Analysis of Scientific Practice in the Poetry of William Carlos Williams

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William Carlos Williams was not the first writer to explore the theme of scientific discovery and practise in literature, but he was one of the first American writers to do so in a positive manner. Works of European gothic literature had cemented the archetype of the mad scientist with figures such as Dr Frankenstein and Dr Moreau; while the birth and subsequent success of Science Fiction in the U.S with the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe show us that the American people also had anxieties regarding the potential of science. It seems expected that Williams, a man who spent most of his professional life practising as a Doctor, would be instrumental in breaking this taboo. In this essay, I shall be examining the way in which Williams and those who followed him chose to depict the scientific world, and how the practices of that world influence the style and structure of their work. In poems such as ‘The Poor’ Williams explores the relationship between the working classes and the presence of science in the community, questioning the necessity of the mistrust often associated with it. ‘The Poor’ shows a community’s gradual acceptance of their school physician, who they initially loathe for the ‘reminders of the lice in/their children's hair’ – the community seem to be intent upon projecting their anger at their own medical ailments on the physician’s medical knowledge making them visible. Thus knowledge itself becomes diseased. The trigger for the physician’s acceptance is not, as one might hope, a sudden realisation of his value to the community, or an abandonment of their prejudices - but merely the passing of time making them accustomed to their hatred, ‘But by this familiarity/they grew used to him, and so,/at last,/took... ... middle of paper ... ...ghs characterises language as a physical disorder, but there is also an argumentum ad metum in the daunting use of medical terms to describe psychological phenomena. However optimistic Williams might be about the place of science in the arts, it seems that our fear surrounding certain aspects of science and medicine is not yet distinguished. The innovative use of scientific themes and techniques Williams’ poetry were evidently instrumental in creating his unique - and frequently emulated - poetic voice. His influence on Ginsberg is intriguing, but somewhat expected; while Burroughs rebels against the acceptance that Williams attained by choosing to analyse the darker side of the scientific world in literature. However, all three writers share an analogous intrigue with the scientific world which, in my opinion, is applied effectively in their creative work.

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