This article elaborates on the dilemma faced by modernist poets in seeking to define values in an intellectual context that was post-Romantic and post-epistemic. Pound and Stevens, for example, reacted strongly against the ways that Romantic writers had tried to tie the rhetorical elaboration of values to precise descriptions, as if description could still support values. Victorian writing tended to experience the effort to ground value in fact as a source of constant irony, given that the desired values refused to become manifest. Positivist philosophy and its literary allies asserted that values simply occupy a different and much more unstable realm than do facts. Having established these historical premises, the essay then concentrates on how Stevens and Pound, in challenging positivist assumptions, sought two different sources of value, each of which, however, placed value within the domain of experience. Pound's approach was Nietzschean, in that it was Nietzsche who had demonstrated how valuing precedes determinations about fact. Pound's capacity to make his early lyric poems seem to come out of nowhere and depend on linguistic invention alone for their power is shown to be a realization of Nietzschean strategies. Meanwhile, Stevens in his early work tried out a range of attitudes that seemed to him capable of defying fact, especially by approximating aphoristic self-assertion. Finally, Pound in his Cantos and Stevens from the late thirties onward developed self-reflexive versions of an analogical model of valuing that, as Dora Zhang has shown, shaped the response of novelists (James, Proust, and Woolf) to the same dilemma that modernist poets were facing. The essay closes with a reading of section XII of “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven” as a demonstration of Stevens's analogical mode.
Charles Altieri; MODERNIST Poetry's ENCOUNTER WITH EPISTEMIC MODELS OF VALUE. Common Knowledge 1 April 2013; 19 (2): 334–350. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2073358
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