The logic of earth: Nineteenth-century precursors to the poetics of Robert Duncan
Alexander, Christopher W.
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"The Logic of Earth: Nineteenth-Century Precursors to the Poetics of Robert Duncan" bridges both disciplines and centuries, focusing on the conceptual framework of Darwin's theory of evolution and its influence on the work of Walt Whitman, then--through his embrace of Whitman--on the mid-Twentieth Century American poet Robert Duncan. In my reading, each of these poets took up Darwin's new and still contentious concept of an evolutionary poesis (making) that is directed not by the sovereign will of a creator God but by the cumulative mass of small-scale events and ecological disturbances that make up the "field" in which every living organism finds the ground of its being. This Darwinian inheritance led Whitman and then Duncan to related, but quite different organic approaches to poetic form and process, from their view of the role of self and emotion as historical phenomena at play in composition (each in his own way framing the art as a sub-set of the impersonal creative processes that continuously give birth to new forms of life on earth, a discovery of the emergent self rather than egoic self-expression) to the minutiae of prosody. For Whitman, this evolutionary poetics united an interest in the fluid, transformative nature of the American vernacular and its relationship to personal identity, and a powerful belief in the radical implications of American democracy. For Duncan, the Darwinian framework united a fascination with language as a historical record of daily, anonymous human experience and a deep commitment to left-anarchist politics. In adopting Whitman and, through him, Darwin as figures of influence, I argue that Robert Duncan's work represents a new and undiscovered thread connecting mid-century Modernism to its roots in the Nineteenth Century.