● First American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1930)● First commercially successful novel: Main Street (1920)● Refused Pulitzer Prize for Arrowsmith in 1925.● Several novels are set in the fictitious city of Zenith
“Babbittry” from the Oxford English DictionaryPronunciation: Brit. /ˈbabᵻtri/ , U.S. /ˈbæbətri/Forms: Babbitry (irreg.), Babbittry. Also with lower-case initial.Etymology: < the name of George F. Babbitt (see BABBITT n.2) + -RY suffix.orig. N. Amer. Behaviour and attitudes characteristic of or associated with the character George Babbitt (see 2 BABBITT n. ); esp. materialistic complacency and unthinking conformity.
George Babbitt“His name was George F. Babbitt. He was forty-six years old now, in April, 1920, and he madenothing in particular, neither butter nor shoes norpoetry, but he was nimble in the calling of sellinghouses for more than people could afford to pay.” (p. 4; ch. 1, sec. 2)“By golly, I don’t look so bad. I certainly don’t looklike Catawba. If the hicks back home could seeme in this rig, they’d have a fit!” (p. 90; ch. 8, sec. 2)
Babbitt’s Ethics● Negotiable and flexible, based on personal convenience and what is profitable at the moment “Babbitt, though he really did hate men recognized as swindlers, was not too unreasonably honest” (p. 39; ch. 4, sec. 4)● Based on conformance to specific orthodoxies “Babbitt was again without a canon which would enable him to speak with authority. Nothing in motoring or real estate had indicated what a Solid Citizen and Regular Fellow ought to think about culture by mail.” (p. 66; ch. 6, sec. 3)
“mysterious malaise” (p. 26; ch. 3, sec. 2)● A primary element of novel’s plot is the development of George Babbitt’s personality: he begins being slightly dissatisfied without being able to articulate why (or being willing to admit that this is the case). “this great and treacherous day of veiled rebellions” (p. 78; ch. 7, sec. 2) At the Babbitts’ dinner party: “Suddenly, without precedent, Babbitt was not merely bored but admitting that he was bored.” (p. 103; ch. 9, sec. 1) “he lay awake, shivering, reduced to primitive terror, comprehending that he had won freedom, and wondering what he could do with anything so unknown and so embarrassing as freedom.” (p. 109; ch. 9, sec. 2) “he [Babbitt] expanded with delight and wondered how, before his vacation, he could have questioned the joys of being a solid citizen.” (p. 158; ch. 14, sec. 4)
The City of Zenith“The towers of Zenith aspired above the morningmist; austere towers of steel and cement andlimestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods.They were neither citadels nor churches, but franklyand beautifully office-buildings.” (First two sentences of the novel)“Awful good to get back to civilization! I certainly beenseeing some hick towns! I mean— Course the folksthere are the best on earth, but gee whiz, those MainStreet burgs are slow.” (Chum Frink, p. 97; ch. 8, sec. 2)“Zenith the Zip City—Zeal, Zest and Zowie—1,000,000 in 1935.” (135; ch. 13, sec. 3)
For Monday...● One of our primary focal points will be the way that language is used by Babbitt & co.● A thought to get you started: We also insist that politics demands complex thinking and that poetry is an arena for such thinking: a place to explore the constitution of meaning, of self, of groups, or nations,—of value. ―Charles Bernstein, “Revenge of the Poet-Critic” (1999)
Lecture 2: Days of Swine and RosesThe image of Ferdinand de Saussure (slide 5) comes from Wikimedia Commons; it is a photo originally taken by F. Jullien Genève, and is out of copyright. Source & more info at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ferdinand_de_Saussure_by_Jullien.png.Saussures diagram incorporating a picture of a tree (e.g., slide 6), and derivatives thereof are from Wikimedia Commons. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tree.gifThe photo of Matt Damon (slide 9) is also from Wikimedia Commons. Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Damon_cropped.jpgThe passport photo of WC Williams (slide 10) is in the public domain because it is a work of the U.S. Federal Government. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:William_Carlos_Williams_passport_photograph_1 921.jpgThe photo on slide 13 is my own work. It is available at http://fav.me/d25rhjgJuan Griss Roses (slide 15) is out of copyright. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Juan_Gris,_Roses,_1914.jpgThe photo of Sinclair Lewis (slide 18) is a faithful photographic representation of a U.S. Government work.