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What brings speculative realism and posthumanism together is a mutual understanding that, while the non-human world might be unexpected or unknowable, it is nevertheless real. Strategies for confronting this reality are the focus of this chapter. Although there are different strands of speculative realism, all are based on the argument that while there is a divide between human and non-human worlds, this divide can be crossed, either directly or indirectly. Thus although we can never really know the other because it is outside of human experience, this does not mean there is an unbreachable gap, because art is created by the tension between humanity and the world-beyond-humanity, exceeding even the concepts of art’s creators. Work by Kazuo Ishiguro, Solmaz Sharif, Christian Bök, Denis Villeneuve, and Juliana Spahr is used to develop this thesis.
One of the underlying arguments of this book is that poetry’s value is bound up in its “negative capability,” in its presentation of complexity. It isn’t that the ambiguity or uncertainty embedded in a poem is part of some devious machination on the part of the poet, but that poetry is founded in a fissure, as the previous chapter show in a variety of ways. This argument comes under heavy pressure in a time of global political and ecological crisis. Never has it been more stupifyingly clear that “poetry makes nothing happen,” as Auden wrote. And never have the deep foundations of poetry seemed so precarious. The importance of nature for poetry is so deep as to be nearly unnoticeable, not only poetry’s reliance on the ideologies of the pastoral, but also poetry’s leveraging its own significance by way of the sublimity of the natural world. What happens when nature is under planetary threat? What is the status of a nature poem well after the death of nature? How might we understand poetry within the context of ongoing ecological devastation? This chapter considers these questions through reading of poems by Stephanie Strickland and Nick Montfort, Ed Roberson, and Juliana Spahr.
Is there a way to understand a poem as an intertwining of thought and feeling? If every art, according to Pater in The Renaissance, has “its own peculiar and untranslatable sensuous charm,” “its own special mode of reaching the imagination,” and “its own special responsibilities to its material,” then can we also understand poems to offer unique instantiations of thought, which are inextricable from their imaginative, sensuous, and affective dimensions? Previous chapters have considered the value of poetry as a type of linguistic attentiveness and play, as a practice of vocalization and inscription, and as a way to map the complexities of subjectivity. This chapter follows up on those considerations in order to think about how poems might think, and about how both writers and readers might approach a poem as a crystallized yet open process of thinking and feeling. Not only the presentation of a speech act, nor the account of a subjectivity in formation, nor the formalized play of language, a poem can also depict and spur a process of thought that is, as it were, felt. Via readings of poems by Tracy K. Smith, Tongo Eisen-Martin, and Lisa Robertson, this chapter aims to show how poets map and process thought, and how readers think their way through poems.
Carr studies a diverse and intergenerational group of twenty-first-century feminist poets: Serena Chopra (US), Khadijah Queen (US), Aditi Machado (US/India), Lisa Robertson (Canada/France), and Nat Raha (UK), each of whom address patriarchal violence in their poems. While the articulation of the wounded woman’s body is a central project of contemporary feminism (as it has been of prior feminisms), as evidenced by the #MeToo movement, so too is the corresponding and equally dynamic celebration and display of women’s bodies as sources and sites of pleasure. In so far as patriarchy’s violence is often aimed at women’s bodies’ capacity for pleasure and desire, the expression of such pleasure becomes a form of resistance. Therefore, as much as the poems Carr reads air the wounds of patriarchy, they also explore the erotic thought of very broadly as that which draws us towards one another, as that which motivates the permeation of boundaries, and as that which emphasises the vulnerability of people in relation as a response to such wounds.
This chapter begins from the premise that poetry affords specific modes of attention and linguistic play, and that both are central to poetry’s value. It is a truism that poems tend to require a slower, more deliberate pace of reading in order for their intricacies and meanings to become fully apparent. Our contemporary culture is deeply inattentive, with distraction, multitasking, and disengagement all symptoms of social and cultural life. Many contemporary poems push against these conditions, whether implicitly or explicitly, by offering a space for noncoercive attention. The compaction or density of poetry isn’t simply a sign of its difficulty or unapproachability, it is more centrally an index of readerly possibilities. Poems condense, arrange, and splay language. On top of language’s system of syntax and grammar, poetry places a rhythmic and sonic grid – whether based on a conventional metrical scheme or not. In part, this chapter exfoliates Roman Jakobson’s “poetic function” in order to suggest the various ways that contemporary poetry mobilizes an assortment of grids, patterns, and schemes as part of its compositional unfolding. It includes readings of poems by Paul Muldoon, Maggie O’Sullivan, Seamus Heaney, Jen Hadfield, and Harryette Mullen.
This chapter considers the ways that poems construct forms of subjectivity. While the unproblematized, monologic lyric subject is a problematic figure, poems still have the capacity to construct and stage more viable modes of subjectivity and self-making. And such a reconfigured subject can become much more attentive to its embedding in various networks of social, economic, and ecological relations. In this way, the value of contemporary poetry inheres precisely in its continuing and critical interest in the status of subjectivity and of individual life within world systems that are unthinkable at the level of the human. Without reaching back once again to an outmoded model of the Romantic subject, much contemporary poetry seeks ways to represent the precariousness and vicissitudes of individual experience and to frame those experiences as more than simply “individual,” but rather as modes of responsiveness to social and environmental conditions. The chapter takes up poems by John Ashbery, Rae Armantrout, Roy Fisher, Jorie Graham, Claudia Rankine, and Layli Long Soldier.
The Introduction traces the traditions, institutions, prerogatives, and entailments of poetry as they shape and impinge upon the work of the present. It also tracks the ways that contemporary social, political, and technological developments have radically altered the place of poetry in culture. It situates the book’s argument within the lines of thinking about poetry that are woven into Western thought since Plato. It does this quite selectively, and rather than provide a synthetic account of Western poetics, the goal is to articulate how several key ideas about poetry have been taken up by different writers across cultures and historical moments. The Introduction also outlines the historical scope of this book, which, while deeply invested in a longer history of poetry, will focus primarily on textual examples from the past forty (or so) years.
This chapter reroutes Wordsworth’s description of poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquility” so as to consider a poem’s recollective potential from another angle. How might poems recollect both the past and their own historical moments? One of the most crucial activities that poets undertake is that of remembrance and memorialization, and part of this chapter focuses on forms of contemporary elegy. For a great many poets across the aesthetic spectrum, “recollection” isn’t primarily concerned with personal emotion or feeling, but rather with an attempt to account for past and present, often intertwining acts of personal memory and public history. Such poems aren’t simply “about” historical topics or reflections on the past. They also provide an alternate way of sifting, gathering, constellating, and presenting the materials of the past, not as stylized historiography but as a mode of counterhistorical writing. This chapter examines poetry’s abilities to recollect, as both a compositional spur and as a set of readerly affordances. It suggests the ways in which the notion of recollection might be expanded well beyond its Wordsworthian remit. Practices of recollection are vital both to the composition and reception of poetry, and in several ways this chapter cinches the concerns of the previous three. It focuses on texts by Denise Riley, Mary Jo Bang, Geoffrey Hill, Rita Dove, Caroline Bergvall, Natalie Harkin, and M. NourbeSe Philip.
Chapter 4, together with Chapter 5, focuses on the third level of lexis and the ἀρετὴ τῆς λέξεως (the excellence of lexis). Since Aristotle devotes much attention to this characteristic of lexis, the discussion of this third level of lexis has been divided into two chapters: Chapter 4 deals with the intra-textual aspect of Aristotle’s remarks on lexis as a means for the creation of different kinds of poetry and rhetoric, i.e. lexis as technē; in Chapter 5 extra-textual factors are considered and are followed by a discussion of the purpose and function of lexis on its third level.
Chapter 5 is a direct continuation of the stylistic features discussed in Chapter 4. Rather than focusing on intra-textual aspects, though, this chapter looks at the extra-textual factors medium, hypokrisis (delivery) and audience, all of which further influence lexis on its third level. The chapter finishes with an examination of the purpose and function of lexis on its third level.
The term isrāʾ, based on the first verse of sūra 17, is typically rendered as ‘Night Journey’. There is little compelling evidence that this was the original meaning of the Qur'anic text, and medieval lexicographers and exegetes preserved a number of alternative meanings, such as that asrā was a denominal verb meaning ‘to travel through the uplands (al-sarāh)’. Another explanation is that asrā is a denominal verb of the noun sariyya (pl. sarāyā), a military expedition. By drawing on early historiographical descriptions of sarāyā and South Arabian inscriptions, which give evidence that the word sariyya is of Sabaic origin, the Qur'anic meaning of asrā was evidently something like ‘to send on a royal expedition’. Early Islamic Arabic poetic texts also offer extremely compelling evidence that the first Muslims were familiar with some of the key concepts of South Arabian royal authority as they appear in Sabaic inscriptions.
Composers have long engaged with texts, but the extent to which they have consciously constructed a literary cosmos around their work and private lives has radically changed over the last two centuries. For modern composers, it has been increasingly common to read not merely to enrich intellectual horizons or scour for musically settable material, but as a means to tap into a reservoir through which the reception of their music can add a layer of cultural legitimation. Viewed against this wider context, the extensive library that Strauss collected, read, and selectively presented to audiences in various musical formats symbolizes neither the physical legacy of a lifelong bibliophile (Brahms) nor the quiet spiritual refuge of a well-heeled bourgeois (Elgar). Rather, it constitutes the material footprint of an intellectual disposition toward the world that stems from a deeper-held set of beliefs about the cultural mission of literature in Western European history.
Victorian culture encouraged the identification of women readers with male narrators and characters as a vehicle for female submission to male representation through marriage. This chapter argues that wayward women readers were not appeased by masculine identification, but rather inspired by it to act beyond the domestic sphere. In contrast with women authors such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot, who were criticized for adopting conventionally masculine styles or subject matter, women readers were exhorted from girlhood in conduct guides and John Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies lectures to prepare for absorption into their husbands’ legal identities through identification with male characters and activities. Written during the debates on the reform of marriage law that would continue through the end of the century, and published on the eve of the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act, Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh promotes a distinctively literary rather than marital mode of identification with masculinity. Instead of identifying herself with her future husband, an action she associates with self-erasure, Aurora models a wayward identification with male poetic muses that allows her to maintain her integrity as an artistic subject.
Puritan theology was distinctly literary. Defined in relation to the Bible and asserting a scriptural standard for faith and religious practice, it was firmly anchored in reading and interpretation. Conversely, puritan theology shaped puritan literature. Puritans considered the Bible as they read it and heard it taught, and they interpreted and wrote about their own experiences in light of the Bible and other textual models of religious experience. Puritan texts were shaped by theology, both because theories of reading and writing were central to puritan faith and because puritan faith was central to the lives and experiences of many puritan writers. Puritan writers – both ministers and laypeople – addressed the complexities of their beliefs and their religious experience in various genres, including theology manuals, sermons, spiritual autobiographies and conversion narratives, and poetry. Puritan writers also addressed theoretical questions about what kinds of textual expression were most appropriate and most spiritually efficacious for their communities. As ministers, political leaders, and laypeople wrestled with the challenges of their faith and its consequences for individuals and communities, they created a varied body of illuminating and moving texts that reveal the rich complexity of puritan belief and puritan literary practice.
This chapter offers an understanding of puritan aesthetics by approaching it through the religious experience of conversion. Insofar as aesthetics are ever thought of in relation to puritanism, the usual scholarly conversation concerns the role, relevance, and consequences of the puritan plain style. Plain style matters, but it does not explain the broader aesthetic intentions or forms of puritan writing. Conversion comes much closer to the heart of it. Radical Protestants in early New England insisted that true religion began with the power of God acting on the individual to produce conversion to a new life of delight in God. The unconverted might seek to “prepare” themselves for that transformation of the heart, but predestinarian theology demanded that the crucial moment of change must be utterly external – a true work of God and not one of self-fashioning. In preaching, in poetry, and in personal conversion relations, puritans used the language of the heart to describe God’s power in conversion. This chapter traces how the response to sorrow and beauty characterizes puritan conversion stories from the first establishment of the colony of Massachusetts.
The New Woman has a complex relationship with Decadence. For some critics, the Decadent movement is inherently misogynistic. In Daughters of Decadence (1993) Showalter argues that Decadence defines itself ‘against the feminine and biological creativity of women … In decadent writing, women are seen as bound to Nature and the material world because they are more physical than men, more body than spirit, they appear as objects of value only when they are aesthetised as corpses or phallicised as femme fatales’
Examines Quintus’ use of memory as a device for literary recapitulation. Considers what happens when Quintus’ characters, who are ‘still in the Iliad’, remember the Iliad incorrectly. It is argued that rather than offering a correction of Homer’s version of events, Quintus uses the pliability of memory as a retrospective figure to defend and continue the act of poetic selectivity. He is therefore able to provide Homer’s response to charges of lying prevalent in revisionist strands of his imperial reception (e.g. in Dio Chrysostom, Dares, Dictys and Philostratus – who emerge as key players in this chapter).
In 1852, Wagner described his text for the Ring cycle as “the greatest poem that has ever been written.” This chapter asks to what extent the musical innovations – responding to historical linguistics – were formative for a generation of writers as well as composers. To what extent did innovation in one medium engender innovative techniques in another? After contextualizing Wagner’s operatic reforms within his early writings and related moments within the history of the genre, it explores a cornucopia of modernist writers working in the shadow of the Ring cycle: from Wilde, D. H. Lawrence, and Aubrey Beardsley, to Yeats, Mann, and Beckett; from Mallarmé and Dujardin to Zola and Proust, to name but a few. It traces the profound influence on literature of leifmotivic techniques, as “carriers of feeling,” amid the shift to words as a dereferentialized system of signs. The role of alliteration, direct parody, interior monologue, and involuntary memory all contribute to the overall view that appropriation and influence of “reformist” techniques in literature and linguistics remained in the hands of authors, regardless of Wagner’s predictions for his own literary greatness.
This chapter analyzes Native performers’ visits to London in the nineteenth century, their mobility, and their self-conscious negotiations with the modern world. It emphasizes their resistance to the stereotypes through which impresarios, audiences, and commentators sought to circumscribe them. It considers the visits made by the Ojibwe who traveled with George Catlin in the 1840s, and the performers who appeared with Buffalo Bill later in the century, among others, discussing how they pushed back against the framing narratives of “savagery” and the “vanishing Indian.” It explores in detail the two London visits made by Pauline Johnson, her social and cultural interactions, and the apparent ease with which she navigated the slippage between her Mohawk heritage and London drawing rooms and theatres at Empire’s high point. Distinctive as Johnson was, she comes at the end the end of a long line of visitors who both exploited, and destabilized, familiar cultural stereotypes.
This essay looks at the innovations in poetry and poetry publishing from 2001 to 2018, with a particular emphasis on the emerging generation of Indigenous poets like Sherwin Bitsui, Orlando White, Natalie Diaz, and Layli Long Soldier. While paying close attention to the themes and motifs that have been of interest to Native writers, this essay foregrounds innovations in poetic form, including erasures and strikethroughs, complicated syntax, and typographical experimentation. A good deal of recent Native poetry takes on English and its rules and structures as a tool of colonization, repression, identification, and misinformation, and in so doing, seeks to remake English so that it might be viewed through an Indigenous lens.