Inaugurated in 1931 by Louis Zukofsky, Objectivist poetry gave expression to the complex contours of culture and politics in America during the Great Depression. This study of Zukofsky and two others in the Objectivist constellation, George Oppen and Lorine Niedecker, elaborates the dialectic between the formal experimental features of their poetry and their progressive commitments to the radical potentials of modernity.
Mixing textual analysis, archival research, and historiography, Ruth Jennison shows how Zukofsky, Oppen, and Niedecker braided their experiences as working-class Jews, political activists, and feminists into radical, canon-challenging poetic forms. Using the tools of critical geography, Jennison offers an account of the relationship between the uneven spatial landscapes of capitalism in crisis and the Objectivists’ paratactical textscapes. In a rethinking of the overall terms in which poetic modernism is described, she identifies and assesses the key characteristics of the Objectivist avant-garde, including its formal recognition of proliferating commodity cultures, its solidarity with global anticapitalist movements, and its imperative to develop poetics that nurtured revolutionary literacy. The resulting narrative is a historically sensitive, thorough, and innovative account of Objectivism’s Depression-era modernism.
A rich analysis of American avant-garde poetic forms and politics, The Zukofsky Era convincingly situates Objectivist poetry as a politically radical movement comprising a crucial chapter in American literary history. Scholars and students of modernism will find much to discuss in Jennison’s theoretical study.
About the Author
Ruth Jennison is an associate professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Table of Contents
I The Uneven Poetics of Radical Parataxis
1 Zukofsky: The Political Economy of Revolutionary Modernism 29
2 G. Oppen, Materialiste: Cinematic Capitalism 69
II The Commodity's Inscape
3 Zukofsky: The Voice of the Fetish 103
4 Niedecker: The Interior Voice Commodified 137
III The Objectivist Reflex
5 Zukofsky: Counterfetishistic Literacy 175
What People are Saying About This
An original and compelling piece of scholarly work, The Zukofsky Era arrives at an especially opportune moment: it is the first closely integrated and theoretically sophisticated, full-length discussion of the Objectivists, a group of poets who are receiving increasing critical attention. Jennison's materialist reading of these late-born modernists will no doubt go far toward setting the terms of debate over Objectivist poetry for some time to come.
Mark Scroggins, author of The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky and Louis Zukofsky and the Poetry of Knowledge