A Question of Determinacy: American Procedural Poetry 1950-2013 and the Postmodern Critique of Subjectivity
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This dissertation challenges the scholarly tendency to explain procedural (i.e., constraint or chance-driven) poetry as the poetic instantiation of the goals of the postmodern critique of subjectivity. I argue, instead, that while procedural forms of poetry do typically operate in a markedly postmodern fashion, the "canon" of this genre has long included poetic forms that directly contradict this postmodern reading. The study of these forms is important insofar as they resist the ethically questionable solipsism--one that refuses to recognize the possibility of meaning other to and outside of human social or poetic construction--in which the postmodern critique of subjectivity and postmodern poetics often find themselves. In examining the work of Jacques Derrida, I outline this postmodern solipsism in a theoretical, philosophical register, and I suggest that the late work of philosopher Martin Heidegger, specifically his concept of the "open," resists such thinking. In challenging the strict identity between proceduralism and postmodern thought, I draw attention to procedure-based texts that search for meaning beyond poetic construction, for example Raymond Queneau's radical combinatoric poetry, Christian Bök's collection Eunoia, and Gregory Betts' If Language. Such procedural practices, I argue, offer a poetics that, against postmodern solipsism, recognizes the otherness of the world, language, or texts as contexts of meaning in which poets participate, but do not master.