Is American vision implicitly possessive, as a generation of critics contends? By viewing the American poetic tradition through the prism of pragmatism, Elisa New contests this claim. A new reading of how poetry "sees," her work is a passionate defense of the power of the poem, the ethics of perception, and the broader possibilities of American sight.
American poems see more fully, and less invasively, than accounts of American literature as an inscription of imperial national ideology would allow. Moreover, New argues, their ways of seeing draw on, and develop, a vigorous mode of national representation alternative to the appropriative sort found in the quintessential American genre of encounter, the romance. Grounding her readings of Dickinson, Frost, Moore, and Williams in foundational texts by Edwards, Jefferson, Audubon, and Thoreau, New shows how varieties of attentiveness and solicitude cultivated in the early literature are realized in later poetry. She then discloses how these ideas infuse the philosophical notions about pragmatic experience codified by Emerson, James, and Dewey. As these philosophers insisted, and as New's readings prove, art is where the experience of experience can be had: to read, as to write, a poem is to let the line guide one's way.
This volume [is] a longed-for return of positivism and appreciation after the dark scrutinies of new historicism...Altogether, New's is a masterpiece of critical writing: philosophically shrewd, beautifully articulate, calmly learned, endlessly surprising, deft in general and in detail...Surely of interest to students of US literature at all levels.
If poetry is understood to be a "genre of experience," then one may all too easily see through genre to experience as if neither the formal nor the historical aspects of representation got in the way. Since they do, and since New knows that they do, the book must negotiate the obstacles to its own ambitions (her vision's nemeses and her romance's corrections) and so ends up taking just the path of most resistance that it admires in American thought.
In the hands of Elisa New's beautifully written study, the American Poem vibrates with 'the feel' of living in a land of substance and of experience in pursuit of itself.
Elisa New's searching analysis of the rhetoric of landscape brilliantly refutes current orthodoxies in American criticism. Her close readings of poems by such as Dickinson, Moore, Williams, and Frost demonstrate the powers of the critical mind uncannily alert to what John Ashbery has called 'the lumps and trials' of the poetic experience.
Elisa New is out to challenge the presuppositions of much revisionist criticism of American writing by attempting to recuperate the notion of the aesthetic...Postulating an 'other American Protestantism,' she manages to give us the fullest elaboration we have yet had of a pragmatist tradition in American poetry.
[Elisa New possesses a] clear and deep sympathy with the lyric gifts Protestant ethics can bestow and have already bestowed on our culture.
Elisa New's The Line's Eye is a glorious work: exuberant, learned, discriminate, purposeful, eloquent.
There is a largeness of scope and vision to this book that has been missing from American cultural criticism for far too long a time; yet New also closely observes the minute particular. The resulting breakthrough, while it shatters some sacred vessels, also restores us to that basic sanity and grace that are the kinetic heritage of America's greatest writers, thinkers, poets, and critics.
What you get in this challenging, engaging book is an argument about poetry that embraces, without embarrassment, poetry's ways of seeing. I think it has a great chance to redirect the whole enterprise of the academic discussion of poetry by elevating that actual and operant respect for poetry required in those who would presume to assess it.
- 352 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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