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This article is taken from PN Review 153, Volume 30 Number 1, September - October 2003.

Form and Function (III): Form and Metaphysics N.S. Thompson

III Form and Metaphysics

In Ways of Seeing (1972), John Berger proposed that 'For the first time ever, images of art have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free'. Although he was talking about the mechanical reproduction of art, his words can also be applied to the visual arts in general. Furthermore, he proposed that these images surround us in the same way language surrounds us'. This second proposition is more problematic, but has had a reflex in avant-garde poetics from Gertrude Stein to the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E (hereafter 'Language') poets and beyond. This essay attempts to look at some effects of metaphysics on modern poetry, how form has been affected, and how it may even resist some of the more pernicious influences.

We may begin by asking a question. In times that individuals and societies perceive as uncertain and fragmented is it the artist's function to produce only uncertain and fragmented works? The possible justification for this would be in terms of art's obligation to provide an adequate representation of the times. The danger is that, in hindsight, this might come to be seen as a narrow and totally subjective (if collective) point of view; and this in turn leads one to ask if form cannot still offer a framework for such times, while at the same time reflecting them. What if the artist wishes to use the analogy of other times through which to represent his or her own? Some shape or framework is ...

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