Monday, June 16, 2008

Meaningful Juxtaposition

Al Filreis recently commented on the anti-modernist critic Robert Hillyer and his arrangement of his poetry books by alphabet rather than chronology. Filreis writes, half-in-character, "The alphabetical arrangement of poetry permits him to see and derive pleasure from the ahistorical juxtaposition of poets such as Matthew Arnold and Conrad Aiken, such as William Plomer and Ezra Pound. William Plomer and Ezra Pound!? Say what?"

The gag, of course, being that for Pound, poetry is not timeless, yet neither is it provincial, either by chronology or language or by alphabet. Pound is a poet (and critic) of the luminous particular, the piths and the gists. His way to sort poetry would involve neo-Dantean categories like "solidity" or whether some poet's verse was "upholstered." The juxtapositions would be unexpected, but never random, and certainly according to nothing so vulgar as the alphabet.

It so happens that there's another set of chaotic juxtapositions in which Pound looms large: the latest installation of what's now a really cooking theory of American generations, penned by the Boston Globe's Joshua Glenn. In case you're getting up to speed, Glenn splits generations by ten year increments rather than the more typical twenty, which allows for a finer analysis and forgoes "generation creep." And he also looks at decades on the bias of the -4 to -3, rather than starting everything at zero. (Hence "the sixties," for example, were really 1964 to 1973.) He also keeps some of the traditional identifiers ("Generation X" is trimmed to "Original Generation X," "Baby Boomers" remain) and adds some clever new ones ("Net Generation," "The New Gods," "Hardboileds," and others).

Here Glenn looks at the generation born between 1884 to 1893 -- Pound's generation -- and in honor of Pound, he forgoes "The Lost Generation" and calls them "The New Kids," as in "Make it NEW":

Liberalism was regarded by the New Kids as a grown-up, all-too-grownup shibboleth. Illiberal New Kids in Europe and America alike were determined to retain their youthful illiberalism as they matured. In Zurich, the Cabaret Voltaire gave birth to Dada, whose founders and notable members -- Raoul Hausmann, Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Jean/Hans Arp, Richard Huelsenbeck, Arthur Cravan, Max Ernst, Georg Grosz, Hannah Höch, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Kurt Schwitters -- were all born between 1884-93. In England, D.H. Lawrence (1885) urged his friends to help him found an island commune, but to no avail; perhaps this was because his friends were either too old (E.M. Forster, Bertrand Russell) or too young (Aldous Huxley) to be New Kids. In America, meanwhile, New Kids like Floyd Dell, John Reed, Maxwell Bodenheim, and Eugene O'Neill formed an illiberal, non-repressive social order of sorts in New York's Greenwich Village.

The best part, though, are the lists of notable figures of this generation, sorted by year. It's all chance, but yields some great pairs placed side by side. I've cherry-picked the best in each year:
1885: Ezra Pound, Leadbelly

Ma Rainey, H.D. [1886]

Le Corbusier, Marcus Garvey [1887]

1888: T.S. Eliot, Irving Berlin

Adolf Hitler, Charlie Chaplin, Ludwig Wittgenstein [1889]

1890: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Man Ray &
Fritz Lang, Charles de Gaulle

1891: Henry Miller, Cole Porter &
Sergei Prokofiev, Erwin Rommel

Walter Benjamin, Ernst Lubitsch [1892]

Mao Zedong, Edward G. Robinson [1893]

Someone with a different set of preoccupations would certainly make different choices. So go for it! Pick your own, or browse the archive to find a more surprising/insightful set.

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