A Poetical Economy: Social Credit in William Carlos Willams’ Paterson (An Idea Kit) by Rebecca Steffy

Poetical Economy Thumbnail Image

COURSE: English 727 – Digital Humanities

MEDIUM: Graphic Essay

My goal in constructing this project was to transform a seminar paper, written previously for a graduate English class, into a graphic essay.

In my paper, I trace how Williams embeds economic rhetoric from the American Social Credit Movement, in which he participated, in his long poem Paterson. I argue that social credit helped to materially produce Paterson through the press that social credit advocates developed; that social credit provides a crucial metaphor for Williams’ vision of language and culture as resources that should be made increasingly available to people in order to help actualize a community’s productive potential; and that Paterson enacts a social credit economy on a formal level because Williams borrowed language from several disparate textual sources in order to construct it.

In this project, I attempt to perform rather than reiterate this argument. My guiding creative concept called for materials to be put in tension with one another – tactile, textual and visual materials – in order to approximate Williams’ mode of borrowing, mashing up, and underscoring the materiality of language. It is important to sift through the ostensibly “mis-matched” visual and textual materials, as well as to recognize that the materials I have engaged here exist as signs of Paterson or of Paterson, New Jersey only through a set of historical and interpretive removes. My hope is that the Kit, like Paterson, affords the opportunity to consider the organization and figures of poetic language in order to also consider organizations and figures of social life.

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