“Swarming European Consciousness” : Europe and Tradition in the Work of William Carlos Williams
Abstract: This study focuses on how the American poet William Carlos Williams (1883–1963) deals with Europe and tradition in works published between 1917 and 1928 and in unpublished material from the same period. Poems from Al Que Quiere! (1917), Sour Grapes (1921), Kora in Hell (1920) and Spring and All (1923) as well as The Great American Novel (1923) and A Voyage to Pagany (1928) constitute the core of the material. My assumption is that the hegemonic hold Europe has exerted on American writing is still in effect in the 1920s. This hegemonic hold pertains both to tradition and to contemporaneous developments within modernism and the avant-garde, whose European centers reiterate the European hegemony also when moving away from tradition.This study examines the counter-hegemonic strategies developed by Williams for tackling this hegemonic hold: recontextualization, appropriation, rewriting and excavation. Williams portrays his project as American, often entering into polemics with Europe or with poets who have left for Europe. Still, this study demonstrates how entangled his work remains with Europe as idea and trope and with European tradition, arguing that the Euro-American relationship offers an important entry-way into Williams’ output from 1917 to 1928 and that some of his poetic strategies emerge in relation to this matrix of Europe and tradition.This study focuses on place, power and language to explore Williams’ techniques, suggesting that his work from this period can be understood as a prolonged and extensive problematization of the Euro-American relationship.
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