Being Numerous: Poetry and the Ground of Social Life (20/21)
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"Because I am not silent," George Oppen wrote, "the poems are bad." What does it mean for the goodness of an art to depend upon its disappearance? In Being Numerous, Oren Izenberg offers a new way to understand the divisions that organize twentieth-century poetry. He argues that the most important conflict is not between styles or aesthetic politics, but between poets who seek to preserve or produce the incommensurable particularity of experience by making powerful objects, and poets whose radical commitment to abstract personhood seems altogether incompatible with experience--and with poems.
Reading across the apparent gulf that separates traditional and avant-garde poets, Izenberg reveals the common philosophical urgency that lies behind diverse forms of poetic difficulty--from Yeats's esoteric symbolism and Oppen's minimalism and silence to O'Hara's joyful slightness and the Language poets' rejection of traditional aesthetic satisfactions. For these poets, what begins as a practical question about the conduct of literary life--what distinguishes a poet or group of poets?--ends up as an ontological inquiry about social life: What is a person and how is a community possible? In the face of the violence and dislocation of the twentieth century, these poets resist their will to mastery, shy away from the sensual richness of their strongest work, and undermine the particularity of their imaginative and moral visions--all in an effort to allow personhood itself to emerge as an undeniable fact making an unrefusable claim.
first, foundational section of his Logical Investigations, Husserl distinguishes between the bedeutsamen Zeichen, or “meaningful sign,” and what he calls an “indication sign” (Anzeichen). Husserl ultimately wishes to leave aside a consideration of mere indications (what he also calls Hinweisen, or “hints”) in favor of the phenomenology of Ausdrücke (“expressions”) that will be his central concern.71 It is nonetheless the Anzeichen that has seemed most useful to me in understanding the relation
fiat, poems. Rather, they address a problem that Oppen sees as endemic to poems: no matter how spare they become, they are still too fluent. Poems always seem to be saying something; or, in what amounts to the same thing, they are always making themselves available for particularizing judgment. This is what Oppen means when he says that all poems are “bad” insofar as they fail to be silent. Silence, on the other hand, is not fluent enough; not properly “inaudible,” it appears merely to be saying
qualities are instantiated in particular individuals. De Sousa posits a developmental narrative of the moral subject that turns an initial state of undifferentiated receptivity into nonfungible attachments to individual embodiments of qualities. Thus, according to the natural metaphysics of emotion, CHAPTER THREE 132 There are in effect as many kinds of libido as there are fields: the work of socialization of the libido is precisely what transforms impulses into specific interests. (Practical
quite precise about the characteristic intentions of certain “non-poets” with respect to the objects and purposes of their art. But for the moment, I would simply note that this difference between conceptions of the poem lies behind another fact that has been hard for readers interested in the innovative poetry of the twentieth century to acknowledge. The lack of what might be called poetic realization results in work that can be hard to love, or even to like. So variously fragmented, occulted,
of care, need, and wish. On this account, to say “we are reading” is to say that I am reading and that I believe that you too are reading and believing. Perhaps we will find that the reading of another is always imaginary, and that what it means to take reading or aesthetic response as the model for communal relations is that my pleasures and satisfactions are only the bittersweet pleasures involved in fantasy and self-deception. To Fanny Brawne, 4 July (?) 1820: Tuesday Af tn My dearest Fanny,