Download Designed Words for a Designed World: The International Concrete Poetry Movement, 1955-1971 PDF

TitleDesigned Words for a Designed World: The International Concrete Poetry Movement, 1955-1971
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Table of Contents
                            DESIGNED PRELIMINARY Final
1 - Introduction final
2 - Poetics of the Global final
3 – Utopias of Concrete final
4 - Concrete Poetry and Conceptual Art final
5 - Spaces of Concrete
Conclusion final
Works Cited final
Document Text Contents
Page 1




B.A., The University of British Columbia, 2000
M.A., Simon Fraser University, 2002







September 2010

© Jamie Hilder 2010

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This dissertation positions the International Concrete Poetry movement within its

historical moment and links it to the emergence of a new global imaginary around the middle

of the 20th century. It makes the argument that contemporaneous social and technological

shifts directly influenced the compositional strategies of a group of poets who aimed to

transform poetry’s communicative power in a rapidly shifting media environment. By

positioning primary materials – poems, manifestos, and statements by the poets themselves –

against contemporaneous cultural phenomena across various disciplines, I perform a critical

examination that allows for new strategies for engaging work that has historically frustrated

readers. I identify in a series of permutational poems the influence of rudimentary computer

technology and the implications that technology has for poetic subjectivity. I locate the

international character of the movement in modernization projects such as Brasília, and in

technologies that held significance for the entire globe, such as reinforced concrete, satellite

photography, and nuclear weapons. As concrete poetry takes shape in both books and

galleries, I investigate the spatial implications of the work in its various forms, and analyse its

often fraught relationship with Conceptual Art, which also presented language in innovative

ways though in pursuit of different purposes. Across this terrain my methodological approach

oscillates between art history and literary and cultural studies, paying close attention to how

the poetry circulated within and imagined global spaces at a time that predated but in some

ways initiated the trends we now see more fully developed in current concepts of


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United States in the techno-propagandistic battle with the Soviets. Not nearly enough place it

within a development of a new global imaginary, or the concomitant shifts towards transnational

economic organization, a development that is directly linked to the proliferation of imagery

within a drastically expanded mediascape. As the twin traumas of the Holocaust and the atomic

bomb attacks of 1945 were not felt by European Jews or the Japanese alone, but were distributed

via visual media along a path of horror around the world, the space expeditions and their visual

data had a tremendous international effect upon humans' visual conception of the Earth, and by

doing so altered the way its inhabitants thought about one another. Things did not become

smaller, in the popular understanding of McLuhan's concept of the global village, but the

distances, both on Earth and in outer space, became less of an obstacle. The radio transmitter and

domestic air travel made a new level of connectivity possible.

The first image of Earth from space was collected from a camera fitted to the nose cone

of a V2 rocket launched from White Sands, New Mexico in 1946. Several V2 rockets, from the

same manufacturing plant in Peenemunde, Germany as the rockets that had wreaked havoc on

London a year previously, had been captured by the Americans at the end of the war and

shipped, along with the team which designed them, back to the United States. Werner von Braun,

the chief engineer of the Nazi's rocket program, who held the rank of Major in Hitler's SS, would

become the Americans' top rocket designer over the next three decades, and was the figure

responsible for the Americans' reaching the moon before the Soviet Union.11

The V2 from White Sands reached a height of sixty-five kilometres, just beyond the

Earth's atmosphere, before returning to Earth. It was not until Sputnik in 1957, however, that a

rocket was powerful enough to launch a satellite into orbit. The polished aluminum sphere

11 Von Braun's Nazi history was kept secret in America until after his death in the 1970s. There is
speculation that he and his team were passed up for defence contracts because of their foreignness, and
that had they been awarded those contracts the United States would have been the first to both launch a
satellite and a manned space expedition.

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satellite emitted a simple pulsebeat as it orbited the Earth. The signal was pure information,

without any linguistic character, but information that carried an exciting message to its

recipients; the pulsebeat operated outside of national language, entirely within scientific

communication. The Americans tried to distinguish a code within the emission, but it was

nothing more than a simple pattern designed to be received by amateur radio operators around

the world, welcoming them to a newly discovered space.

The launch of Sputnik occurred within the International Geophysical Year (IGY), an

international cooperative endeavour to use recent advances in scientific observation tools to

gather data about the Earth's oceans, weather, polar ice caps and atmosphere. The year was

actually eighteen months (July 1st, 1957 – December 31st, 1958), and was scheduled to

correspond with increased sunspot activity and several eclipses. The data collected was

guaranteed to be open to scientific organizations from all nations, creating a space of global

exchange using technical data as a universal language. This was the promise of space exploration

in general, to discover a space that superseded the political organization of Earth:

Amid explicitly imperial tropes of representation, space offered the prospect of a

renewed form of settlement, this time into a zone safely free from human

difference. Returning to etymological roots, humans could find new domains to

culture, together, as a species. By considering the earth as a planetary entity, then,

fantasies of space exploration have presented a 'limit case' of one measure of

scale. Within them – and their potential realization – the atmosphere serves as the

threshold of human unity. (Redfield 800)

The space race was not simply about the battle between the Soviet Union and the United States

for scientific and military supremacy, but was watched by a global community uninterested in

the terrestrial political consequences those powers were convinced would take place. Indeed, as

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