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Chapter 1 - Thinking with Things

Language, Commodities, and the Social Ontologies of Objects in Louis Zukofsky’s “A”-8 and -9

from Part I - Historical Materialism and the Materials of History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 September 2023

Justin Parks
Affiliation:
University of Tromso
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Summary

This chapter proposes that Louis Zukofsky’s ongoing work on his long poem “A” was animated by a strong investment in restoring a sense of language’s historical and material situatedness – its social ontology – as a means of combatting what Zukofsky and other contemporary writers saw as its vulgarization within an emerging commodity culture. I argue that in the eighth and ninth sections of “A,” written between mid 1935 and early 1940, Zukofsky equates labor and language, revealing both to be historically contingent and socially produced. I begin the chapter by returning to the debate between Zukofsky and Ezra Pound over the concept of the commodity to reveal an under-discussed aspect of their quarrel, namely its basis in the two poets’ attitudes concerning language’s relation to materiality. I then move on to align the treatment of the commodity in “A”-8 and (the first half of) “A”-9, an often-discussed aspect of these sections, with their seldom noted but equally important thematization of language. Focusing on the equivalences the poem draws between labor and language, I claim that the project of restoring both to their concrete historical conditions of social production furnishes a key to reading Zukofsky’s long poem.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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  • Thinking with Things
  • Justin Parks, University of Tromso
  • Book: Poetry and the Limits of Modernity in Depression America
  • Online publication: 21 September 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009347808.003
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  • Thinking with Things
  • Justin Parks, University of Tromso
  • Book: Poetry and the Limits of Modernity in Depression America
  • Online publication: 21 September 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009347808.003
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Thinking with Things
  • Justin Parks, University of Tromso
  • Book: Poetry and the Limits of Modernity in Depression America
  • Online publication: 21 September 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009347808.003
Available formats
×