André Salmon was important to the “Objectivists” because he, “like his friend Guillaume Apollinaire,” was among “the generation which devolved from Symbolism.” The methods which they “devolved” were similar to that of the “Objectivists.”
Symbolism discarded, André Salmon now wrote poetry which was neither dreamy nor sentimental, but a matter of neat and simple notation. He did not even employ the artifice of the current metaphor, and yet he did secure the validity of its detail and ornament. “Nominalistic poetry.”
Among the arguments that [Louis] Zukofsky gave [Ezra] Pound for including this translation of René Taupin’s review of André Salmon [in the “Objectivists” Issue of Poetry Magazine, 1931] was the assertion that it would reinforce what he considered to be his own position—nominalism. Although the “Objectivists” were not nominalists in the extreme sense of denying the existence of universals or of believing that all relations of word to thing are arbitrary, they were nominalists in the sense of distrusting vague phrases, general and abstract words, and discursive analyses and commentaries. Like Salmon, they wanted a poetry which presents the thing rather than qualifies or talks about it. Taupin wrote: “The metaphor of Baudelaire, or even the metaphor of Mallarmé, was primarily qualitative; it expressed what consistently poor adjectives could not express.” However, Taupin, on the one hand, felt that metaphor and image were essentially artifice. He asked: “Would the image no longer do?” and answered: “The real would.” He asked: “And language?” and answered: “Not metaphors, but the most immediate projections of the real which does not stop being real, even taking on, under this handling, plastic, decorative and emotive value.” The “Objectivists” believed, on the other hand, in the Emerson-Fenollosa-Pound tradition, that certain metaphors and images were of the essence of the real. At the roots of all language are metaphors which substantiate original perceptions which can be revitalized in poetry as thought, melody, and image. Nevertheless, the metaphor of the “Objectivists” was not the metaphor of Baudelaire and Mallarmé. It was interpretive rather than qualitative. Qualitative metaphor modifies but does not create perception of the fact. It is a subjective comment about a thing, “hallucination,” not perception.
Like Salmon, the “Objectivists” wanted a poetry the validity of which was secured by revelation of the real. Taupin wrote: “Nominalistic poetry is the synthesis of real detail, similar to the art of the primitives; and not of abstract or decomposed detail, like the impressionists.” The difference between real and abstract or decomposed detail, like the difference between objective and subjective Images as Pound defined them is whether the detail emerges from the mind of the poet like or unlike his original generative experience. Details become abstract or decomposed as their accessibility to experience becomes attenuated by preconceived requirements and subjective distortions and associations.
Taupin argued for “the most direct contact,” approaching the purity of mathematical formula, the expressiveness of “scientific statement,” or newspaper reportage. “The newspaper,” he claimed, “is not so insipid as one might think when the news runs together and bears a definite imprint; it is only when the news inclines to be ‘literary’ that it loses its force of perfect notation. . . . The event therefore should be left to its integrality, to its maximum of the wonderful . . . The fact as it forms, that is not as it is cooked by the imperfect or predatory or sentimental poet.”
Regard for the event was characteristic of both Salmon and the “Objectivist.” Taupin wrote that “epic poetry is neither recitative nor narrative”; it is neither moralistic nor depends “on decorative qualities for its framework.” Epic poetry depends on “the poetic value of the event.” The epic poet does not feel the need for “making his heroes greater than their action.”
But this poetry is based on choice, on the imagination which apparently does not create but discovers, and gives the accomplished fact its maximum of the real: the esthetic of the reporter and the cinematographer—Eisenstein looking for the perfect Russian peasant woman and finding her after examining a thousand imperfect ones.
Salmon, like the “Objectivists,” consciously chose the details that best represent the wholes of which they are parts, the particulars which best evoke the experiences which involve them. The particulars of sincerity, therefore, can not be invented out of nothing. “The image,” Oppen wrote, “is encountered.”
The Nominalist poet allows details, by themselves, without analytic underpinning, to evoke the event. “The composition of the poem,” wrote Taupin, “is neither descriptive nor narrative”; its contents are not classified or schematized. Speaking of Salmon’s Prikaz, in which Salmon discovered “the value of the Russian revolution,” Taupin wrote:
It is obvious that the objects in this poem do not hold together in an association of ideas, but in their proper force of attraction.’ There is an art more than composition—even the composition of the impressionists; there is the attraction of the magnet, and the electric shock, the reality runs into reality by these brusgue transformations of shock: the esthetic of Eisenstein.
If drawing a constellation, a nominalist would present the stars as dots by themselves in their proper arrangement, leaving out the lines we imagine between them and the mythological figures we associate with them, knowing the reader would imagine the lines and figures for himself. This compositional method is the same as Pound’s ideogramic method—the presentation of synecdochic details or examples whose juxtaposition participates in certain lines of force—the magnet’s rose pattern in iron filings. It does not depend on either Symbolist or rationalistic “association of ideas.” If the idea or sentiment is valid, it will appear as a gestalt of the assembled details.
This “restitution” of ideas to an assembly of facts is “the essential distinction of the epic”:
Prikaz is this generation’s unique, intelligent attempt to give to the epic its rightful qualities, to find again the essential distinction of the epic, which is neither love nor hate but the restitution of these sentiments to a chain of facts which exist and the existence of which confers upon them the marvelous (le marveilleux—cf. Chateaubriand, le merveilleux chrétien) indispensable to all poetry.
Zukofsky echoed this concept of epic restitution in his “Program”: an “Objective” is “the direction of historic and contemporary particulars . . . a thing or things as well as an event or chain of events.” Zukofsky also made Taupin’s statement the epigraph to the “epic” section of An “Objectivists” Anthology and claimed in his preface that “poets should ultimately attempt” the epic restitution which Taupin accurately described.
André Salmon is the forgotten Cubist writer though he outlived many of his early associates. He shared quarters in the famous Bateau-Lavoir with Picasso and Max Jacob, and, along with Guillaume Apollinaire, was an early proponent of Cubism. For more on the fascinating life of this poet, go to andresalmon.org
Prikaz (“decree” in Russian) is Salmon’s unique epic poem from 1919 in sixteen juxtaposed fragments. Each envisions the Russian Revolution from a specific point of view and without narrative continuity nor the reappearance of characters.
René Taupin was a French translator, critic, and academic who lived most of his life in the United States and is best known for L’influence du symbolisme français sur la poésie américaine (de 1910 à 1920), published in 1929, and for singling out William Carlos Williams, who at the time was receiving very little critical attention, by stating, “Peut-être William Carlos Williams a-t-il composé la formule de l’art américain.” (Perhaps William Carlos Williams has himself composed the formula for American art.)
The entirety of Tom Sharp’s scholarly appraisal is available at The Objectivists with all the attendant footnotes and proper permissions.
Tom Sharp is the author of numerous books, including Spectacles from Taurean Horn Press, and a member of Seldovia Village Tribe. He was a student of David Bromige’s at Sonoma State University and studied with Albert Gelpi at Stanford University, where he earned his Ph.D. He is retired from IBM where he was a writer and programmer, and currently lives in Seattle.