Europe and the Construction of the American Poet: Positioning of the Literary Self

Elin Käck

Abstract


In much of William Carlos Williams’ (1883-1963) writing, there is a palpable self-consciousness, as if he were constantly positioning himself as an American poet, a writer of literary works. So much so, in fact, that we may speak of this as a role and a persona being constantly performed and thereby sustained. For example, The Great American Novel (1923) is filled with opposing voices which question the very project in which the speaker is engaged. I argue that this incorporated hostility allows Williams to position himself in the complex field of power relations which conditions his work and of which it forms part. Bearing in mind that The Great American Novel was written in an America of prohibition and frequent censorship, published in France and thus very rare in the US, we can see that Williams had good reason to engage in these acts of self-positioning and perform the role of the American author. For many of Williams’ contemporaries, Europe, and especially Paris became a haven of artistic freedom. Paris offered an artistic environment which America was perceived as lacking. Williams stands out in his seemingly adamant decision to stay. Despite many setbacks in his native country, Williams remained rooted in an environment which often did not offer much acknowledgement of his work as literary. At the same time, his choice of location made it harder for him to be perceived as a truly literary figure in Europe as well. In his journals and letters, we can see that Williams was not always wholly sure why he chose to stay in the US, but in my paper, I demonstrate that his positioning of the literary self in America and therefore on the periphery allows him to perform the part of the American poet against the grain. Also, and most importantly, I claim that the act of staying in America does not make Williams independent of Europe. On the contrary, it is through the idea of Europe that Williams is able to perform the role of the American writer.

Full Text:

PDF

Refbacks

  • There are currently no refbacks.