Contemporaneity, reality, and complicity: The work of post-war avant-garde poetry
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This dissertation traces a conceptual shift in avant-garde poetic practice, from the historical avant-gardes, which were grounded in negating present situations in the name of a new future, to post-war avant-gardes, which are grounded in reflecting and mapping the present. Poetic work is aimed at the present primarily through its framing and theorization, which situate the work in terms of contemporary concerns. This dissertation focuses on three presentist framings: realism, complicity, and fragmentation. It contextualizes each of these concepts, and reads the formal qualities of the poetry against this, in order to show that post-war avant-garde poetry does not simply conform to its conceptual frames, but exceeds them; in this way, it is never successfully subsumed by this presentism, it retains elements of futurity. In the chapter on realism, I look at how John Ashbery's poetry is received as if it is a reflection both of the clamorous language of the media-world, and of individual consciousness in the midst of said world. I compare this to the discourse of realism around Language writing, which claims that the poetry reveals the materiality of language. I argue that neither Ashbery nor Language writing reveals the reality of language, because both develop a style that is transcendent to the brute material of language. In the chapter on complicity, I analyze the various purposes to which the idea of complicity is put, and argue that it would be more useful to revive a complex notion of art and autonomy. In the final chapter, I argue that conceptual writing has reoriented the reading and composition of contemporary poetry toward the whole, as opposed to toward the parts of poems. This allows for a poetic practice that is aimed toward the future, insofar as it does not concern itself with reflecting the fragmentation of the contemporary world, but with inventing new forms.