Deconstruction and Poetic Truth: A Theory of the Modernist Text

Dissertation, State University of New York at Stony Brook (1993)

William Melaney
American University in Cairo
The dissertation conducts an aesthetic inquiry that allows both Hermeneutics and Deconstruction to support a new reading of the Modernist text. Chapters one and two examine how both schools of thought oppose Kant's aesthetic theory to the question of artistic truth and also offer critiques of modernity that sustain postmodern conceptions of Modernism. Chapters three and four relate this discussion to the development of the Modernist text and the function of the self in Modernist poetry. Chapter one centers around Gadamer's conception of the work of art as discussed in Truth and Method. Gadamer's criticism of Kant is presented on the basis of a reading of Heidegger that favors a new conception of artistic truth. Structure and experience are re-defined with respect to the possibility of self-understanding. Vattimo's interpretation of history is then offered as the key to a postmodern approach to Hermeneutics. Chapter two emphasizes Derrida's contribution to the theory of the text as an alternative to Hermeneutics. The limitations of Kant's aesthetic theory emerge in terms of the linguistic notion of differance. Derrida's discussion of Heidegger's conception of art entails a dialogue between Hermeneutics and Deconstruction. This dialogue, however, was anticipated by Nietzsche, who also figures as a forerunner of Modernism. Finally, Lyotard's postmodern aesthetics involves a new view of Modernism. Chapter three explores the hidden structure of the Modernist text on the basis of four "archeological" surveys. Mallarme and Rimbaud are identified with different but compatible versions of Modernism. Eliot's interpretation of Hamlet is contrasted with the content of his early poetry. Eliot and Pound are then shown to have appropriated Dante in the use of epic writing. The function of the self in Joyce's Ulysses ultimately supports a semiotic reading of the Modernist text. Chapter four offers readings of Modernist poetry that clarify the relationship between Deconstruction and poetic truth. The poetry of Yeats, Eliot, and Stevens demonstrates the Modernist poet's advance from aesthetics to history and also the dynamic structure of Modernist form. Ashbery's poetry provides the final occasion for a philosophical challenge to Modernist precedent
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