Language poetry and ecopoetry: a shared pragmatic work in A.R.Ammons, Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe, and W.S. Merwin

Massie, Jack (2018) Language poetry and ecopoetry: a shared pragmatic work in A.R.Ammons, Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe, and W.S. Merwin. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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The central aim of this thesis is to demonstrate that A.R. Ammons, Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe, and W.S. Merwin commit to a pragmatic poetic project of working language to facilitate cultural renewal. In illuminating this shared pragmatic work in poems from the turn of the 1990s, the thesis contradicts ecocritical assertions about the inimical relationship between ecopoetry and postmodern poetries such as Language. As ecocriticism established itself as a school of literary criticism in the 1990s, its proponents were damning of the influence postmodern literary theory was exerting on American poetry. Ecocritics argued that postmodernism had dangerously devalued the referential relationship between word and world at a time of escalating environmental crises. Taking Bernstein and Howe as representatives of Language poetry, and Ammons and Merwin as representatives of ecopoetry, the thesis will contest this ecocritical argument by illustrating that these four poets share a vision of poetry as a uniquely positioned medium for rejuvenating language and, subsequently, shifting cultural attitudes in a politically progressive manner.

In order to make this argument, the thesis builds on a body of literary criticism which explores American poetry’s debt to American pragmatism. Critics connecting poetry to pragmatism have argued that pragmatists such as William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, and Ralph Waldo Emerson have helped American poets establish an epistemological middle ground between foundationalism and the sceptical side of postmodernism. The poets studied in this thesis extend this tradition of pragmatic poetry by using their writing to engage in an ongoing poetic rejuvenation of language and ideology. Furthermore, the thesis shows how these poets’ pragmatic approach to language and epistemology aligns them the ‘progressive’ side of the Culture Wars which were erupting in the early 1990s.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of American Studies (former - to 2014)
Depositing User: Jackie Webb
Date Deposited: 20 Nov 2018 14:11
Last Modified: 20 Nov 2018 14:11


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