Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why They Did the Police in Different Voices

A common critical stance describes the [dramatic] monologue as an apprenticeship for young poets that was discarded at maturity, but it is based primarily on the careers of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and does not accurately represent their continued interest in the form or in the monologue experiments of such poets as Charlotte Mew, Amy Lowell, and H.D.  [...]  Dramatic monologues are imagined solo performances, but they also enabled poets to star in readings of their own work.  The cultural uses of genre can change; as Delsartean practices of recitation faded, the dramatic monologue's function as solo performance shifted, even as New Critics, partially in response to the interpretive techniques of expression, began to read every poem as a dramatic monologue...

Modernist doctrines of impersonality were partial rejections of the Delsartean emphasis on fashioning personality through recitation.  Other central modernist principles expanded ideas from expression: the objective correlative drew from the mask of the dramatic monologue; the mythical method reframed and updated typological hermeneutics; and polyphonic prose owes much to Delsarte-influenced elocutionary reforms...

Although elocution is no longer central to studies of literature, it had been a vital aspect of the classical education of elite men for centuries and was part of the pedagogical milieu that trained modernist poets.  In England, the so-called Elocution Movement of the eighteenth century attempted to elevate the English vernacular, establish a standard pronunciation, and explore the relationship between language and society.  Elocution was linked in the United States to the idea that democratic citizens would debate the problems of the nation and must develop their "powers of expression" and "individual character" to do so; [Samuel Silas] Curry claimed, "Freedom and oratory have ever gone hand in hand."  In the twentieth century, new disciplinary divisions dispersed skills once considered part of elocution to other fields, including the new English departments teaching composition, literature, and rhetoric... Departments of expression do not survive in the contemporary university, but the cultures of recitation and interpretive techniques they promoted were an important context for modernist poetry.
--- Carrie J. Preston, Modernism's Mythic Pose: Gender, Genre, Solo Performance

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