• Nonlinearity and Incarnation in T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and Susan Howe’s “The Nonconformist’s Memorial”

    Rebecca Sutton Koeser (see profile)
    American literature, Poetics
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    Emory University
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    In “Nonlinearity and Incarnation in T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and Susan Howe’s ‘The Nonconformist’s Memorial,’” I argue that nonlinearity is present in both language and literature, whether printed or electronic, and investigate two specific cases of poetic nonlinearity in printed works. Nonlinearity in language generally has been identified in, or at least suggested by, the work of a wide array of different literary and media theorists, and the comments of both scholars and poets reveal that nonlinearity is present to an even greater extent in poetry than in other written forms. In particular, this nonlinearity is evident in the decentered, linked structure of Eliot’s Four Quartets, which demands that its readers explore the space of the text and discover connections of various kinds within the Quartets. In “The Nonconformist’s Memorial” nonlinearity is a component of the nonconformist textual practices Susan Howe employs, which implicate and include the reader in the text’s confession of nonconformity. In both instances, Walter Ong’s notion of secondary orality is a significant component of poetic nonlinearity, and the hypertextual structure of lexia and link is a useful model for approaching these nonlinear poems. Finally, both poems include reference to the Christian Incarnation, which is itself an act of divine communication that cannot be fully conveyed by text alone; the nonlinear structures of these two works create the possibility for a fuller communication of the message of Incarnation than is possible with traditional texts.
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    5 years ago


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