Panel Abstracts for MLA 2013

August 2, 2012

The William Carlos Williams Society is pleased to host the following session at the 2013 MLA Conference:

208. William Carlos Williams and the Armory at One Hundred

Friday, 04 January 8:30–9:45 a.m., Beacon H, Sheraton

Presiding: Erin Templeton, Converse Coll.

1. “The Ekphrastic Landscape of William Carlos Williams’s Grammar: Looking at Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems,” Charlotte Latham, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York

Whether William Carlos Williams attended the 1913 Armory show or not, the point remains that art, even if simply “an idiotic picture,” was important to him–he “clung to it as a fly” as he says in “The World Contracted to a Recognizable Image”, from his last published collectionPictures from Breughel and Other Poems. Williams’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” is one example from that collection where his keen eye is revealed and incorporated into his poem. As Breughel foregrounds the rest of reality while Icarus drowns in his painting “The Fall of Icarus,” so does Williams grammatically minimize Icarus in the first stanza through an indefinite pronoun subject structure, “it was spring,” thereby relegating Icarus to an adverb clause with time, “when Icarus fell.” Throughout the poem, Williams’ subtly incorporates choices in Breughel’s painting into his grammar. In Pictorialist Poetics, David Scott examines the methods by which prose poetry incorporated structural elements learned from certain art works, focusing significantly on Bertrand’s Gaspard de la Nuit’s influence to Dutch masters. This ekphrastic component of composition is rarely noted though it can highlight intricacies in the poet’s relationship to art. Looking at Williams’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”, first published in 1960 in Hudson Review, and then subsequently incorporated into Pictures from Breughel and Other Poems, this paper will provide a close reading of Williams’ poetry in order to relate it to its pictorial inspiration and influence.

2. “Improvisation at the Armory Show: An Approach to Understanding Wassily Kandinsky’s Influence on the Writings of William Carlos Williams,” Paul R. Cappucci, Georgian Court Univ.

With my recent work on Williams and the New York School artists, I spent some time exploring Williams’s early interest in abstract art, most notably the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky.  Although my research on Kandinsky and Williams did not make it into the published version of my study, it offered an intriguing start for better understanding Williams’s interest in the visual arts and transformation as a poet.  In relation to the panel’s focus, Kandinsky exhibited one lone painting at the Armory Show: Improvisation Number 27: Garden of Love.   After the show, it was purchased by Alfred Stieglitz and displayed at the famous 291 gallery.  So, whether Williams attended the show or not, he more than likely saw this painting at Stieglitz’s gallery and gained direct contact with the visual artistry and move toward abstraction that Kandinsky espoused.  He also would come into contact with Kandinsky’s writings through Stieglitz’s Camera Work in 1912, which included translated excerpts of Concerning the Spiritual in Art.   I would like to use that one Armory Show painting and those writings as the means for examining Kandinsky’s broader influence on Williams.  Since Marsden Hartley knew both men, his work and writings may also factor into the proposed discussion.  In some ways, one could argue that Williams’s early interest in Kandinsky set up his later reaction to the Abstract-Expressionist movement localized in New York.  More research, however, will be needed to support such a claim.

3. “This Is Just to Say This Is the End of Art: Williams and the Aesthetic Attitude,” Daniel Charles Morris, Purdue Univ., West Lafayette

From scholarship in the 1970s and 1980s by Dickran Tashjian, Henry Sayre, William Marling, and Peter Schmidt to a recently published essay on Williams and Duchamp by Lisa Siraganian, Williams has been
interpreted, to borrow Marjorie Perloff’s phrase regarding Frank O’Hara, as a poet among painters. What I have not seen in the criticism, and what I would like to address in my paper, is a discussion of Williams among the
Aestheticians with special emphasis on Arthur Danto’s theory of “the Artworld” and “the end of art,” as well as George Dickie’s institutional theory of art. In a legendary essay from 1964, Danto, writing in the wake
of Warhol, asked, “What in the end makes the difference between a Brillo Box and a work of art consisting of a Brillo Box is a certain theory of art. It is the theory that takes it up into the world of art, and keeps it from
collapsing into the real object which it is (in a sense of is other than that of artistic identification).” In his 1974 study Art and the Aesthetic, George Dickie built on Danto’s disavowal of imitation and expression theories of art
in order to focus on a framework theory. Less focused on art history, and more on an institutional theory of art than was the case in Danto, Dickie studied the complex process in which an object has “conferred upon it
the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or person acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld).” I find the Danto/Dickie framework models to be powerful tools through which to approach
Williams’s “found” poems such as “This is Just to Say,” which will be the text I plan to foreground in my MLA paper.

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