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A preface to William Carlos Williams : the prepoetics of Kora in hell: improvisations Miki, Roy


First published in 1920, Kora in Hell: Improvisations is the first of a series of remarkable books which can best be described as experiments and affirmations of the writing act, improvisational texts through which Williams sought to establish a "poetics" of writing. Williams called Kora "an opening of the doors," and certainly the work that came of it, immediately in the 1920's, and throughout the rest of his writing life, would follow this key book, this "secret document." And he also thought of it as a "wonder" because he had no book in mind when he first sat down to write something daily for a year, simply for the sake of writing. Unpremeditated and unplanned as it was, Kora finally became a book and showed Williams that a writer composes a£ he writes. This is the key discovery which makes Kora a central document in Williams' beginnings as a writer. At the same time, and just as importantly, Kora also initiated Williams into what would be called "modernist" writing — that is, writing in which the act of writing is affirmed as a mode of consciousness, actual to that extent. For this reason, this study not only examines the "history" of Kora's composition in relation to the origin of Williams' poetics, but also argues that Kora is a primary text in the development of "modernist" writing in America, For Williams, in fact, the two were inseparable. Williams -viewed the beginnings of modernist writing in terms of a shift from language used as a transparent vehicle of thought to a new sense of language as itself actual. "It is the making of that step," he says in his Autobiography, "to come over into the tactile qualities, the words themselves beyond the mere thought expressed that distinguishes the modern, or distinguished the modern of that time from the period before the turn of the century." Williams aligns this discovery with, early 20th century modernist artists like Stuart Davis, Marcel Duchamp and Juan Gris. Alongside this change in attitudes toward language came an equally radical awareness of the otherness of the world, its "objectivity" in relation to the "subjectivity" of the mind's orders. This emphasis upon the particularity of things made possible a new understanding of man as a creature of nature, a live thing in a world of other live things: "a speaking animal." This dissertation is divided into three sections. Section One focuses on Williams' understanding, especially in the 1920's, of modernist writing and art by considering his "reading" of Dadaism and Surrealism as well as his critical appreciation of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Shakespeare. Section Two examines the texture of Kora, .-specifically the opacity of the writing in it, as the effect of a crisis in meaning. This crisis is tied directly to a crisis in language. The text of Kora is thus discussed as a drama through which a doubletalking fool's voice emerges. The writer undergoing the act of writing finds himself thrown into a crisis of mind which subverts the closure of fixed points of view. A similar effect is evident in the texture of Stuart Davis' drawing, the frontispiece to the first edition of.Kora. Out of this rejection of perspective Williams begins to perceive the nature of crisis as a condition of experience. It is from this basis that Section Three explores Kora as the origin of a new poetic for Williams. After dealing with the imaginative world of prehistoric art in relation to the birth of the imagination in Kora, it then argues that the improyisational method — an act comparable to the act of driving a car— is the one method which operates within the experience of crisis, Finally, Section Three looks at crisis as a life-principle and examines the new sense of a feminine "self" in Kora, one constituted through, the crisis of writing. For Williams the appearance of this other self in the act of writing is a re-enactment in the. imagination of the Kora myth.

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