UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Writing in scale Huidobro’s Altazor and Beckett’s Imagination Dead Imagine McTague, Margaret Lees


In this thesis Vicente Huidobro's French "Fragment d'Altazor" (1930) and Spanish Altazor (1931) are compared with Samuel Beckett's English Imagination Dead Imagine (19B5) and French "Imagination morte imaginez" (1967) in terms of the concepts of musical and architectural scale which are common to all of these texts. While the Huidobro works maintain a primarily musical notion of scale, the Beckett texts employ a chiefly architectural one. In Huidobro, the vestigial presence of the diatonic scale in the seven Canto divisions of Altazor together with the chromatic structuring of Canto IV with its dodecaphonic repetition of "No hay tiempo que perder," foreshadow the fully realized tonic scale of the nightingale passage's (IV 193-9) emblematic acrosticism. In Beckett, scale involves measurement with respect to a radix or basic, conventional unit and is used in the precise description of the rotunda, the two figures within, and the flux of light and heat. The Beckettian scale is undercut, however, by the replacement of radices with retrograde and inverted variants. A semiotic approach has been used in the discussion of these texts since it not only foregrounds the importance of pattern as meaningful in itself, but also allows for comparison of two works according to the functioning of their meaning-systems, while permitting analysis at the local, medial, and global levels of the texts. However, in contrast to the theory of a semiotician like Michael Riffaterre, the view taken in this- thesis is that form is an extension of content. Thus the figure/ ground relationship is discussed both in terms of the scales studied and of its value as a theoretical device. Imagination Dead Imaoine/"Imaoination morte imaginez" subverts rational cross-reference by injecting multiple instabilities into the figure/ground relation. By creating a figure, the rotunda, against the backdrop of "anywhere" ("ailleurs") and then removing the figure, the Beckett text effects a realization of "Nulle part." Huidobro's texts, in contrast, employ alternation (e.g., in the tonic-chromatic-tonic scales) to arrive at a non-referential purity of language ("La pura palabra y nada mcis" --III 145). As different as these two texts are in terms of, for instance, genre, length, and diegetical features, they are similar in their refusal, commonly articulated in their use of the multidimensional patterns of scale, to delimit any one particular meaning.

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