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Title:Beyond the Cheated Eye: Modern American Poetry and the Perils of Post -Romantic Subjectivity
Author(s):Cull, Ryan Elliot
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Nelson, Cary
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, Modern
Abstract:Though resurgent interest in social context has reinvigorated literary studies during the past generation, my dissertation argues that we have not adequately considered how subjectivity defines the threshold of the social. I focus on American poetry from the mid-nineteenth to the late-twentieth centuries to show that, despite great formal changes, our understanding of the forces that drive subjectivity has changed surprisingly little. Subjectivity has been conventionally defined since Romanticism as an epistemological possessiveness, a desire to apprehend and absorb otherness, which subsequently shapes and also threatens intersubjective relations and social structures. Modernist fragmentation and even postmodern difference critique this possessiveness without really disputing its place as the driving force of subjectivity. Indeed, postmodern thought is so deeply aware of this possessiveness that it hesitates to offer any social vision beyond a vigorous but vague admonition to respect otherness. My dissertation centers on four poets who recognize and challenge this post-Romantic view of subjectivity. I begin by analyzing a number of Emily Dickinson's 1862 poems featuring eye imagery. Though she initially casts aside poetic sight out of fear that her poetry would merely reduplicate the Romantic paradigm she rejected, she eventually learns that poetic subjectivity need not be motivated by epistemic possessiveness and thus need not follow the imperative to absorb or to stay at a distance from otherness. And with this slippery slope now leveled, she reimagines poetry as a discursive space in which we finally have the conceptual freedom to begin to re-narrate how we engage others. This possibility begins to be fulfilled by successors like Marianne Moore, whose modernist collages extend Dickinson's critique of possessiveness across a remarkable range of relationships, and by Hart Crane and James Merrill, whose early attempts to fashion a non-possessive poetic space eventually become models for the much larger social spaces featured in their national and cosmological visions. These ambitious poetic projects can be counted only as partial successes. But the tenacity with which these writers challenge presumptions we still hold about subjectivity may help us think beyond the attenuated options postmodernism has left us for theorizing the social.
Issue Date:2007
Description:234 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007.
Other Identifier(s):(MiAaPQ)AAI3269871
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-25
Date Deposited:2007

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