The Great Depression engendered a special kind of first-person plural, which drove fundamental changes in Marianne Moore’s quoting practice during the period. She moved toward a quotation practice that was less dense, drawn increasingly from mottoes and collective speech, and couched as words “we” said rather than words put in the mouths of others. Subtle changes in Moore’s well-known poem “Silence” show her questioning the kind of artistic superiority displayed in the act of quotation, while her letters to various correspondents allow us to connect her changing notion of quotation with her attempt to steer between the alternate dangers of artistic solipsism and artistic toadyism. Finally, in “The Frigate Pelican,” mottoes, quotation, and the first-person plural all participate in a nuanced description of the limitations of artistic expertise, in which Moore maintains her admiration for aesthetic excellence but opts to place the poem’s lyric speaker not aloft with the solitary and expert artist but below with a set of well-meaning but inept creatures. This shift in Moore’s artistic priorities provides a lens for understanding the topicality and fond humor of her later poetry as a principled commitment to a wider, less perspicacious public.
Odile Harter; Marianne Moore’s Depression Collectives. American Literature 1 June 2013; 85 (2): 333–361. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2079179
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