In this highly original reexamination of North American poetry in English from Ezra Pound to the present day, Christopher Nealon demonstrates that the most vital writing of the period is deeply concerned with capitalism. This focus is not exclusive to the work of left-wing poets: the problem of capitalism’s effect on individuals, communities, and cultures is central to a wide variety of poetry, across a range of political and aesthetic orientations. Indeed, Nealon asserts, capitalism is the material out of which poetry in English has been created over the last century.
Much as poets of previous ages continually examined topics such as the deeds of King Arthur or the history of Troy, poets as diverse as Jack Spicer, John Ashbery, and Claudia Rankine have taken as their “matter” the dynamics and impact of capitalism—not least its tendency to generate economic and political turmoil. Nealon argues persuasively that poets’ attention to the matter of capital has created a corresponding notion of poetry as a kind of textual matter, capable of dispersal, retrieval, and disguise in times of crisis. Offering fresh readings of canonical poets from W. H. Auden to Adrienne Rich, as well as interpretations of younger writers like Kevin Davies, The Matter of Capital reorients our understanding of the central poetic project of the last century.
Nealon makes a strongly compelling case in this book that 'capital' and its crises have continued to pervade and magnetize much of the most cannily powerful poetry of the last century. He gives a nuanced yet succinct account of this extensive and complex history. The thoroughness of his scholarship and the trenchancy of his method enable him to perform this daunting task with authority and assurance. His study will interest scholars as well as non-academic readers. Indeed, with this book, Nealon is likely to join the select company of a handful of critics of poetry, such as Charles Altieri and Maria Damon, whom poets actually read.
The Matter of Capital brilliantly reimagines how we understand 20th-century Anglophone poetry. Clear-eyed about the signal poetry of the present and its relation to the dominant thoughts of our era, it locates both within an agile and fearless history of ideas that reaches into deep tradition and into the future that looms before us. Most remarkably, it does so by discovering what has been hiding in plain sight: poetry's attunement to the regime of capital, in an age which resists and resents such thought. In this sense the book offers not only a breathtaking work of poetics, but the itinerary of an idea exactly when this is most needed and most challenging to confront. In the finest sense, this book is invaluable .
Boldly taking on, in best Benjaminian fashion, the relation between poetry and capitalism, Chris Nealon offers compelling readings of poets' responses to socio-economic change, both as poetic theme and as determinant of aspects of poetic form. Whether discussing the range of poets or taking on the critics who he believes have obscured poetry's relation to capitalism, he is stimulating, shrewd, and provocative.
Chris Nealon knows his poets inside out. Taking delight in the micro details and endless syntactical possibilities of material life, he makes a stunning case that capitalism and consumer culture are indeed the stuff of which poetry is made.
The Matter of Capital is a gift for anyone who wonders about the relationship between art and political economy. It is a superhero of a book, able to leap centuries at a single bound; spinning a web that constellates Pound, Auden, Ashbery, Spicer, Hejinian and some very recent poets; zipping back and forth across the membranes that divide and link poetry and capitalism. As a theorist, historian, and critic, Nealon is no stranger to poetic tone, but this book's chief resource for imagining life differently is its pedagogical rhythm. Establishing a tempo that is both jaunty and deliberate, Nealon slows down the manic pace of life under late-late capitalism, and gives it a new pulse. The beat that emerges is relaxed, capering, and exhilarating.
- 202 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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