Poetry, Politics, and Culture: Argument, in the Work of Eliot, Pound, Stevens, and Williams

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A salient feature of modern poetics is its direct connection with cultural history and politics. Among the great American poets of the twentieth century, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams offer a significant contrast with T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Where the latter advocated a theocentric or reactionary response to the cultural crises of modernity, the former affirmed an essentially humanist and democratic social and aesthetic ethos. In Poetry, Politics, and Culture, Harold Kaplan offers a penetrating ...

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Overview

A salient feature of modern poetics is its direct connection with cultural history and politics. Among the great American poets of the twentieth century, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams offer a significant contrast with T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Where the latter advocated a theocentric or reactionary response to the cultural crises of modernity, the former affirmed an essentially humanist and democratic social and aesthetic ethos. In Poetry, Politics, and Culture, Harold Kaplan offers a penetrating comparative study of these representative and distinctively influential poets.

All four poets wrote in an atmosphere of cultural crisis following World War I, caught as they were between outmoded belief systems and various forms of artistic and political nihilism. While each believed in poetry as a source of cultural values and beliefs, they nevertheless experienced loss of confidence in their own vocation in a world characterized by scientific, rationalist thinking and the mundane struggle for survival. For each, therefore, the poetic imagination was a means of restoring order, or building a new civilization out of chaos. In trying to define a revitalized culture, the four exemplified the perennial quarrel between Europe and America.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Kaplan offers insightful readings of particular poems, essays, and letters… Extensive collections supporting work at the upper-division undergraduate level and above.”

—G. Grieve-Carlson, Choice

"Recommended for undergraduate and graduate students of American Studies, literature, poetry and history, Poetry, Politics and Culture...represents definitive thinking about America's intellectual and poetic history at its finest."

—Internet Bookwatch

""Kaplan does a remarkably good job of moving between and among four major figures. . . . Kaplan arranges things so that readers are treated to a clearly foregrounded 'major quarrel,' a conflict that is, frankly, fun to watch as it is very deliberately laid out. This book thus seeks to master one of several methods in which critics can refute the conventional notion that American modernists were blind to political life. . . . Kaplan at times surprises us with his choice of Stevens' poems to make this or that point. Proponents of Stevens-Williams modernismsuch as it is, as an odd whole harmoniumwill feel affirmed by this fascinating study."

—Alan Filreis, The Wallace Stevens Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765803030
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/18/2006
  • Pages: 290
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Harold Kaplan is professor emeritus, English and American Literature, at Northwestern University and formerly taught at Rutgers University and Bennington College. He is the author of The Passive Voice: An Approach to Modern Fiction and Democratic Humanism and American Literature, published by Transaction.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction and argument 1
Pt. 1 Eliot and Pound : dissociations of sensibility and power
2 Dissociations, natural and supernatural 17
3 "The silhouette of man" 25
4 Purgatory and apocalypse 35
5 A problem of order 45
6 The old sublime 55
7 The vortex of art 65
8 Esthetic politics 77
9 Prejudice and abstraction 85
Pt. 2 Stevens and Williams : the source of poetry
10 "A confidence in the world" 97
11 "A malady of the quotidian" 109
12 The necessary angel of reality 125
13 The imagination as value 145
14 The dehumanization of art 163
15 "The city as a man" 173
16 "A peculiar majesty" 185
17 The sign and presence of the human 195
Pt. 3 Poetry and politics
18 Cultural and humanist poetics 209
19 Poetry, culture, and politics 231
App. A The ethical humanism of Emmanuel Levinas 255
App. B Bakhtin and the American poets 263
App. C A note on ethics and dialogue in the works of Levinas, Bakhtin, Mandelshtam, and Celan 267
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