Fragments of an attempted reading: towards a phenomenology of The anathemata

Depper, Corin (2008) Fragments of an attempted reading: towards a phenomenology of The anathemata. In: The long poem: major forms; 16 - 17 May 2008, Sussex, U.K.. (Unpublished)


Fragments of an Attempted Reading: Towards a Phenomenology of 'The Anathemata' David Jones's The Anathemata, first published in 1952 and subtitled Fragments of an Attempted Writing, presents, through its complex late-modernist interleaving of key themes and poetic voices, a fine example of the challenges posed by long-form poetry; both in terms of the intricacy of its planning and execution, but also in the challenges it poses to the reader. But what then does it mean to say that one has read a long poem: what sort of process is being described here? On one level, these questions are incontestably banal; the process of reading such a work is, physiologically at least, really no different from any other sort of reading. However, I would suggest that the long poem asks its readers to undertake quite a different act of reading on a phenomenological level, and it is this that most concerns me here. This process is compounded in the case of The Anathemata, as in so much poetry written under the aegis of modernism, by the lengthy process of exegesis essential for even a basic understanding of the text. As with Terrell's Companion to Pound's Cantos, Rene Hague's Commentary is a seemingly necessary Virgil for any new reader -- yet fragmenting the reading process into a spiralling series of texts, intertexts, and paratexts. Furthermore, Jones also provides his own extensive marginal commentary to the work; a move that seems to further distance the reader from the text of the work itself. In this intermeshing of text and commentary then, what can one say of the nature of the reading process? Does this process effectively undermine the integrity of the long poem as a form; or does it point to new ways to conceive of the relationship between the textual object and its experiential processes?

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