Poetry and Pragmatism

Overview

Richard Poirier, one of America's most eminent critics, reveals in this book the creative but mostly hidden alliance between American pragmatism and American poetry. He brilliantly traces pragmatism as a philosophical and literary practice grounded in a linguistic skepticism that runs from Emerson and William James to the work of Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, and Wallace Stevens, and on to the cultural debates of today. More powerfully than ever before, Poirier shows that pragmatism had its start in Emerson, the ...
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Overview

Richard Poirier, one of America's most eminent critics, reveals in this book the creative but mostly hidden alliance between American pragmatism and American poetry. He brilliantly traces pragmatism as a philosophical and literary practice grounded in a linguistic skepticism that runs from Emerson and William James to the work of Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, and Wallace Stevens, and on to the cultural debates of today. More powerfully than ever before, Poirier shows that pragmatism had its start in Emerson, the great example to all his successors of how it is possible to redeem even as you set out to change the literature of the past. Poirier demonstrates that Emerson--and later William James--were essentially philosophers of language, and that it is language that embodies our cultural past, an inheritance to be struggled with, and transformed, before being handed on to future generations. He maintains that in Emersonian pragmatist writing, any loss--personal or cultural--gives way to a quest for what he calls "superfluousness," a kind of rhetorical excess by which powerfully creative individuals try to elude deprivation and stasis. In a wide-ranging meditation on what James called "the vague," Poirier extols the authentic voice of individualism, which, he argues, is tentative and casual rather than aggressive and dogmatic. The concluding chapters describe the possibilities for criticism created by this radically different understanding of reading and writing, which are nothing less than a reinvention of literary tradition itself. Poirier's discovery of this tradition illuminates the work of many of the most important figures in American philosophy and poetry. His reanimation of pragmatism also calls for a redirection of contemporary criticism, so that readers inside as well as outside the academy can begin to respond to poetic language as the source of meaning, not to meaning as the source of language.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Starting from the position of ``linguistic skepticism,'' the view that language and the concept of truth are inadequate to the task of describing reality or containing experience, Poirer sees the pragmatism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James as both anticipating and transcending post-structuralism. Suggesting that Emerson should be taken seriously as a philosopher and theorist, he argues that his theory of language points to a renewal of culture by opening the possibility of the future against the strictures of the past and the present. Poirer explores how Emersonian pragmatism informs the literary practice of Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, and Wallace Stevens. An important book for both critics and philosophers.--T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong State Coll., Savannah, Ga.
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Product Details

Table of Contents

Introduction 3
I Superfluous Emerson 37
II The Transfiguration of Work 79
III The Reinstatement of the Vague 129
IV Reading Pragmatically: The Example of Hum 6 171
Notes 195
Works Cited 211
Index 221
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