The New Age (1907 – 1922)


For some years I’ve had on my ‘To Read’ shelves a book called ‘The New Age under Orage’ by Wallace Martin (Manchester University Press 1967). I bought it because of AR Orage’s connection with Gurdjieff and thought it might throw some light on another who, like Maurice Nicoll – mentioned briefly in the book – went off to Fontainbleau. In fact, there’s only a brief reference to Gurdjieff and what is described, a bit dismissively, as ‘Orage’s Religious Quest’.

I decided to read ‘The New Age under Orage’ on an impulse in the middle of consuming the novels of Richard Brautigan – as a relief, perhaps, from their captivatingly wild contortions & loud hilarity.

While it was a little disappointing not to find a more sensitive reference to Orage’s relationship with Gurdjieff, I found much of other interest, especially references to Wells, Shaw, Pound & Imagism. Of course, the Gurdjieff connection flourished after Orage had quit The New Age but I did wonder if there might be some more detailed reference to it.

It is a commonplace in the haiku world to refer to imagism & Pound as a starting point for Western interest in the form & spirit of the genre. Not so much attention to imagist theory which makes quite a lot of current haiku writing seem a bit like the re-invention of the wheel!

Here are a few scrappy notes & comments on my reading of ‘The New Age under Orage’ …

Between 1907 & 1922, there was much discussion about the role of ‘the novel’ – should it be realistic, an accurate representation of ‘real life’, or a way to put over ‘life philosophy’; HGWells had very definite ideas about this which eventually caused him to quit The New Age... You can get a much more rounded view of the psycho-philosophical human ‘factory’ from novels than from theoretical tomes.

Wells and The New Age

…The great value of the novel in a world of changing social and moral values, [Wells] asserted, was that it provided ‘a study and judgment of conduct, and through that of ideas that lead to conduct’. In concluding his essay, he said that the novel should be ‘the social mediator, the vehicle of understanding, the instrument of self-examination, the parade of morals and the exchange of manners, the factory of customs, the criticism of laws and institutions and of social dogmas and ideas’.

One month after this lecture was delivered, a translation of it appeared in Le Temps. A member of the New Age staff, JMKennedy, retranslated it, summarizing the less important paragraphs and appending a number of critical and some unjustifiably derogatory comments. The result appeared in The New Age of 6 July 1911, under the title ‘The Last Straw’. Thenceforth, the cordial relations between Wells and the magazine were at an end.

Wells & Psychology

…which, if not a major influence on writers during these years, was very soon to become one. The progress… was summarized by Wells in 1913:-

Psychology, like sociology, is still largely in the scholastic stage, it is ignorant and intellectual, a happy refuge for the lazy industry of pedants; instead of experience and accurate description and analysis it begins with the rash assumption of elements and starts out upon ridiculous syntheses. Who with a sick soul would dream of going to a psychologist?

1913 marked the appearance of The Interpretation of Dreams, the first of Freud’s books to be published in England.

In The Passionate Friends (London, 1913), Wells recognized the need of a new outlook in psychology earlier than did most of his contemporaries. In Tono-Bungay (1908) he had written, ‘I sometimes think that all the life of man. sprawls abed, careless and unkempt, until it must needs clothe and wash itself and come forth seemly in act and speech for the encounter with one’s fellow men. I suspect that all things unspoken in our souls partake somewhat of the laxity of delirium and dementia.’ And in The New Machiavelli (1911): ‘It is one of the curious neglected aspects of life how at the same time and in relation to the same reality we can have in our minds streams of thought at quite different levels. We can be at the same time idealizing a person and seeing and criticizing that person quite coldly and clearly, and we slip unconsciously from level to level and produce all sorts of inconsistent acts.’ His sporadic attempts to record such aspects of experience in his novels do not seem to have influenced his contemporaries.

Shaw on the Coming Coronation 1910

Let the Coronation be at Stonehenge, not at Westminster Abbey. London, with London’s mighty traffic, is no longer a place where pageants, can be tolerated. The propaganda of Royalism, which is the purpose of these pageants, need not suffer: far more people will see them on Salisbury Plain than could be wedged behind the troops in Piccadilly; and the cinematograph will work all the better in the open.

The Origins of Imagism

The first part of [an article by FSFlint July 1908]… concerns Sword and Blossom, a volume of Japanese poetry translated by Shotaro Kimura and CMAPeake:-

Surely nothing more tenderly beautiful has been produced of late years than this delicate conspiracy of Japanese artist and Japanese poet! It is a pity, however, that the translators did not choose some other measure than the heavy English rhymed quatrain. It is probable that nearly all the spontaneity of the Japanese tanka has thus been lost. The Japanese, we are told, are quick to take an artistic hint. . . and ‘to them in poetry as in painting, the half-said thing is dearest’ – the suggestion, not the complete picture (one thinks of Stephane Mallarmé). A word will awaken in them, therefore, a whole warp and weft of associations. Take this haiku, typical of a common form of Japanese poetry:-

Alone in a room
Deserted –
A peony.

Or

A fallen petal
Flies back to its branch:
Ah! A butterfly!

I could have wished that the poems in this book had been translated into little dropping rhythms, unrhymed. To the poet who can catch and render, like these Japanese, the brief fragments of his soul’s music, the future lies open. The day of the lengthy poem is over – at least, for this troubled age… Indirect presentation, free verse, vivid fragments rather than lengthy poems: Flint returns again and again to these ideas in the reviews written between 1908 and 1910…

[Others had the same idea… Edward Storer, Mirrors of Illusion 1909]:-

Form should take its shape from the vital, inherent necessities of the matter, not by, as it were, a kind of rigid mould into which the poetry is to be poured, to accommodate itself as best it can. There is no absolute virtue in iambic pentameters as such, for instance, however well done they may be. There is no immediate virtue in rhythm or rhyme even. These things are merely means to an end. Judged by themselves, they are monstrosities of childish virtuosity and needless iteration. Indeed, rhythm and rhyme are often destructive of thought, lulling the mind into a drowsy kind of stupor with their everlasting, regular cadences and stiff, mechanical lilts.

Flint defines the way an ‘image’ is received into the human system as ‘symbolism’ which is ‘…an attempt to evoke the subconscious element of life, to set vibrating the infinite within us, by the exquisite juxtaposition of images. Its philosophy, in fact… was the philosophy of intuitiveness… [as] formulated by Bergson…’

And then, of course, there’s Pound (1912):-

As far as the ‘living art’ goes, I should like to break up cliché, to disintegrate these magnetized groups that stand between the reader of poetry and the drive of it, to escape from lines composed of two very nearly equal sections, each containing a noun and each noun decorously attended by a carefully selected epithet gleaned, apparently, from Shakespeare, Pope, or Horace. For it is not until poetry lives again ‘close to the thing’ that it will be a vital part of contemporary life. As long as the poet says not what he, at the very crux of a clarified conception, means, but is content to say something ornate and approximate, just so long will serious people, intently alive, consider poetry as balderdash – a sort of embroidery for dilettantes… We must have a simplicity and directness of utterance, which is different from the simplicity and directness of daily speech, which is more ‘curial’, more dignified. This difference, this dignity, cannot be conferred by florid adjectives or elaborate hyperbole; it must be conveyed by art, and by the art of the verse structure, by something which exalts the reader, making him feel that he is in contact with something arranged more finely than the commonplace.

…For his definition of the image, the only part of the Imagist manifesto (published in Poetry magazine in March 1913) which concerns aesthetics rather than technique, Pound may have been partially indebted to Bergson: the ‘sense of freedom from time limits and space limits’ which it creates ally it to Bergson’s ‘intuition’. But the substance of the definition is derived from Freud, as interpreted by the English psychologist Hart. Pound defines the image as follows:-

An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. I use the term ‘complex’ rather in the technical sense employed by the newer psychologists such as Hart, though we might not agree absolutely in our application. It is the presentation of such a ‘complex’ instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.

Hart:-

‘…Unconscious ideas are agglomerated into groups with accompanying affects, the systems thus formed being termed ‘complexes’. These complexes are regarded as possessing both potential and kinetic energy, and thus are capable of influencing the flow of phenomenal consciousness according to certain definite laws…’

In August, 1913, Imagism was introduced to the English audience by Rebecca West, writing in The New Freewoman [of which] Pound had recently become the literary editor…

Others might see an ‘image’ as just a philosophical or picture-making event but for Pound it is a psychological concept: ‘…It involves not sensation and ideation, but emotion or other unspecified psychic ‘energies’, and in its subjective form, it is characterized not by any correspondence with the sensations or ideas which gave rise to it, but by a quality of feeling, the poetic expression of which may be dissimilar to the original occasion of the feeling…’

Pound in The New Age January 1915:-

Intense emotion causes pattern to arise in the mind – if the mind is strong enough. Perhaps I should say, not pattern, but pattern-units, or units of design. (I do not say that intense emotion is the sole possible cause of such units, I say simply that they can result from it. They may also result from other sorts of energy)…

Not only does emotion create the ‘pattern-unit’ and the ‘arrangement of forms’, it creates also the Image. The Image can be of two sorts. It can arise within the mind. It is then ‘subjective’. External causes play upon the mind, perhaps; if so, they are drawn into the mind, fused, transmitted, and emerge in an Image unlike themselves. Secondly, the Image can be objective. Emotion seizing upon some external scene or action carries it intact to the mind; and that vortex purges it of all save the essential or dominant or dramatic qualities, and it emerges like the external original.

In either case the Image is more than an idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy. If it does not fulfil these specifications, it is not what I mean by an Image.

6 thoughts on “The New Age (1907 – 1922)

  1. I must get round to reading Kipps sometime – in my teens I read most of Wells’ SF stories but never got round to his non-sf-fiction. I have been doing some art recently and notice I am using a part of the brain which is entirely a different part to that used when writing (as art is non-verbal). You may be interested in this quote from On Not Being Able to Paint by Marion Milner ( a very in depth look at creativity and the unconscious) – “In painting one of the prime sources of inspiration is the queer feeling that the ‘subject’ is ‘yours.’ You have absorbed it spiritually and are going to transform it into art.” She quotes this from another book A Step Ladder to Painting by Jan Gordon. I’ve probably gone off at a tangent Colin but I know you don’t mind going of in various directions!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have three yards of Wells on my shelves! ‘History of Mr Polly’ (book and film) is/are marvelous.

      How about Betty Edwards – ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ – brilliant practical book?

      Tangents are very good!

      When I look at a landscape I have to turn myself into it in order to represent it!

      Like

  2. It was called Deep Image poetry when I was an undergrad and it was all the rage. Poets like James Wright, Robert Bly, Pablo Neruda, Denise Levertove and others connected us back to Emily Dickinson, Whitman, Pound, Yeats, and a river full of others, it was image that was needed for a poem to resonate and evoke in us something higher. I felt lucky to be there at that time. The Deep Image poets were worshiped as much as read, dressed in their dark robes like priests sent here to heal the world. As you can imagine things were fun if not self-destructive. Haiku sat somewhere in the back of the class, too sacred for a culture bent on destroying nature. Those were the days of the poetry wars, before deconstructionism stormed in and tore the English Department apart. Image replaced personality and ego, guys like T.S Eliot were under attack. How lovely some of those poems were, like this one below.

    A Blessing
    BY JAMES WRIGHT
    Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
    Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
    And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
    Darken with kindness.
    They have come gladly out of the willows
    To welcome my friend and me.
    We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
    Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
    They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
    That we have come.
    They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
    There is no loneliness like theirs.
    At home once more,
    They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
    I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
    For she has walked over to me
    And nuzzled my left hand.
    She is black and white,
    Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
    And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
    That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
    Suddenly I realize
    That if I stepped out of my body I would break
    Into blossom.

    It all turned petty to me and that’s when I left behind drawing a line in the sand and taking some reductionist position about something so open ended.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s such a splendid poem! Thanks, Patrick!

      ‘Deep Image’ is not a term I’ve ever come across!

      There were Imagists and there was The New Criticism – focus on the words on the page. Now it all seems to be about personality. I’ve helped my grandchildren but ‘words on the page doesn’t seem to mean anything to them…

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.