The poetics of exception: Contemporary North American poetry and the ghosts of relation
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"The Poetics of Exception: Contemporary North American Poetry and the Ghosts of Relation," examines the emergence of the concept of exceptionality in philosophy and relates it to contemporary developments within both Canadian and American poetry and poetics. While exceptionality has been recognized as an important philosophical idea by thinkers such as Søren Kierkegaard, Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin and Giorgio Agamben, my study is the first sustained application of this concept to the field of contemporary poetry. A poem, I argue, can first be thought of as exceptional whenever its use of language breaks away from the norms of the quotidian. More than just illuminating poetry's difference from common language, however, the concept of exceptionality guides us toward new approaches to understanding the inner mechanisms of the poem. Whereas contemporary criticism often treats such poetic anomalies as though they occur in a vacuum (most often in the guise of breaks, instabilities, decenterings, etc.), my approach grounds them in the social and linguistic norms from which they emerge. As an exception is parasitic to a given norm, literary innovation similarly relies on the norms of its own contexts. "The Poetics of Exception" looks at Christopher Dewdney, bp Nichol, Jack Spicer and Joan Retallack, in addition to other writers who attempt to skirt pervasive discursive norms through the exception. All norms are haunted by their exceptions, and I argue that contemporary poetry is an attempt to conjure these ghostly counterparts in order to transcend the familiar and the everyday. I also argue that seeing contemporary poetry through the lens of exception and norm allows one to perceive a variety of different textual tactics--poetic employments of small phenomena that undo larger systemic grids--under one conceptual rubric. Though often seen as regrettable, poetry's increasingly obscure tendencies are turns toward the exceptional, and such exceptions are crucial vantage points from which one may better survey the logic of the discursive norms from which they have arisen.