The Critical Poem: Philosophy and Modern American Poetry

Dissertation, State University of New York at Buffalo (1988)

Abstract
While some critics deny that poetry has any relationship to philosophy, the so-called "post-structuralists" treat poetry as virtually indistinguishable from philosophy. The Critical Poem attempts to identify the philosophic in modern American poetry by suggesting the ways that our poets have used and abused, sought out or fled from philosophy; its essential thesis is that poetry and philosophy are intimately related not only at the relatively naive level of theme, but also at the more problematic level of rhetoric, where poetic structures often double philosophic analyses. The five chapters of reading are bracketed by an historical introduction and a theoretical conclusion. ;The introduction surveys traditional distinctions between poetry and philosophy, from Plato to Derrida, and systematically explicates the conceptual determinants informing my readings. The three following chapters examine three American poets--Williams, Ashbery, and Michael Palmer. Since Stevens and Williams are often taken as the modern representatives of poetries of "ideas" and "experience," the first reading--"Somehow disturbed at the core: Words and Things in William Carlos Williams"--demonstrates how Williams so scrambles the distinction between idea and experience as to render it ineffectual. ;The second reading--"Phatic noise or emphatic tracings: Ashbery's Three Poems and the one true self"--examines his critique of an unproblematized conception of self-identity. The natural progression from Ashbery's figure of self is traced in the next chapter, "Michael Palmer's Intertextual Imperative," which shows how concerns in contemporary language philosophy and critical theory have emerged as the dominating themes in contemporary American poetry. The fourth reading--"Witnessing Difference"--examines the American prose poem, that form of poetic practice most closely allied with philosophy
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