Thursday, April 10, 2008

Spatial model of tradition

Alfred Corn writes about replacing the temporal model of tradition (modernism, post-modernism, post-post-modernism) with a spatial model; he describes a one-dimensional space, a spectrum, ranging from avant-garde to "regular speech-based modes". Corn mentions Hakan Sandell's 'retro-garde' movement.

There is a vague two-dimensional spatial metaphor behind Eliot's concept of tradition in 'Tradition and the Individual Talent', although it is not at all clear what the axes of this space might correspond to. "The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them." The image conjured seems to be something like a sculpture park of the canonical. Eliot continues "The poet must be very conscious of the main current, which does not at all flow invariably through the most distinguished reputations." A river through the sculpture park?

I have recently be reading some of the work of a UK poet Sean Elliott, which often employs a simple clear unvaried iambic pentameter line, at points reminding one of Larkin, or Dannie Abse. Abse's Funland collection has many such apparently 'old hat' lines - "And silence matched the silence under snow" sticks in the memory - but the poems aren't old hat at all: they work.

The whole territory is available, poets do not necessarily have to work at some frontier, except of course for the temporal frontier of the present. The relationships between the poems that already exist are highly subtle and complex - involving all manner of influence, allusion, formal concerns, subject matter, genre issues, and so forth - there is possibly some mathematical way to model this and derive some multi-dimensional or fractal-dimensional space to house all these poems. But maybe the disorganized bookshelf and the stray echoes and reflections in the reading mind is the best system of all.

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