After Language Writing: In Defense of a Provisional Poetics
Poetry and ethics
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AbstractThis dissertation contextualizes North American “Post-Language” writing within a discourse about poetry and ethics—a discourse that I associate with explorations of ethical responsibility in poetic defenses. I posit a theory of “provisionality” in order to account for both the poetics and the ethics of the poetic defense. Provisionality consists of three aspects—the necessary, the conditional, and the anticipatory—aspects that characterize how apologists organize their defenses, and how poetry takes responsibility for the world, the audience, the poet, and the text. I contend that Post-Language writers represent the most recent defenders of poetry’s ethicality, grounding the abstract politics of Language writing in actual political stakes, like gender, race, and class. This dissertation consists of four chapters. Chapter one elaborates my theory of “provisionality,” providing a survey of poetic defenses. Inspired by M.H. Abrams’s four orientations of literary theory, I chart the history of defenses in four major modes and four transitional modes of poetic responsibility. Chapter two considers four Language writers, Ron Silliman, Bruce Andrews, Lyn Hejinian, and Charles Bernstein, all of whom engage in four provisional modes of poetic responsibility—modes that revise the four traditional modes of poetic responsibility. Explicating four poems by these writers, I demonstrate how these writers enact an ethical responsibility. Chapter three explores the concept of the “Post-Language,” examining the work of four American Post-Language poets, Mark Nowak, Rodrigo Toscano, Juliana Spahr, and Harryette Mullen. Aligning each writer with one of the provisional modes, I explicate poems by these writers in order to show how Post-Language writing grounds these modes in actual political stakes. Chapter four proposes a Canadian Post-Language phenomenon, and considers the work of four poets, Jeff Derksen, Rachel Zolf, Lisa Robertson, and Stephen Cain. Associating each writer with one of the provisional modes, I explicate poems by these writers in order to represent Post-Language writing as a North American sensibility. In my conclusion, I offer a Manifesto for an ongoing Poetics of Provisionality.
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