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Visions of the City of London: mechanical eye and poetic transcendence in Wordsworth's Prelude, Book 7

Visions of the City of London: mechanical eye and poetic transcendence in Wordsworth's Prelude, Book 7

Abstract

Scholarship on Wordsworth's Prelude has often remarked, paraphrasing the poet, that the sensational overkill of book 7 represents a critical moment in the autobiographical narrative. Instead of a failure of vision, however, I would speak of the verses depicting the city of London as an extraordinary mimetic rendition of urban fragmentation that pushes the boundaries of what constituted a spectacle worthy of artistic representation. In doing so, this section parallels the innovative styles of painting that were beginning to emerge in Great Britain as well as the contemporary attempts at studying, capturing and reproducing movement through fragmentation in scientific research on sight and in popular forms of pre-cinematic entertainment. In this sense, Wordsworth's poetics of juxtaposed, fragmented “takes” seen by the “eye-I” of the poet inaugurates a new aesthetics of urban modernism that may proleptically give the impression of reality made possible by the technology of film. Wordsworth's representation, therefore, finds inspiration not in the panorama or the diorama, but rather in a kinetic sensitivity that will find an echo in a specific genre of the early history of film, “a day in the life of a big city,” to which Paul Strand, Walther Ruttmann and Dziga Vertov contributed.
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