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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Viva voce : the oral and rhetorical power of quotation in The cantos of Ezra Pound Tayler, Anne Hamilton


This study of Ezra Pound's Cantos considers quotations in the poem which are clearly marked as such, not for their content, nor for the relationship between new and old contexts, but for the oral qualities of the quoted material, and for the rhetorical effects of the fact of quotation itself. After cataloguing the principal means by which quotation is marked, the thesis assesses the notion (most clearly formulated by Walter Benjamin) that the great power of quotation lies in its interruptive power rather than in its value as authority in argument (Chapter 3). Such interruptive power, drawing attention as it does to the multiplicity of voices available in the text, reinforces our sense of The Cantos as an oral text. This chapter and the one following — which traces the connections between The Cantos and oral traditions and traditional techniques — suggests that the neglect of the oral qualities of quotation has led critics to consider the poem as deeply and irretrievably fragmented. Situating The Cantos in relation to other oral works shows not only the ways in which Pound draws on the tension between the aural and the visual elements of the poem and of language (speech and song in contrast to the written) but also the pervasive omnipresence of the heard: the play of ear against eye is a play of melopoeia against phanopoeia, and the text of The Cantos is most fruitfully to be seen as a score for the speaking voice. Such orality enables Pound to draw directly upon the resources and techniques of the classical rhetorical tradition, thereby enabling him in quoting the words of others to lend their words the authority of his own voice. The poem thus achieves a strong sense of a multiplicity of voices and effects unified by the presence of the poet himself, without compromising Pound's conviction (shared with Yeats and Williams and others of his contemporaries) that rhetoric is utterly to be distinguished from poetry, and kept separate from it.

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