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ONE OF THE MAJOR distinguishing traits of the Modernist Poets--which has also been one of their legacies bestowed upon subsequent generations--is their interest in philosophical ideas that explore the nature of an individual's relationship with the external world. Even at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is still difficult to avoid the influence of the Modernist Poets. The Modernists were the first generation of poets to write in direct response to the modern milieu that essentially separates us in experience from all previous eras. Their revolutions in form, subject, style, theme, and philosophy have transformed poetry from the strictly metered forms and styles of the previous centuries into the highly solipsistic, and as Randy Malamud termed it in The Language of Modernism, the "difficult, confusing, obfuscatory" (2) forms poetry often takes. Whether most current poets believe it or not, they still show the presence of the Modernists (for better and for worse) in their writing, despite the pervasive application of the term postmodernism. The preoccupation of some postmodernist poetry with what Paul Hoover defined in the Introduction to Postmodern American Poetry as "'the death of God and the author," and with "oppositional strategies" such as "the empty sign" (xxvii), is largely an intensification of modernism, in that the writing still responds to modern urban culture, and that postmodernist writing still utilizes many of the same techniques--juxtaposition, irony, and paradox--as the modernists used.
The prevailing assumption of much postmodern poetry, that the poet's primary expression is one of solipsistic self-reflexivity with a tendency toward nihilism, has been a guiding literary concept for several decades. While on the surface the solitary nature of being a poet seems to validate many of the philosophical suppositions of literary deconstructionism, I have always harbored doubts about the creative possibilities of what seems to be a very narrow view of experience. It was from this impetus that I began to search for philosophical ideas that would better represent my own thinking and intuition about the creative impulse and would offer a more fertile set of assumptions and ideals for creative activity. It is in the work of Process Philosophers Henri Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead in relation to the concept of the individual's experience of and interaction with temporality that my own hunches about the nature of creativity are best represented. My proposal is a simple as this: that Bergson's and Whitehead's views of temporality are fundamental principles, and the concept of the essential interrelatedness of things provides the basis for a much more fruitful artistic aesthetic that I am terming the poetics of process, than does current deconstructive postmodern poetics.
Nietzsche and the Responses to the External World by Modernism and Postmodernism
The influence of philosophy on the Modernist Poets, and particularly the philosophers of the late nineteenth century, is well known. As Sanford Schwartz detailed in The Matrix of Modernism, the major features of modernism, "abrupt juxtaposition, irony, paradox, and the like" (3), are not simply the unmediated responses of artists to the social and religious breakdown of the turn of the century. True, modernism is a clear response to the miasma caused by the shift in western society from a rural, Christian existence to an urban, secular one; the rise of industrialization and its subsequent slums and robber barons, and Darwin's Theory of Evolution brought with them a wave of anxiety and skepticism would be aptly labeled alienation. Yet many of the poets interpreted these phenomena as the consequences of a society that had adopted the nihilism discussed in the work of some nineteenth and early twentieth century philosophers. Lawrence Gamache also noted in "'Toward a Definition of 'Modernism'" that in the shift to the modernist period, "there has been a progression from the optimistic attempt to discover the real world, studied confidently as the proper object of philosophy and science and as the artist's guide, to man reduced to skepticism and his own subjectivity" (36).
Friedrich Nietzsche's theories were particularly influential to the thinking of many Modernist Poets. It is not my intention here to attempt to elucidate Nietzsche's ideas since there is such a wide variety of interpretations of his work among philosophers, due at least partly to Nietzsche's unsystematic approach to his own writing, and due to apparent contradictions in his work, but to illustrate the effect the Modernist Poets' apparent interpretation of Nietzsche--however inaccurate it may be--had on their poetry. The relationship between Nietzsche's work and the Modernist Poets is complex and intense because while many Modernist Poets interpreted Nietzsche as advocating a society devoid of belief in meaning and faith, a view which they often lamented or condemned, they were drawn at the same time to his discussion of the function of metaphor and the societal role of the "free spirits." Schwartz continued this argument that "the bond between Nietzsche and the Modernists is especially significant" (75), notably …