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Portrayal of Association in Robert Lowell's Poetry

BY: p.suresh kumar R.panneerselvam | Category: Others | Submitted: 2012-04-09 09:32:37
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Article Summary: "Abstract: Robert Lowell inherited from the new England Puritans not only habit of obsessive self-examination, not only his fascination with the process of that self examination, but also hiss awareness of the significance of language in that process Association..."


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Robert Lowell's and fiend Blair Clerk, writing of the close friendship among himself, Lowell and Frank parker at prep school, describes their association as "miniphalanx that (Lowell) was head of - and there were only three members. But it had a definite moral function and he was unquestionably the leader." This crinite of concerns forms the basis as well of the process of psycho analysis, with which Lowell was familiar through his active participation.

When Lowell pays attention to images which pop into his mind unbidden like the yellow dog, when he determines not to "shutthese things out" but to "let them come", when he asserts his willingness to follow along as the dog takes him" God knows where" he might well be describing what Jacques Lacan has called "the forced labour of this discourse without escape, on which the psychologist(not without humour) and the therapist(not without cunning)have bestowed the name of 'free association."1 Free association is a 'forced labor" indeed, because in order to sneak through the bars of repression and gain access to the unconscious, a subject must be willing, in Freud's words, to "entirely renounce any critical selection...and say whatever comes into his head."2 to follow his associations wherever they lead, no matter how unpleasant such a process may be.

Throughout his career, Lowell would make poetry of this free associational process, not necessarily with any conscious therapeutic intention, but rather because, as the prose piece and the letter to Santayana demonstrate, it was natural for him to consciously. Lowell wrote his letter to Santayana before the poet's notable reading celebrated Beat school. Unlike Lowell. These poets used free association as a deliberate means of writing poets; indeed, "Ginsberg's theory of composition... is built on the Freudian idea of revealing the unconscious self through the technique of association."3 Ginsberg names Blake and Whiteman among his Predecessors. But the "biggest influence", he said, was "Kerouac's Prose."4 Jack Kerouac's prose, with its echoes of Williams, both describes and at times demonstrates a technique based not on "Selectivity of expression; but following free deviation(association) of mind."5 This method of writing relies heavily habits of mind of the short which Lowell revels in this prose piece and in his letter, upon a Willingness to concentrate on the yellow dog and to follow it, to begin, Kerouac's inimitable words, "not from preconceived idea of what to say about image but from jewel center of interest in subject of image at moment of writing, and write outwards swimming in sea of language to peripheral release and exhaustion."6

Stanley Leavy quotes frud and Breuer as saying that in the freely associating subject we see "the establishment of a psychical state which, in its distribution of psychical energy.. bears some analogy to the sstate before falling asleep."7 And the reader will have noticed that Breton, like Lowell in his letter to Santayana, is reporting an occurrence that took place as he was on the verge of sleep. Both Breton and Lowell report images which spring into the mind unbidden, and both commit themselves to following the image along the path of associations. This experience led Breton to define surrealism in 1924 as the "dictation of through in the absence of all control exercised by reason and outside all aesthetics or mere moral preoccupations", surrealism "rests in the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of association neglected heretofore"8 -which is to say, in free association rather than reason or logic. And the aim of surrealism is to unite exterior reality with that interior reality which we apprehend through free association.

Although poems like "Long summer 3" abound in Notebook, Lowell's penchant for building poems like boats swept along on a sea of association is evident from the time of his earliest volumes. Alarm Williamson points out that"in terms of the surrealist's ideal of a direct trndition of the flow of thought, conscious and unconscious, Lord Weary's Castle often succeeds brilliantly, where the letter, 'confessional' writing often choose to view psychological processes more remotely, in rational afterthought."9 Robert Hass, writing about "the Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket." Elaborates on this paradox:

I still find myself blinking incredulously when I read... that those early poems "clearly reflect the dictates of the new criticism," while the later ones are : less consciously wrought and extremely intimate." This is the view in which it is "more intimate" and "less conscious" to say "may mind's not right" than to image the moment when:

The death-lance churs into the sanctuary, tears
The gun-blue swingle, heaving like a flail,
An (sic) backs the coiling life out...
Which is to get things appallingly wrong".10

A poem like"The quiker Graveyard" is more "intimated" than many of the Life Studies poem in part because the spealker seems rather to have immersed himself in a flow of association than to have arranged images according to an aesthetic or rational order--and this despite the fact that the early poems are more formal, bound by traditional metre and rhyme.

Discussion :
Lowell's poetry of process, as we have seen, was inextricably bound up with the process of self-examination Lowell's use of specific techniques of psycho analysis: free association, the use of memory to probe the past, repetition or 'working through, and deliberate concentration on the relation' between the poet and the 'other' to whom he addresses himself.

Work Cited :
1. Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A selection, Alan Sheridan.(New York: Norton, 1977),P.41
2. Sigmund Freud, "Five Lectures on psycho-Analysis" [1910, 1909], The Standard Education of the Complete psychological works, ed. And trans. James Strachey and others (London : Hogarth),11:32. All further references to Freud's works are taken from the standard edition.
3. Deanna I. Silberman," Confessional poetry and Psychoanalysis," "Diss Northwestern University,1979, PP.126-127.
4. Thomas Clark, "The Art of poetry 8: Allen Ginsberg," The paris Review 10(spring 1966),P.17
5. Jack Kerouac, "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose," Evergreen Review 2("summer 1958), P.72
6. Keriuac,P.73
7. Stanley A. Leavy, The Psychoanalytic Dialogue (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980),P.20
8. Breton, PP.116.122.
9. Williamson, Pity the Monstere: The Political Vision of Robert Lowell (New Haven, conn: Yale University Press,1`974)PP.158-159.
10. Robert Hass," Lowell's Graveyard": Salmagundi 37 (Spring 1977),PP.58-59.

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