Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
American Pragmatism and Poetic Practice

American Pragmatism and Poetic Practice: Crosscurrents from Emerson to Susan Howe

Kristen Case
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 184
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    American Pragmatism and Poetic Practice
    Book Description:

    Wittgenstein wrote that "philosophy ought really to be written only as a form of poetry." American poetry has long engaged questions about subject and object, self and environment, reality and imagination, real and ideal that have dominated the Western philosophical tradition since the Enlightenment. Kristen Case's book argues that American poets from Emerson to Susan Howe have responded to the central problems of Western philosophy by performing, in language, the continually shifting relation between mind and world. Pragmatism, recognizing the futility of philosophy's attempt to fix the mind/world relation, announces the insights that these poets enact. Pursuing the flights of pragmatist thinking into poetry and poetics, Case traces an epistemology that emerges from American writing, including that of Emerson, Marianne Moore, William James, and Charles Olson. Here mind and world are understood as inseparable, and the human being is regarded as, in Thoreau's terms, "part and parcel of Nature." Case presents a new picture of twentieth-century American poetry that disrupts our sense of the schools and lineages of modern and postmodern poetics, arguing that literary history is most accurately figured as a living field rather than a line. This book will be of particular interest to scholars and students of pragmatism, transcendentalism, and twentieth-century American poetry. Kristen Case is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Maine at Farmington.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-772-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. 1: “By Their Fruits”: Words and Action in American Writing
    (pp. 1-20)

    Unlike an “idea,” which, once defined and categorized, may be assigned a particular history, metaphor is mercurial, harder to delimit. My intent in this opening chapter is to trace the partial history of a metaphor (which happens also to be an allusion) as it slides, serpentine, across the ground of religious, philosophical, and poetic writing in America. Following the traces of this slippery figure, I hope to provide a sense of how thinking has moved, and moves, in ways not always accounted for in influence studies, valuable though these may be in other respects. I also hope to illustrate that,...

  7. 2: Emerson, Moore, America
    (pp. 21-42)

    It was perhaps simply the coincidence of my having recently worked on an essay about Marianne Moore that caused me to note in the margins of a passage of Emerson’s Nature, “like Marianne Moore.” It seemed, at the time, a wholly spurious connection; aside from the coincidence of Emerson and Moore having edited, respectively, the first and last issues of the Dial magazine, there seemed no reason to press this odd echo for meaning. As I read further into Emerson, however, the echo lingered, and I felt increasingly that the atmosphere of Moore’s poems was related to that of Emerson’s...

  8. 3: Robert Frost, Charles Sanders Peirce, and the Necessity of Form
    (pp. 43-70)

    If you believe his own account (which some biographers do more than others), by the time Robert Frost sold the farm bequeathed to him by his grandfather and left Derry, New Hampshire, with his family, he had run the place almost into the ground. His official biographer, Lawrence Thompson, writes that the farm was so “badly neglected” that Frost was “unable to find a buyer who would pay anything like the original price” (148). I imagine it as a ruin: the hen cages broken and abandoned, the barn roof collapsing, pastures overgrown with young trees. It is an often-noted irony...

  9. 4: “As Much a Part of Things as Trees and Stones”: John Dewey, William Carlos Williams, and the Difference in Not Knowing
    (pp. 71-94)

    She said, do you have any income? I said nope! hahaha I did! I just lied to ʾem. I have finished my pancakes and tea. From my booth in the front of the Summit Country Store I watch the cars on route 10 and listen to the old men at the back table. It is Columbus Day, and the weekend people are headed back to the interstate. The old men are gearing up for hunting season. The only reason they even make ʾem is to keep Remington in business. I have left my baby for the first time and with...

  10. 5: Henry Thoreau, Charles Olson, and the Poetics of Place
    (pp. 95-122)

    Much of the thinking about Thoreau and Charles Olson that follows had its beginning in a failed experiment.¹ Struck by the intensity of attention to place in both Walden and Olson’s Maximus Poems, I decided to visit these writers’ respective neighborhoods, hoping, I suppose, to find them at home, still part of the texture of their towns.

    It is just under an hour from Gloucester, Massachusetts, to Concord, and most of it is highway. Route 128, expanded in the 1950s to facilitate access to the suburbs outside of Boston, takes you almost the whole way. Gloucester marks the end of...

  11. 6: Howe/James
    (pp. 123-142)

    Lurking behind or hovering, like a ghost, above this work — the explicit concern of which is the relation of mind to world in the work of a constellation of poets and philosophers — is the particularly fraught designation “American.” Tracing a scattered lineage, I have found myself traversing Concord and Cambridge, the terrain of the “American Renaissance” — ground that has been profoundly contested in recent decades, perhaps most visibly by Sacvan Bercovitch. I was well underway in this project before it struck me that eight of the ten writers whose work I explore are, like myself, native New...

  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 143-152)
  13. Index
    (pp. 153-160)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 161-161)