The Poetics of Transition: Emerson, Pragmatism, and American Literary Modernism

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The Poetics of Transition examines the connection between American pragmatism and literary modernism by focusing on the concept of transition as a theme common to both movements. Jonathan Levin begins with the Emersonian notion that transition?the movement from one state or condition to another or, alternately, the figural enactment of that movement?is infused with power. He then offers a revisionary reading of the pragmatists? view of the permeability of subjective and objective realms and of how American ...

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The Poetics of Transition: Emerson, Pragmatism, and American Literary Modernism

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Overview

The Poetics of Transition examines the connection between American pragmatism and literary modernism by focusing on the concept of transition as a theme common to both movements. Jonathan Levin begins with the Emersonian notion that transition—the movement from one state or condition to another or, alternately, the figural enactment of that movement—is infused with power. He then offers a revisionary reading of the pragmatists’ view of the permeability of subjective and objective realms and of how American literary modernists stage this permeability in the language and form of their writing.
Levin draws on the pragmatist and neopragmatist writings of William James, John Dewey, George Santayana, Richard Rorty, and Cornel West to illuminate the work of modernist literature. In turn, he illuminates the poetic imperatives of pragmatism by tracing the ways in which Henry James, Gertrude Stein, and Wallace Stevens capture the moment of transition—a paradoxical moment that, once it is represented in language or art, requires its own perpetual overcoming. Throughout, he explores how modernist writers, who are masters at recording such “illegible” moments of transition in their poetry and prose, significantly contribute to an expanded understanding of pragmatism and its underlying aesthetics. By linking Emerson with the progressive philosophy of turn-of-the-century pragmatism and the experimentation of American literary modernism, Levin offers new insight into Emerson’s lasting influence on later American philosophers, novelists, and poets.
The Poetics of Transition will interest scholars and students in the fields of literary criticism, neopragmatism, literary modernism, and American literature.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Lucid and solidly argued, The Poetics of Transition will immediately be recognized as an essential and instructive contribution to the now thriving study of pragmatism, especially in its relation to the uses of language in American poetry and fiction.”—Richard Poirier, author of Poetry and Pragmatism
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822322962
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/1999
  • Series: New Americanists Series
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Levin is Associate Professor of English at Columbia University and Associate Editor of Raritan Review.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Introduction: Life, Transition, the Energizing Spirit 1
Ch. 1 Divine Overflowings: Emerson's Pragmatic Idealism 17
Ch. 2 William James and the Metaphorics of Transition 45
Ch. 3 The Aesthetics of Pragmatism 67
Ch. 4 Santayana, Dewey, and the Politics of Transition 91
Ch. 5 Henry James and the Drama of Transition 117
Ch. 6 Gertrude Stein and the Movement of Words 145
Ch. 7 Wallace Stevens and the Pragmatist Imagination 167
Notes 199
Index 217
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