As Poirier tells it, T. S. Eliot spearheaded modernism's assault on American literature. Anglo-American modernism favored writing full of dislocations, of expressions of anxiety, loss and doubt. It made ``difficulty'' a virtue and elevated literature to a privileged, exclusive form of discourse. Poets like Frost and Stevens were pushed aside, made to seem naive and optimistic by comparison with modernists. Poirier takes as his starting point Emerson, whose pragmatic outlook defined literature as a testing-ground for the energizing spirit of human will. He follows what he discerns as an Emersonian tradition through such writers as Thoreau, Whitman, William James, Frost and Norman Mailer, ``the most conspicuous Emersonian of the present time.'' According to Poirier, literature does not have redemptive powers to change the world but, as ``the Olympus of talk,'' literature shows readers how a culture's assumptions can be challenged. Poirier is author of A World Elsewhere and Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing. (February 27)
r turns to Emerson, Frost, Stevens, and William Jamesand incidentally to Thoreau, Whitman, and Wordsworthto find support for his powerful critique of modernism as practiced by contemporary writers, critics, and academics. Challenging the modernist and postmodernist notion that the ``writing and reading of literature have a culturally redemptive power,'' he instead sees literature as a source of ``renewal.'' Through his readings he expands this position, eventually setting forth a theory of language and literature that may serve as a watershed for a new approach to the reading, writing, and criticism of literature. Highly recommended to the general reader as well as to academic libraries. Walter Waring, Emeritus Prof., English Dept., Kalamazoo Coll., Mich.