The antagonistic city: a design for urban imagery in seven American poets
The purpose of this dissertation has been to investigate the significance of urban imagery in the work of seven American poets: Walt Whitman, Stephen Crane, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens. Although I have concentrated on the poetry, I have also ranged freely over the published writing of all these men. My conclusions can be reduced to these two propositions: 1. That the significance of a literary city can be understood only in conjunction with an attempt to explore the significance of other literary landscapes. 2. The significance of the city (and other landscapes) as metaphor is to be understood in terms of a basic process whereby the self is realized. This process is most simply represented geographically by a pattern of withdrawal and return, with the city and wilderness figuring as poles between which the self moves. The second proposition can be elaborated as follows: The process begins with the individual in a condition of alienation from his culture. This is culture, not just as a system of meaning and value, but culture as a way in which experience is ordered. At this point in the process, the city becomes a metaphor for the structures whereby a culture orders its common experience. The most basic ground for social alienation is that these structures serve to cut the individual off from experience. The response to this alienation is a desire to undergo a reductive process whereby orientative structures are simplified or demolished. The aim of such a process, which has a corresponding metaphor in the geographical metaphor of withdrawal, is to restore contact with experience. The experiential world is characterized by the absence of structure. Its cardinal metaphor is nature as wilderness (wildness), though, again, the city as oceanic and dislocative can fulfil a like function. It is in the unmediated intercourse with such a world that the self is realized. At this point a sense of meaning and value arises as experience is assimilated and integrated. The result of such an integration is a structure valid for the self—a structure, we might note, with no claims to permanence or finality. What is discovered in the wilderness is not so much a final structure, as a way of structuring. Which is what the realized individual brings back to the society from which he remains alienated. As the city can serve as metaphor for social structures, so it can serve as a metaphor for the structure (and the way of structuring) that might be--an ideal city. The final task is the discovery of a role that might facilitate the realization of this authentic culture.