Publication details [#5153]

Gleason, Daniel W. 2007. Seeing imagism: A poetics of literary visualization. Evanston, Ill.. 238 pp.
Publication type
Ph.D dissertation
Publication language


This dissertation investigates the ways in which poetry encourages visual images in the reader. This investigation breaks new ground, for in the wake of behaviorist psychology and the linguistic turn in literary theory, literary critics have ignored and often spurned the visual imagination. The project uses Imagist poetry as a case study, for several reasons: the movement valorized the "image," a vague but provocative entity; Imagist doctrine is full of strong appeals to vision and the reader's eye; and the movement inaugurated modern (20th century) poetry in English, and is thus historically crucial. This dissertation argues that Imagist poetry sustains its visual claims through several textual features that promote mental imagery for readers. Significantly, diction is only one influence on image formation; grammar, metaphor, and meter are also key. This project examines five textual features - concreteness, parataxis, image metaphor, prompting, and free verse - and analyzes each feature's appeal to imagery through the latest insights of cognitive psychology. Concrete diction is primary: research reveals that concrete words produce more vivid images than abstract words, and in a shorter time. That Imagism's embrace of the concrete yields clear cognitive effects is perhaps an unsurprising notion. However, larger poetic structures also influence visualization. Research on sentences indicates that paratactic structures encourage more imagery than hypotactic structures, so the leaps and disjunctures common to Imagist poetry are likely to spur visualization. Further, many Imagist poems contain what cognitive scientists call "image metaphors," which imply a visual resemblance between two terms and thus encourage the reader to form an image. In addition, Imagist poems often thematize the act of seeing and thus implicitly "prompt" the reader to visualize, to see what the speaker sees. Finally, and most speculatively, research on music and cognition suggests that free verse may promote imagery more than metrical verse - a serendipitous outcome of metrical loosening. In broadest terms, this mode of analysis - a poetics of visualization - helps restore critical attention to the interaction of texts and the visual imagination. (Dissertation Abstracts)