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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Perception as process in the poetic theory and "Paterson" of William Carlos Williams Robertson, Andrew Charles J.

Abstract

This thesis seeks to identify the philosophical arguments behind William Carlos Williams' constant attack upon accepted patterns of thought, behaviour and art. The first chapter outlines Williams' belief in the necessity of a continual process of renewal in order to prevent traditional approaches to experience from decaying individual perception into unconscious habits of preconception. The thesis then debates the possibility and value of pure perception in contrast to preconception, of objectivity in contrast to subjectivity, of the need for artistic impartiality to prevent biassed perception. This line of inquiry develops into a discussion of Williams' doctrine of change as essential to clear perception: Williams' advocation of the new, of the perception of present, local reality is a struggle against the traditional habitual concentration upon the past, the foreign and upon future abstractions. By Chapter Four, the thesis has evolved into a detailed inspection of the poetic techniques necessary for the clarifying expression of a continually renewed awareness. An attempt is made to show how poetry must change to keep reflecting a changing reality that is perceived now as a world of process rather than as a static and definable quantity. Underlying the whole thesis is the central interpretation that Williams' objection to established doctrines is a rejection of that tradition of man's egotistical aloofness from the ground and of his urge to control nature by destruction which has alienated him from his consciousness of his environment and from his source of. self-discovery. The second half of the thesis tries to reveal the poem Paterson as the assimilation of Williams' organic philosophy in a poetic form whose construction releases beauty from its abstraction in the mind into a living sentient experience. The thesis evolves towards an attempt to reveal Williams' call for man to rediscover a primal awareness of himself through an interpenetration with nature, a sympathetic appreciation of and yielding to the unopposed objects of his environment. The method of approach used is apocalyptic, rather than purely analytical.

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