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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: October 2009

1 - Entitled new: a social philology of modern American poetry


It's a very long and difficult job … to see how, in the very detail of composition, a certain social structure, a certain history, discloses itself. This is not doing any kind of violence to that composition. It's precisely finding ways in which forms and formations, in very complex ways, interact and interrelate.

Raymond Williams (1989), The Politics of Modernism, 185

This book situates itself within modernist studies, trying one way of relating modernism to modernities. Propelled by the scintillating critical practices from feminist, ethnic, and other materialist critics and poetic communities, my reading of poetry within modernist studies probes works of art by people struggling with formations entitled new – New Woman, New Black, New Jew. Part of the “newness” of modernity lies in its representation of the urgencies and contradictions of these modern subjectivities. By a method I call social philology, I propose a reactivation of close reading to examine in poetry the textual traces and discursive manifestations of a variety of ideological assumptions, subject positions, and social concepts concerning gender, race, and religious culture. It is the purpose of this book to offer reading strategies that can mediate between the historical terrain and the intimate poetic textures of a work.

Certainly the materials and themes of poems involve discursive elements (allusions, diction, tropes) and depict issues traceable to particular social subjects.