Radio Corpse: Imagism and the Cryptaesthetic of Ezra Pound

Radio Corpse: Imagism and the Cryptaesthetic of Ezra Pound

by Daniel Tiffany
     
 

About the origins of Anglo-American poetic modernism, one thing is certain: it started with a notion of the image, described variously by Ezra Pound as an ideogram and a vortex. We have reason to be less confident, however, about the relation between these puzzling conceptions of the image and the doctrine of literary positivism that is generally held to be the

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Overview

About the origins of Anglo-American poetic modernism, one thing is certain: it started with a notion of the image, described variously by Ezra Pound as an ideogram and a vortex. We have reason to be less confident, however, about the relation between these puzzling conceptions of the image and the doctrine of literary positivism that is generally held to be the most important legacy of Imagism. No satisfactory account exists, moreover, of what bearing these foundational principles may have on Pound's later engagement with fascism. Nor is it clear how figures such as the vortex and the ideogram might contribute generally to our understanding of modern visual culture and its compulsive appeal.

Radio Corpse addresses these issues and offers a fundamental revision of one of the most powerful and persistent aesthetic ideologies of modernism. Focusing on the necrophilic dimension of Pound's earliest poetry and on the inflections of materiality authorized by the modernist image, Daniel Tiffany establishes a continuum between Decadent practice and the incipient avant-garde, between the prehistory of the image and its political afterlife, between what Pound calls the "corpse language" of late Victorian poetry and a conception of the image that borrows certain "radioactive" qualities from the historical discovery of radium and the development of radiography. Emphasizing the phantasmic effects of translation (and exchange) in Pound's poetry, Tiffany argues that the cadaverous--and radiological--properties of the image culminate, formally and ideologically, in Pound's fascist radio broadcasts during World War II. Ultimately, the invisibility of these "radiant" images places in question basic assumptions regarding the optical character of images--assumptions currently being challenged by imageric technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography.

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Editorial Reviews

Oxford Quarterly Review

Daniel Tiffany's book attempts to bypass the sterile polemic which too often dogs Pound studies by providing a revisionist reading of Pound's literary strategies, centred upon his problematic 'Doctrine of the Image'. Tiffany abandons traditional Poundian tools of exegesis; instead, he brings a constellation of the latest literary theorists to illuminate the poetry, using Blanchot's theories of language and visuality and Marx's concept of the fetish to develop a picture of Pound as a poet obsessed with attenuation and loss. Pound's deepest obsession, Tiffany argues, lay in a Medusa-like vision of writing as a self-defeating and ultimately self-referential project, in the perception that writing destroys that which it yearns to preserve, continually reducing the object of its attentions to 'an exquisite corpse'. This is a startlingly original treatment of Pound's work. It also has the merit of straddling the gap between politics and literature, history and myth.

— Zöe Carroll

New Formations

[B]ecause of the effective interweaving of theoretical mini-essays with the close readings themselves, Radio Corpse is throughout...a thought-provoking and important study...Such features of Radio Corpse make the book a valuable study within a recognizable idiom of theory-led close reading of an individual author; and the limitations of the book are equally...limitations of that genre.
— Alan Durant

Choice
Combining recent critical theories of discourse with modern conceptions of visuality, Tiffany...offers a revision of Pound's 'Doctrine of the Image' that opens new territory in the understanding of poetic modernism.
Oxford Quarterly Review - Zöe Carroll
Daniel Tiffany's book attempts to bypass the sterile polemic which too often dogs Pound studies by providing a revisionist reading of Pound's literary strategies, centred upon his problematic 'Doctrine of the Image'. Tiffany abandons traditional Poundian tools of exegesis; instead, he brings a constellation of the latest literary theorists to illuminate the poetry, using Blanchot's theories of language and visuality and Marx's concept of the fetish to develop a picture of Pound as a poet obsessed with attenuation and loss. Pound's deepest obsession, Tiffany argues, lay in a Medusa-like vision of writing as a self-defeating and ultimately self-referential project, in the perception that writing destroys that which it yearns to preserve, continually reducing the object of its attentions to 'an exquisite corpse'. This is a startlingly original treatment of Pound's work. It also has the merit of straddling the gap between politics and literature, history and myth.
New Formations - Alan Durant
[B]ecause of the effective interweaving of theoretical mini-essays with the close readings themselves, Radio Corpse is throughout...a thought-provoking and important study...Such features of Radio Corpse make the book a valuable study within a recognizable idiom of theory-led close reading of an individual author; and the limitations of the book are equally...limitations of that genre.
Richard Sieburth
I am extremely impressed by Tiffany's revisionist reading of Pound and the Image, a reading which moves Pound criticism into some of the most interesting regions of current literary theory. Bringing as he does a new configuration of hermeneutic contexts to his analysis of Pound, Tiffany manages to produce a remarkably iconoclastic reading of the 'cryptic' role of the Image in Pound's career. Indeed, I think that Tiffany's overall argument...will significantly change the way Pound is going to be read from here on in. He has, in short, given us a Pound for our own fin-de-siècle--a spectral modernist whose deepest and most unspeakable pleasures derive from the crypt, a poet whose ecstatic immediacies are inevitably haunted by the ghostly dictations of the dead.
Jean-Michel Rabaté
Thanks to Tiffany's alert and sophisticated study, the modernist poetics of the images appears in all its cryptic dimensions, and can be linked forcefully with Blanchot's theses articlating language and visuality, for instance. This is a 'gRRReat' book, as Pound would write.
Samuel Weber
Probably no word is more widely used and more poorly understood today than the word 'image.' Daniel Tiffany's Radio Corpse awakens this ubiquitous and moribund word to a new half-life by retracing its trajectory in the work of Ezra Pound, from the translations of Cavalcanti to the poet's infamous radio braodcasts in support of Mussolini's Italy during the Second World War. Informed by recent theoretical reflection upon the relations that link the 'radiology of the image' in Pound's broadcasts to 'modernist' aesthetics, Radio Corpse thus opens Pound's broadcasts to 'modernist' aesthetics. Radio Corpse thus opens new avenues in exploring the interactive of literature, politics, and the media. It constitutes a major work of literary and cultural criticism.
Booknews
An erudite, tightly reasoned analysis of Pound's "Doctrine of the Image," which in 1913 inaugurated the poetics of Anglo-American modernism. Tiffany (English, U. of Southern California) argues not only that the modern poetics of "objectivity" (exemplified by the Image) is constructed on the basis of Pound's youthful experiments with "death" in poetic language, but that the essential negativity of the Image (its objectivity) is formulated as a cryptology, a poetics of decomposition and reanimation. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674746626
Publisher:
Harvard
Publication date:
08/28/1998
Pages:
302
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

What People are saying about this

Probably no word is more widely used and more poorly understood today than the word 'image.' Daniel Tiffany's Radio Corpse awakens this ubiquitous and moribund word to a new half-life by retracing its trajectory in the work of Ezra Pound, from the translations of Cavalcanti to the poet's infamous radio braodcasts in support of Mussolini's Italy during the Second World War. Informed by recent theoretical reflection upon the relations that link the 'radiology of the image' in Pound's broadcasts to 'modernist' aesthetics, Radio Corpse thus opens Pound's broadcasts to 'modernist' aesthetics. Radio Corpse thus opens new avenues in exploring the interactive of literature, politics, and the media. It constitutes a major work of literary and cultural criticism.
Richard Sieburth
I am extremely impressed by Tiffany's revisionist reading of Pound and the Image, a reading which moves Pound criticism into some of the most interesting regions of current literary theory. Bringing as he does a new configuration of hermeneutic contexts to his analysis of Pound, Tiffany manages to produce a remarkably iconoclastic reading of the 'cryptic' role of the Image in Pound's career. Indeed, I think that Tiffany's overall argument...will significantly change the way Pound is going to be read from here on in. He has, in short, given us a Pound for our own fin-de-siècle--a spectral modernist whose deepest and most unspeakable pleasures derive from the crypt, a poet whose ecstatic immediacies are inevitably haunted by the ghostly dictations of the dead.
Richard Sieburth, New York University
Jean-Michel Rabaté
Thanks to Tiffany's alert and sophisticated study, the modernist poetics of the images appears in all its cryptic dimensions, and can be linked forcefully with Blanchot's theses articlating language and visuality, for instance. This is a 'gRRReat' book, as Pound would write.
Jean-Michel Rabaté, University of Pennsylvania
Samuel Weber
Probably no word is more widely used and more poorly understood today than the word 'image.' Daniel Tiffany's Radio Corpse awakens this ubiquitous and moribund word to a new half-life by retracing its trajectory in the work of Ezra Pound, from the translations of Cavalcanti to the poet's infamous radio braodcasts in support of Mussolini's Italy during the Second World War. Informed by recent theoretical reflection upon the relations that link the 'radiology of the image' in Pound's broadcasts to 'modernist' aesthetics, Radio Corpse thus opens Pound's broadcasts to 'modernist' aesthetics. Radio Corpse thus opens new avenues in exploring the interactive of literature, politics, and the media. It constitutes a major work of literary and cultural criticism.
Samuel Weber, University of California, Los Angeles

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Meet the Author

Daniel Tiffany is Professor of English, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

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