Reconceiving Perceiving: William Carlos Williams' World-Making Words of 'Kora in Hell: Improvisations.'

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Author: Mitchum Huehls
Editor: Michelle Lee
From: Poetry Criticism(Vol. 109)
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 12,610 words

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[(essay date spring 2004) In the following essay, Huehls uses Ludwig Wittgenstein's theories of language to characterize Williams's project in "Kora in Hell" as one of world building and the creation in language of a new "form of life."]

"Truth cannot be out there--cannot exist independently of the human mind--because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own--unaided by the describing activities of human beings--cannot."--Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity

"... holy the visions holy the hallucinations holy the miracles holy the eyeball ..."--Allen Ginsberg, "Footnote to Howl"

In the "Prologue" to "Kora in Hell: Improvisations," William Carlos Williams claims, "Thus seeing the thing itself without forethought or afterthought but with great intensity of perception, my mother loses her bearings or associates with some disreputable person or translates a dark mood. She is a creature of great imagination" (8). This mode of perception and apprehension that Williams ascribes to his mother constitutes his own poetic project throughout "Kora in Hell"; like mother, like son, we might say. Williams interrogates the implications of perceiving phenomena with such an "intensity of perception" that one is disoriented from the sensory realm, and he attempts to create a condition in which the disorientation from the sensory remains commensurable with a valid perception of the object. Williams' way of seeing implies a unique phenomenological and ontological conception of the object being perceived and further necessitates a unique form of language that allows for the sufficient articulation of the thing being perceived.

In "Kora in Hell," Williams provides his readers with much more than Pound's "direct treatment of the thing" or Eliot's "objective correlative" because by the time Williams' apprehension of the thing has been articulated and has reached the reader, the empirically determined, ontological reality of the thing has been left far behind. Although many of Williams' poetic statements often read as if he wants to transcribe the very essence of the thing-in-itself upon the page, the resulting text demonstrates that he actually creates new forms of life through a language that maintains only the loosest ties to the initial phenomena being perceived.1 Thus when Williams maintains that "the thing that stands eternally in the way of really good writing is always one: the virtual impossibility of lifting to the imagination those things which lie under the direct scrutiny of the senses, close to the nose" (14), he is not lamenting the difficulty of transparently reconstructing phenomena through a correspondence theory of language but is instead speaking of the difficulty of transforming one form of life (reality) into another (language) via the imagination. He does not try to represent the objectivity of the thing but to dissolve that ostensible objectivity. Thus, Williams bemoans mere sensory apprehension, since "the senses witnessing what is immediately before them in detail see a finality which they cling to...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420100919