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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A la recherche de l’image Hivon, Gerard


Some five years ago I became interested in Imagiste poetry while studying simultaneously the history of contemporary poetry and cinema. I perceived certain very strong parallels between the theory and practice of both techniques, parallels which will be discussed in the course of the exposition. More importantly, however, I began to suspect that other parallels might exist between modern poetry and other arts. This suspicion'- involved me in the difficult area of genre differentiation and in fundamental questions about the nature of poetry. I determined then, by taking Imagisme as a focal point in time and in the overall cultural life of that time, to investigate its intrinsic nature, its antecedents, and its contemporary artistic manifestations, in an effort to answer for myself questions such as, "What is poetry?", "What was the significance of particular developments in modern poetry as they were articulated by a small group of poets publishing before the First World War who claimed in some respects, to be both pioneers and guardians of a poetic tradition as old as literature, perhaps as old as art itself?", "What light could the answers to these questions throw on my efforts to understand the nature of poetry in general and of modern twentieth-century poetry in particular." The following will be an exposition of the process of investigation I have been engaged in intermittently for five years, and of the answers I have found to my several fundamental questions about art. Though the search for these answers will inevitably involve historical enquiry, any concern with "sources" will be strictly evolutionary and structural, since it seems to me vulgarly romantic to attribute heroic stature to single individuals working within a cultural tradition; as in scientific or any other form of continuous human work, there is in poetry only men or women who are working seriously, with more or less talent, to build upon, or to free themselves (that is, with or against) from cummulative history of success or error, both of which definitions are themselves constantly under revision by these workers. I am not concerned, as some historians may be, with determining to whom Imagisme may be attributed, nor with establishing a notable place for it in the history of poetry and art, but simply to discover more or less exactly what it was, what it is. The identification of the phenomenon and its description will necessarily involve historical study both synchronic and diachronic but the focus for this study will not be personalities but rather paradigms. F. R. Leavis has been known to refer to "Imagism" as "...little more than a recognition that something was wrong with poetry", but it is quite possible that by studying the manifestations and rationales of such a recognition we may learn a good deal about what was "wrong" with poetry at the beginning of our century, and perhaps even what can ever be "wrong" about poetry; or at least, and this is perhaps as much as we can ever expect, we shall learn about the critical position which made such a recognition possible, a critical position which has affected significantly the writing of poetry in our own century. The terms of the title of this report are chosen not only because of the parallel which they imply between my journey into the past and the more direct and intimate one described by Proust, but because one of them, the word "recherche" has the double implication of "search" and "research". The re-search in which I have been engaged has taken on the broader implications of a search, a search for a perspective, or perspectives, which would better allow me to view modern poetry and poetry in general, in a more intelligent way than I would otherwise have been able to do. In the course of my search, I have viewed my field and my phenomena from various points of view, using where necessary the informing light cast by knowledge of other art forms than the linguistic. I have walked around, not only within, but outside of Imagisme in my attempts to situate it within a comprehensible cultural matrix. In doing so I have employed a technique characteristic of the medium which first helped prompt my study of Imagisme, the cinema. It is the primary technique of the cinema, in creating the illusion of a three-dimensional, or four-dimensional, object or event, to do so by presenting that object or event from numerous perspectives, thus imitating and multiplying the principle of operation of binocular human vision, and thereby penetrating the dimensional reality which it wishes to represent, or at least to counterfeit convincingly or meaningfully.

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