“‘Objectivists’ 1927-1934” is a critical history of the work and association of Louis Zukofsky, William Carlos Williams, Charles Reznikoff, Carl Rakosi, Ezra Pound, and George Oppen during the years of their closest collaboration. Its historical aspect establishes the “Objectivists” as a literary group by presenting evidence of their mutual support and common purposes; its critical aspect defines “Objectivism” as their poetic consensus adapted from Pound and Williams for the political and literary necessities of the late twenties and early thirties.
My chronological organization and documentary method make this work different from the usual academic dissertation. I have carefully documented the history of the group with many facts and primary texts for three reasons. First, competing traditions in poetry and the effects and changes of time have obscured our knowledge and understanding, resulting in confusion about the existence of the group and what they stood for. Second, the work of the several writers involved in the movement has never before been assembled and correlated. And, third, the movement must be understood as the accumulated products of individuals slowly developing common principles and purposes in response to changing conditions. Since theory underlies practice, my critical definitions, judgments, and generalizations follow the history with repetition, variation, development, and resolution.
“Objectivism” promoted the health of language as a prerequisite for the health of human beings and therefore for the health of their societies and cultures. It fostered a metaphysical association of existence, expression, and experience by restoring emotions, words, and ideas to the particulars of the shared world.
Zukofsky defined the fundamental criteria of “Objectivism.” Sincerity is the presentation in writing of “particulars,” the presentation of words and phrases that register with exactitude details whose specificity and concreteness make them unquestionably true, thereby objectifying the writer’s personal sincerity or, as Oppen said, his “curiosity” or “joy”—“that emotion which causes to see.” In the sincerity of his writing, the writer relies on his personality and personal experiences, relations, concerns, preferences, principles, and poetic influences and confluences, but presents his object in terms whose significance is not merely personal. History is the sincerity of a life and its locale, the presentation of particulars focused to give a sense of the energy and ethical consciousness of a human being. In history the writer represents his political stance against conditions which hinder happiness and creativity. Objectification is the achievement of the necessary form by which the details of sincerity and history cohere in what Pound called the Image, so that the architectonics makes the poem not just a thing about a world of things but a thing in the world of things.
The introduction counters common misconceptions about the “Objectiviests” and describes my strategy, limitations, and method. “Foundations,” sections 1-7, covers the history from the first issue of Pound’s The Exile in 1927 through 1929, introducing the “Objectivists” in their order of meeting and giving a sense of their beginning consensus by delineating the poetic and political problems with which they were concerned and explicating their relevant work to date to show their answers to those problems. “Synthesis,” sections 8-12, covers the history of their mutual interest and support to October 1930 and interprets Zukofsky’s essays on Reznikoff and American poetry of the twenties, which provided the first syntheses of “Objectivist” criteria. “Presentation,” sections 13-20, describes the editing and the critical and creative contents of the “Objectivists” issue of Poetry, February 1931, the means by which the “Objectivists” were first publicized as a group. “Renascence,” sections 21-23, analyzes critical reactions to their issue of Poetry and Zukofsky’s efforts to clarify “Objectivist” principles, and chronicles the establishment and achievement of the group’s two publishing ventures. Finally, “Contexts,” section 24, establishes the group’s political and literary contexts, justifying my claim that the “Objectivists” are a significant link in the modernist tradition in poetry.