Catalysis: Experimental poetry and the sciences
Kinzer, Gregory S
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Catalysis: Experimental Poetry and the Sciences examines how twentieth-century American poets engage with the physical world and the scientific ideas used to explore, describe, and explain it. The investigative practices of Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore, Lorine Niedecker, Joan Retallack, and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge approach the poem as fundamentally a space of inquiry, and find in the conjunctions of poetry and science a source of vigor and excitement. My project explores how these conjunctions shape paradigms of cultural understanding, innovations in poetic form, and ideas about language. Taking a strongly interdisciplinary approach, I build on recent work in the philosophy of science to argue that, more than concepts or metaphors, what inseparably intermixes these poets with the work of scientists are the epistemological, textual, and material practices shared and realized among them. As such, I focus on what happens precisely at the point of contact, when the languages, logics, and models of the sciences touch on those of these writers' poetry and poetics. Stein engages with the set theoretical methods of modern mathematicians; Moore and Niedecker employ the methodology of natural history and evolutionary biology; Retallack models in language the paradigm change in the relation between order and disorder brought about by chaos theory; and Berssenbrugge merges the explanatory power of biomedicine with that of lyric phenomenology in order to more sensitively render the contemporary experience of the body in relation to environment. What results, I argue, is a poetics of hybridity not simply in the formal sense of a mixing of genres, but also in the sense of exploring and enacting how the physical and biological worlds exist together with, not alongside, the cultural and human one.