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Lyric Poetry

Lyric Poetry: The Pain and the Pleasure of Words

Mutlu Konuk Blasing
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Lyric Poetry
    Book Description:

    Lyric poetry has long been regarded as the intensely private, emotional expression of individuals, powerful precisely because it draws readers into personal worlds. But who, exactly, is the "I" in a lyric poem, and how is it created? InLyric Poetry, Mutlu Blasing argues that the individual in a lyric is only a virtual entity and that lyric poetry takes its power from the public, emotional power of language itself.

    In the first major new theory of the lyric to be put forward in decades, Blasing proposes that lyric poetry is a public discourse deeply rooted in the mother tongue. She looks to poetic, linguistic, and psychoanalytic theory to help unravel the intricate historical processes that generate speaking subjects, and concludes that lyric forms convey both personal and communal emotional histories in language. Focusing on the work of such diverse twentieth-century American poets as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and Anne Sexton, Blasing demonstrates the ways that the lyric "I" speaks, from first to last, as a creation of poetic language.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2741-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: “MAKING CHOICE OF A HUMAN SELF”
    (pp. 1-24)

    Poetry has presented a problem for disciplinary discourse from the beginning. “There is an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry,” Plato declares; he gives no evidence and makes no argument as to why poetry would have a quarrel with philosophy, but his own discourse offers clear evidence of philosophy’s issue with poetry. Poets are banned from the Republic, ostensibly on the grounds that mimetic fictions are imitations of imitations and thus twice removed from Truth. This threat to the discourse of Truth would not in itself pose a practical danger if it didn’t also appeal to something “within us” that...

  5. Part One Lyric Theory

    • Chapter 1 THE LYRIC SUBJECT
      (pp. 27-44)

      Implicitly or explicitly, the speaker in a lyric poem is an “I.” This figure is a generic “I,” not to be confused with an extralinguistic entity. The “I” in discourse is a universal, an indexical function. In Hegel’s terms, “when I say ‘I,’ ‘this individual I,’ I say quite generally ‘all I’s,’ every one is what I say, every one is ‘I,’ this individual I” (1967, 154). Yet the poetic “I” is also heard as an individuated voice, for we can “hear” the distinct voices of different poets working in the same language and at the same historical moment, with...

    • Chapter 2 THE HISTORICAL “I”
      (pp. 45-77)

      Questioned about writing in German after the war, Paul Celan responded: “Only in the mother tongue can one speak one’s own truth. In a foreign tongue the poet lies” (Felstiner 1975, 46). “One’s own truth” would seem to be distinct from the propositional or factual truth content of what one says, which one can say in any language. The truth spoken in the language in which one undergoes the transition into words is “one’s own truth”; it is who oneis. The lyric “I,” which has no reality other than its audibility as an “I,” re-sounds the originary mediation of...

    • Chapter 3 THE SCRIPTED “I”
      (pp. 78-95)

      Erato is the lyric muse, and eros is a generic subject matter of the lyric. Thus, what relation the pains and pleasures of lyric language may bear to sexuality is an askable question, and it may be posed in terms of the relation of the lyric subject to the psychosexual subject that is concurrently formulated in the mother tongue. Language learning and erotogenic formulation of a coherent body are inextricable processes, and pleasure in language has an erotic resonance, just as erotic pleasure has a linguistic aspect.

      Pleasure will not reduce to an organic function because it has a history....

    • Chapter 4 THE BODY OF WORDS
      (pp. 96-112)

      Hysteria, with its four-thousand-year history, is the oldest and most widespread psychological disorder. More accurately, it comprises a set of psychosomatic phenomena considered a disorder in some cultures and assimilated in others in ritual practices of individuation/socialization. The definitions of hysteria change through its long history, as do its manifestations or “symptoms.” Although the symptoms are historically and culturally specific, certain syndromes recur, including amnesias, arrhythmic movements, eating disorders, and, most important for my purposes, body “language” and linguistic disturbances.

      My question remains “Why is there lyric poetry?” and hysteria with its linguistic problems offers a different perspective on the...

  6. Part Two Lyric Practice

      (pp. 115-132)

      T. S. Eliot’s early work poses the generic double question of the lyric: what can ensure that the subject does not reduce to a set of “lyric” gestures, postures, and rhetorics, and what is to guarantee that the sounds of words do not reduce to meaningless acoustic events or, at another level, to formal mannerisms? The overdone rhymes of multisyllabic Latinate words in “Prufrock,” for instance, are formal mannerisms that mock their author even as they serve him to ridicule the social conventions, mannerisms, and “measures” of his speaker’s milieu. Eliot speaks of a “great simplicity” that would ensure the...

      (pp. 133-148)

      Wallace Stevens is not equivocal about the “social, that is to say sociological or political obligation of the poet”: “He has none” (1951, 27). He writes Hi Simons: “It is simply a question of whether poetry is a thing in itself, or whether it is not. I think it is.”¹ If poetry is a “thing in itself,” it has no social obligation, any more than a social or political practice or discourse has a poetic obligation.² And if poetry is itself a social practice, which it clearly is, it must have a function in itself. Stevens proposes that its function...

      (pp. 149-177)

      The Cantosis the tale of the tales of the tribe. The action of the poem is the construction of “Ezra Pound of the Cantos” in and as an intimate conversation with written and spoken language. Pound’s tale includes both living and dead languages; diverse kinds of printed texts; various writing systems; different dialects of languages, individuating accents, tones, rhythms, inflections, and pronunciations; heard or remembered speech that has “carved” its “trace” in the ear or the mind; typographical transcriptions of speech sounds and rhythms on the page space. His interest is in the physical presence and the history of...

    • Chapter 8 ANNE SEXTON, “THE TYPO”
      (pp. 178-197)

      Anne Sexton wrote “confessional” poems about “well, this human being [who] lived from 1928 to whenever, and . . . what she had to say about her life” (1985, 135). The relationship between the historically specific “human being,” the maker of the poems, and the “I” in the poems is the question she keeps raising, and it is the question I want to pick up: who exactly is the “I” in the poem and how is it produced? This difficult question is additionally complicated in her case, for her psychological disorder, which was diagnosed as hysteria,¹ affects not only the...

    (pp. 198-204)

    “Anna” snares Freud himself in a return of the repressed surfaces of the body of language. Early in his essay on the uncanny, Freud considers E. Jentsch’s idea that the uncanny may involve a sense of “automatic, mechanical processes” at work (1963b, 31). The uncanny is an event experienced as more than a chance accident and less than willed; it entails a sense of “fate,” and “weird,” a synonym of “uncanny,” retains this association with fate. But Freud does not pursue Jentsch’s idea and goes on to define the uncanny as a return of the repressed, more primitive animistic and...

    (pp. 205-212)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 213-216)