Architect of excess: Robert Duncan and the American pragmatist sublime
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"Architect of Excess: Robert Duncan and the American Pragmatist Sublime" examines three historical phases of the poet Robert Duncan's writing within the aesthetic and philosophical context of an American pragmatist sublime. With its constitutive view of the poem as a "multiphasic" experience of language, Duncan's poetics of process---which like process philosophy is predicated on conditions of change and plenitude---can be traced to the pragmatist tradition of William James, John Dewey, and Alfred North Whitehead. Implicit in their conception of a multifarious, non-totalizable world is a pragmatist sublime that, against the continuing legacy of the Kantian sublime, reorients the concept as a pluralistic, ontological, and relational phenomenon of experience. Working from this theoretical framework, and drawing upon such archival materials as the poet's notebooks, unpublished manuscripts, and correspondence, each chapter examines a different stage in Duncan's understanding of excess in relation to poetry. These include: (1) his early years writing and editing in New York during the late 1930s and early 1940s, when Duncan's ideas about desire and the social function of the poet as a shaman exploring larger forms of consciousness first developed under the shadow of Surrealism; (2) the poetics of organism in The Opening of the Field (1960), Roots and Branches (1964), and Bending the Bow (1968) that emerges out of Whiteheadian notions of extension and multiplicity as a response to the sublime conditions of "What Is"; and (3) the architectural complexities of Ground Work (1984, 1988), including Duncan's related notions of the pragmatist poet as an architect building with language, and of the poem as an architectural space of dwelling with otherness. Underlying each of these periods is a sublime poetics (and poetic politics) of process corresponding to Duncan's pluralism.