Rewriting the World: Primers and Poetry in the Age of Confusion
These primers and poems represent the attempts of an era to recover or devise languages with which to rewrite the world. Proceeding from a variety of social and political agendas, the authors often aligned themselves with new configurations of the future. Selected from The Wolfsonian’s rare book and special collections library, the works on view chart the channels through which such alignments are inscribed in the rudiments of language—set into speech and written into thought.
Czech writer Vitezslav Nezval's 1926 explanation of his poetics is emblematic of the link many authors perceived between revised futures and renovations of language. He describes the infant born "like a sensitive emulsion," upon which sensations imprint themselves. In time, these sensations become associated with sounds—especially sounds made by the mouth—until the whole world takes shape in language. It is the child and the poet (the perpetual infant) who can read these links and so rewrite the world. Nezval's outlook, like that of others, took shape within an age of confusion, a reference framed by two scriptural events that witness the spread of confusion through the linguistic domain: the scattering of tongues brought about by the collapse of the Tower of Babel, and the end days leading to the redemption of the word. Both punishment and absolution here summon the vision of a linguistic utopia free of the ferment in which these works emerged: from the turbulent threshold of the First World War through the early years of wreckage wrought by the Second.