Christopher Nealon
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Christopher Nealon’s reexamination of North America’s poetry in English, from Ezra Pound and W. H. Auden to younger poets of the present day, argues persuasively that the central literary project of the past century was to explore the relationship between poetry and capitalism—its impact on individuals, communities, and cultures.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06116-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
  3. Introduction: The Matter of Capital, or Catastrophe and Textuality
    (pp. 1-35)

    This book argues that the workings of capitalism are a central subject matter of twentieth-century American poetry in English. More specifically, I argue that, across the century, and across aesthetic orientations, a wide variety of poets respond to the social changes wrought by capitalism by making recourse to different ideas of poetry as textual and rhetorical “matter”—a source of varying subject matter, of topics, even of arguments. I mean my title, then, to be a lightly punning analogy to “The Matter of Britain,” or “The Matter of France”—the many-authored bodies of writing about King Arthur and Charlemagne, respectively,...

  4. 1 A Method and a Tone: Pound, Auden, and the Legacy of the Interwar Years
    (pp. 36-72)

    Sometime in 1946 a group of young Berkeley poets led by Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan wrote “A Canto for Ezra Pound,” which they mailed to the poet, then just beginning his twelve-year incarceration at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. Duncan was 27 at the time; Spicer was 21. The collaborative poem offers a fascinating glimpse into the state of literary canon formation on the West Coast in the 1940s, and opens a window onto how Pound’s poetic techniques were being absorbed by young U.S. poets at midcentury. It is written in the style of Pound’s Cantos, and never...

  5. 2 John Ashbery’s Optional Apocalypse
    (pp. 73-106)

    If the poetry of Auden and Pound was shaped by a crisis in global capitalism, the poems of John Ashbery, whose career maps closely onto the years of the Pax Americana, are shaped by the crises born of its victories. For the earlier poets, the crisis of capital in the interwar years made it necessary to think about which of the great ideologies, which forms of social organization, were to be championed; for Ashbery, writing in the long postwar boom, the problem is to understand the highly conditional terms of the bounty with which he finds himself surrounded.

    Auden, as...

  6. 3 “Language” in Spicer and After
    (pp. 107-139)

    This chapter traces the local byways of a “turn to language” in one influential poetic subculture of the 1950s and 1960s, the scene of the Berkeley and San Francisco “renaissances.” It also outlines the appropriation and reworking of this linguistic turn in the Language poets of the 1970s and 1980s. The overall movement of my argument is to suggest that this turn to an idea of poems as events in language, rather than as aesthetic objects, is developed as a response to the new forms of spectacularization, commodification, and enclosure that took hold in San Francisco at midcentury. My focus...

  7. 4 Bubble and Crash: Poetry in Late-Late Capitalism
    (pp. 140-166)

    I want to conclude with a look at recent poetry written under conditions that might best be understood by a look backward from 2009, when I was finishing up this book. In 2003 I wrote an essay, the germ of this chapter, called “Camp Messianism, or, The Hopes of Poetry in Late-Late Capital.” In that piece I sketched a structure of poetic feeling by which, it seemed to me, left-leaning poets working in the generation after the emergence of Language writing were trying to understand how to name the experience of an extreme, felt “lateness” in capitalism. I found that,...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 169-178)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 179-186)
  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 187-188)
  11. Index
    (pp. 189-194)