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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William Carlos Williams and the “Radiant Gist” of Science is slated for 3:30-4:45 on Saturday, January 8, 2011 in Plaza III, J. W. Marriott .  Erin Templeton, Vice-President of the WCW Society, will preside.

Natalia Cecire (University of California, Berkeley), “Near and Far in Paterson

Studies in literature and science often link a literary work to specific scientific concepts by way of either a thematic element in the work (for instance, the “radiant gist” in Paterson) or a biographical connection (such as William Carlos Williams’s professional occupation as a physician). In this paper, however, I wish to suggest that the scientific element in Williams’s work is best understood through the work’s own epistemic logic, which manifests not only thematically but also formally. As Clark Lunberry has pointed out, by clinging to Paterson, New Jersey as a specific, physical location knowable through a concrete archive, Williams consciously “abjures the unknowable,” as Williams himself puts it in his essay “The Importance of Place.” This gesture of renunciation, I will suggest, defines Paterson’s basic strategy for producing knowledge. Paterson’s investment in place and the renunciations that regulate its access to the city of Paterson suggest reading the poem against the newly professionalizing discipline of cultural anthropology, whose status as a science was and remains contested. In the first half of the twentieth century, a self-consciously “scientific” Boasian anthropology based on site-specific fieldwork gained ascendancy over the work of comparativists like James Frazer. “Abjur[ing] the unknowable,” I will argue, requires Williams to construct Paterson through a series of artifacts that act as analyzable proxies for the place’s mythic quality.

Andrew Shotts (Auburn University):   On the Beginnings of Paterson: Infinite Complexity, Self-Similarity, and the Search for Williams’ “New World that is Always ‘Real.’”


Williams’ magnum opus, Paterson, spans five, finished, books and some 236 pages, and provides a seemingly inexhaustible richness for the poet and its many readers. Paterson pushes and pulls the reader through a tidal flow of poetry, prose, philosophy, historical documents, and letters, to name only a few of the currents that make up the poem. By bringing a myriad of rhetorical and philosophical oppositions into contact with each other, Paterson constructs a series of cascading narratives.  The poem’s form and construction is commonly thought to be broken, ineffective, essentially something that compromises the integrity of Williams’ project. I will argue that the resistant text of Paterson, like a fractal, repeats and modulates the imagistic bedrock of its own construction; it breaks down, not into constituent parts, themes or individual genres, but into the ever-present, self-propagating fractal images of man, city, and atom.

Borrowing the idea of self-similarity from fractal geometry will allow me to introduce an organizational principle into the discussion of Paterson that offers a productive and synthesizing rubric for understanding Williams’ difficult poem. Self-similarity refers to the construction of fractals that, at every level of magnification, display and replicate the formal properties of the larger “whole.” A fractal infinitely replicates similarity with the larger “self.” Fractals are often called “infinitely complex,” because of this insistent repetition of the represented “whole.”

Jill Richards (University of California, Berkeley):  Kora in Hell’s Outbreak Narrative: Williams, the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, and Contagious Form

The 1918 Influenza Pandemic did not get much contemporary press coverage because most western nations were concerned that a panic would deter troop enlistment in World War I. But historians now agree that the influenza claimed at least 30 million lives worldwide, half a million in America. In the Autobiography, Williams directly recounts his experience as a doctor during the worst years of the pandemic. But Kora in Hell (1920) is perhaps more interesting for offering several conflicting versions of contagious forms. In this early work, the worldwide pandemic is also a story of global circulation and the military mobilization that enabled its outbreak. So then Williams’ meditation on influenza is also a meditation on globalization or the forms of experience endemic to a colonial modernity.

In Kora in Hell atmosphere, influenza, and intoxication become overlapping registers for a mode of sensory and perceptual equivalence. These early fragments show all things dissolving, softening, and melting into air. Except each fragment is also a portrait from rural New Jersey, a version of character verging on the ethnographic. Kora in Hell insists both upon the representation of contagious sensation and a form of personhood that can sit in and outside this sensory logic. The text’s ability to toggle between the solidity of portrait and the intoxication of atmosphere attempts to locate a national poetry that can also account for the worldwide reach of the epidemic. The work becomes a project to make a form for a suddenly visible non-simultaneity of simultaneous systems as an ambivalent movement between objects and contagion, local and global, portrait and atmosphere.