Means of Transport: Automobiles and Other New Vehicles of Ecstasy in the Writings of William Carlos Williams

Publikation: Konferencebidrag uden forlag/tidsskriftPaper/skriftligt oplægForskning


The car is probably one of the most central signifiers of modern scientific and technological progress. Not only did its introduction in early 20th century America quite literally move scientific progress into the street, it also provided its increasing number of users with new and technologically improved means of fast physical movement from one place to another. Yet, the impact that the technology of automobility came to have was not of a limited materialistic nature. As many literary and cultural critics have noted, car technology extended its influence into the field of imaginative transport. According to film theorist Julian Smith, the automobile has been just as much “embraced … as a form of emotional transport, the state or condition of being transported by ecstasy” as “perceived as a mode of transportation in the primary and ordinary sense of the word.”

This paper analyses the ways in which William Carlos Williams negotiates the relationship between these two kinds of automotive transport in some of his poetic and poetic prose writings from the period when the car was introduced on a more general scale in America. Intense moments of emotional and imaginative transport in Williams are often closely bound up with car driving, but – as the paper demonstrates – this aspect at the same time leads to a strong sense that ecstatic epiphanies are highly mechanical and in turn prone to all manners of technological breakdown and failure. The appearance of ‘automobility’ which car driving evokes as a means of physical and spiritual transport is thus consistently embedded in a less idealized context, where its technological machinery is foregrounded. In conclusion, the paper argues that Williams’s thematic treatment of the car in his writings may be read as a modern poet’s meta-poetic gloss on poetry’s most time-honoured trope: metaphor, or the figure of transport, as it is called in George Puttenham’s English translation of the Greek metaphorá.

Antal sider6
StatusUdgivet - 2004
BegivenhedInvention: Literature and Science - University of Leeds, Leeds, Storbritannien
Varighed: 12 jul. 200415 jul. 2004
Konferencens nummer: 10


LokationUniversity of Leeds