Monday, December 17, 2007

On desiring the exhilarations of changes

"... freedom is nothing but departure--setting forth--leaving things behind, brave origination of the courage to be new," said the wild experimentalist, Robert Frost. The quote appears in the introduction to Andrew Epstein's Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry, in which Epstein outlines the pervasiveness of the pragmatist legacy in modern and contemporary American poetry. Interestingly, he finds that the Language poets, with their notion of community (as articulated by Lyn Hejinian and Charles Bernstein), along with the difficulties of keeping (in Hejinian's words) "the relationship between oneself and the community viable and productive," have real antecedents in Emerson, William James, Peirce, Dewey, and others. Epstein quotes Frank Lentricchia's Modernist Quartet, a study of this pragmatist legacy, who characterizes the pragmatists' wariness of the hegemonic thusly:

"... unities are nothing but attempts ... to impose artificially and imperiously ... out of the desire to dominate. Unities, whether of drama or versification; system, whether ecclesiastical or other; and doctrines, whether literary, scholastic, or political, all are expressions of impulses that would control by making individuality, personal and national, by trimming, fitting, normalizing autonomous individuality, making the world safe for structure (mine, not yours; ours, not theirs)."

Epstein comments: "The poets of the American avant-garde, like Emerson and the pragmatists before them, dread all forms of fixity and conformity, which leaves them forever wary of being trapped, locked into place, stripped of autonomy and distinction, or forced to cease changing."

Which again seems to mean that what is new is not, quite, and may even be downright traditional, and perhaps even hegemonic in its own way.

The year is ending: bring on the new!

No comments: