What is the significance of that loose collective enterprise, sprung up in the aftermath of the sixties, known as L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Writing? To answer this question I will be taking, initially, a somewhat oblique route. And I shall assume an agreement on several important social and political matters: first, that the United States, following the Second World War, assumed definitive leadership of a capitalist empire; second, that its position of leadership generated a network of internal social contradictions which persist to this (...) day ; third, that this postwar period has been characterized, at the international level, by an extended cold war shadowed by the threat of a global catastrophe, whether deliberate or accidental. Whatever one’s political allegiances, these truths, surely, we hold as self-evident.Postwar American poetry is deployed within that general arena, and to the degree that it is “political” at all, it reflects and responds to that set of overriding circumstances.1 In my view the period ought to be seen as falling into two phases. The first phase stretches from about 1946 to 1973 . This period is dominated by a conflict between various lines of traditional poetry, on one hand, and the countering urgencies of the “New American Poetry” on the other. In the diversity of this last group Donald Allen argued for a unifying “characteristic”: “a total rejection of all those qualities typical of academic verse.”2Of course, this representation of the conflict between “tradition” and “innovation” obscures nearly as much as it clarifies. The New American poets were, in general, must moe inclined to experimentalism than were writers like Richard Wilbur, Anthony Hecht, Louis Simpson, or Donald Justice. But Allen’s declaration can easily conceal the academic and literary characteristics of the innovators. Robert Duncan and Charles Olson, for example, key figures in the New American Poetry, can hardly not be called “literary” or even “academic” poets. If they opened certain new areas in the field of poetic style, no less could and has been said of Lowell, even in his early work. And if Frank O’Hara seems the antithesis of academic work, John Ashbery is, in his own way, its epitome. Yet both appear in Allen’s New American Poetry anthology. Moreover, who can say, between O’Hara and Ashbery, which is the more innovative of the two—so different are their styles of experimentation? 1. Black and feminist writing in the United States often confines the focus of the political engagement to a more restricted national theater. Nevertheless, even in these cases engagement is necessarily carried out within the global framework I have sketched above.2. The New American Poetry: 1945-1960, ed. Donald M. Allen , p. xi. Jerome J. McGann is Commonwealth Professor of English, University of Virginia. His most recent critical work, Buildings of Loss: The Knowledge of Imaginative Texts, will appear in 1987. “Some Forms of Critics Discourse” and “The Religious Poetry of Christina Rosetti” are among his previous contributions to Critical Inquiry. (shrink)
I want to argue…that to read Rossetti’s religious poetry with understanding requires a more or less conscious investment in the peculiarities of its Christian orientation, in the social and historical particulars which feed and shape the distinctive features of her work. Because John O. Waller’s relatively recent essay on Rossetti, “Christ’s Second Coming: Christina Rossetti and the Premillenarianist William Dodsworth,” focuses on some of the most important of these particulars, it seems to me one of the most useful pieces of (...) scholarship ever written on the poet. The essay locates the special ground of Rossetti’s religious poetry in that peculiar Adventist and premillenarian context which flourished for about fifty years in mid nineteenth-century culture. In point of historical fact—and it is a historical fact which has enormous significance for the aesthetic character of Rossetti’s poetry—her religious verse is intimately meshed with a number of particular, even peculiar, religious ideas.18 From the vantage of her strongest poetry, the most important of these ideas were allied to a once powerful religious movement which later—toward the end of the century—slipped to a marginal position in English culture.The whole question [of premillenarianism] was overshadowed first and last by the Tractarian Movement, Anglo-Catholicism, and the resulting Protestant reaction. And we can see in retrospect that all through the years [1820-1875] the theological future actually belonged to liberal, or Broad Church, principles. By the middle 1870s, apparently [the issues raised through the premillenarian movement] were no longer very alive.19In this context we may begin to understand the decline of Rossetti’s reputation after the late nineteenth century, when she was still regarded as one of the most powerful and important contemporary English poets. Her reputation was established in the 1860s and 1870s, when Adventism reached the apogee of its brief but influential career. Thereafter, the availability of religious poetry was mediated either through the Broad Church line or through the High Church and Anglo-Catholic line . The premillenarian and evangelist enthusiasm which supported Rossetti’s religious poetry had been moved to the periphery of English culture when the canon of such verse began to take shape in the modern period.To read Rossetti’s poetry, then, we have to willingly suspend not only our disbelief in her convictions and ideas but also our belief in those expectations and presuppositions about religious poetry which we have inherited from those two dominant ideological lines—Broad Church and High Church and Anglo-Catholic. Waller has drawn our attention to the general premillenarian content of her work, and I should like to follow his lead by emphasizing another crucial and even more particular doctrinal feature of her poetry. 19. Waller, “Christ’s Second Coming,” p. 477. For a general discussion of millenarianism in the early nineteenth century, see J. E. Harrison, The Second Coming, Popular Millenarianism, 1780-1850 . Jerome J. McGann is the Doris and Henry Dreyfuss Professor of Humanities at the California Institute of Technology. His two most recent books are The Romantic Ideology. A Critical Investigation and A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism . His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are “Formalism, Savagery, and Care; or, The Function of Criticism Once Again” and “The Meaning of the Ancient Mariner”. (shrink)
… [T]he scandals surrounding the work of these men are as nothing compared to the scandal of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. We are amused to think that anyone ever felt Byron might have been mad, bad, and dangerous to know. We are not amused by the Cantos. Like Pound’s letters and so much of his prose, the Cantos is difficult to like or enjoy. It is a paradigm of poetic obscurity because its often cryptic style is married to materials which are (...) abstruse, learned, even pedantic. The poem also makes a mockery of poetic form; and then there are those vulgar and bathetic sinking which it repeatedly indulges through its macaronic turns of voice.All that is scandalous, but the worst has not been said. For the Cantos is a fascist epic in a precise historical sense.1 Its racism and anti-Semitism are conceived and pursued in social and political terms at a particular point in time and with reference to certain state policies. Those policies led to a holocaust for which the murder of six million Jews would be the ultimate exponent. That is truly scandalousFor anyone convinced that works of imagination are important to human life, however, the scandal takes a last, cruel twist. Pound’s magnum opus is one of the greatest achievements of modern poetry in any language. That is more a shocking than a controversial idea. It shocks because it is outrageous to think so; but it is in fact a commonplace judgment passed on the poem by nearly every major writer and poet of this century. The greatness of the Cantos was an apparent to Pound’s contemporaries as it has been to his inheritors, to his enemies as to his friends, to those who have sympathized with Pound’s ideas and to those who have fought against them. 1. See John Lauber, “Pound’s Cantos: A Fascist Epic,” Journal of American Studies 12 : 3-21; Victor C. Ferkiss, “Ezra Pound and American Fascism,” Journal of Politics 17 : 173-97. Jerome J. McGann is Commonwealth Professor of English, University of Virginia. This essay was originally one of the Clark Lectures delivered at Trinity College, Cambridge, and subsequently one of the Carpenter Lectures at the University of Chicago. (shrink)
Can poetry tell the truth? This question has embarrassed and challenged writers for a long time. While the question may be addressed at both an ethical and an epistemological level, its resonance is strongest when the ethico-political issues become paramount—as they were for both Socrates and Plato.Today the question appears most pressing not among poets but among their custodians, the critics and academicians.1 Whether or not poetry can tell the truth—whether or not it can establish an identity between thought and (...) its object—has become an acute problem for those who are asked to bring critical judgment to the matter. To the extent that a consensus has been reached, the judgment has been negative. That poetry develops only a metaphorical and nonidentical relation between thought and its object is the current general view. 1. This crisis has been widely debated; my own contribution to the discussion may be found in Social Values and Poetics Acts: The Historical Judgment of Literary Work . The critique of Plato in the early sections of this work is particularly relevant to the question of poetry’s truth-functions. The same subject is pursued further in the sequel, Toward a Literature of Knowledge . Jerome J. McGann is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia. The Textual Condition is his most recent critical work, and he is the editor of the New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse. (shrink)
The project begins by drawing two basic distinctions. The first distinction is between forms of ideological discourse in general, which may not be critical in their orientation, and those forms of critical discourse which are historically self-conscious in their method. The formal antitype of all critical discourse is, in this view, the discourse of interpretation. The second distinction separates forms of critical thought from forms of critical discourse. Unlike the latter, forms of thought do not require for their existence the (...) operation of an explicit set of signs or system of objective articulation.One further introductory point is in order. I believe that the elementary forms of critical discourse should be divided into two large categories: the narrative forms, on the one hand, and the nonnarrative forms, on the other. Furthermore, I suggest that the nonnarrative forms—which are my chief concern in this paper—comprise four elementary types: the hypothetical ; the practical or injunctive ; the array; and the dialectic. I shall concentrate on the nonnarrative forms, and in particular on the array and the dialectic, for two reasons: first, one of these, the array, is not normally recognized as a form of critical discourse; and, second, both the array and the dialectic offer especially clear contrasts with narrative forms of discourse, both critical and noncritical.1 1. Some brief comments on the other two nonnarrative forms may be useful. Perhaps the best examples of a practical or injunctive form are furnished in a book like Euclid’s Elements, or any cookbook. The hypothetical form may be illustrated out of any number of classic works such as Sir Humphry Davy’s “On Some New Phenomena of Chemical Changes Produced by Electricity” and Michael Faraday’s “Electricity from Magnetism” . Jerome J. McGann is the Doris and Henry Dreyfuss Professor of Humanities at the California Institute of Technology. A new book, The Beauty of Inflections: Literary Investigations in Historical Method and Theory , continues the critical projects of his recent books The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation and A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism . His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry is “The Religious Poetry of Christina Rossetti”. (shrink)
J. J. OʼDonnell is one those scholars whose learning is assumed rather than displayed. As a result, his brief approach to the long-terms effects of the computer revolution onreading and higher education feels like a bracing, sophisticated exchange of ideas. Like conversation, O'Donnellʼs thesis is not terribly unified or orderly. He often makessidetracks from his focus on high technology and literacy into explaining such interestingthings as how we choose our cultural ancestry instead of merely evolving out of it, the errors (...) of current education, and perhaps more than you ever wanted to know aboutother avatars of the word such as St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and Cassiodorus. Greatcover too. (shrink)
This is a response to Wesley J. Wildman’s “Behind, Between, and Beyond Anthropomorphic Models of Ultimate Reality.” While I agree with much of what Wildman writes, I raise questions concerning standards for evaluating models of ultimate reality and the plausibility of ranking such models. This paper was delivered during the APA Pacific 2007 Mini-Conference on Models of God.
In his three books J. Wentzel van Huyssteen develops a complex and helpful notion of rationality, avoiding the extremes of foundationalism and postmodern relativism and deconstruction. Drawing from several postmodern philosophers of science and evolutionary epistemologists who seek to devise a usable notion of rationality, he weaves together a view that allows for a genuine duet betweenscience and theology. In the process he challenges much contemporary nonfoundationalist theology as well as the philosophical naïveté of some cosmologists and sociobiologists.
Although this review article is only about one book and about one man, it discloses a whole world, the world of Jerome, saint, scholar and stimulator of ascetism and of the study of the Bible. It is the merit of the book reviewed here to bring interesting insights into this other world, the emerging society of monks who were scholars and ascetic. In that world Jerome is one of the most fascinating patristic scholars. His choice for translating the (...) Hebrew Bible instead of the Greek Bible is one of the utmost examples that from time to time the conceitedness of one man wins. Williams’ book teaches us quite a lot about this man and his conceitedness. At the same time it explains us something about the Christian tradition, how asceticism could bring forth the wealth of libraries and abbeys. (shrink)