Richard Anthony Cavell
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Media and literature
Graduate Student Supervision
Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Mar 2019)
Through a critical examination of his oeuvre in relation to his transoceanic geographical and intellectual mobility, this dissertation argues that George Woodcock (1912-1995) articulates and applies a normative and methodological approach I term "regional cosmopolitanism". I trace the development of this philosophy from its germination in London's thirties and forties, when Woodcock drifted from the poetics of the "Auden generation" towards the anti-imperialism of Mahatma Gandhi and the anarchist aesthetic modernism of Sir Herbert Read. I show how these connected influences--and those also of Mulk Raj Anand, Marie-Louise Berneri, Prince Peter Kropotkin, George Orwell, and French Surrealism--affected Woodcock's critical engagements via print and radio with the Canadian cultural landscape of the Cold War and its concurrent countercultural long sixties. Woodcock's dynamic and dialectical understanding of the relationship between literature and society produced a key intervention in the development of Canadian literature and its critical study leading up to the establishment of the Canada Council and the groundbreaking journal "Canadian Literature". Through his research and travels in India--where he established relations with the exiled Dalai Lama and major figures of an independent English Indian literature--Woodcock relinquished the universalism of his modernist heritage in practising, as I show, a postcolonial and postmodern situated critical cosmopolitanism that advocates globally relevant regional culture as the interplay of various traditions shaped by specific geographies. I account for the relationships that pertain between this cosmopolitanism and the theories of the other most prominent Canadian cultural critics of the period, Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan. Woodcock's regional cosmopolitanism, advancing a culturally and politically confederate country as first established by Canadian Aboriginal civilizations, charged the ascending Romantic nationalism of the period with imperialism. As a theory of "common ground" fostering participatory agency for the post-national global village, regional cosmopolitanism offers an alternative to multiculturalism and Western humanist models of organization associated with neoliberalism.
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 globalization.