In this book, Linda Reinfeld explores the relationship between contemporary critical theory and the new form of poetic expression—visible in the work of Charles Bernstein, Michael Palmer, and Susan Howe—called Language poetry. She holds that the experimental work of the Language poets should not be dismissed as esoteric or inaccessible.
Language poetry may be read as an American response to critical theory. It rejects both the Romantic and the Modernist aesthetic and refuses to account for diversity by the imposition of unifying schemes or rigid structures. The role of the Language poet merges with that of the critic, in recognition that reading cannot flourish apart from writing, nor poet apart from audience. According to Reinfeld, the new genre serves as an antidote to the “ills of mystification” by reminding us of the limits of ideology, and it offers a vision of writing as rescuing us from a abstractions that deny the openness of language.
Although often viewed as a new trend in poetic expression, Language poetry comes out of a strong social and intellectual tradition. Reinfeld traces its interests and concerns to Gertrude Stein and Ludwig Wittgenstein, among others, and finds its poetic antecedents to extend through English and American literature. She explores the work of Bernstein, Palmer, and Howe in juxtaposition with modern critical theory as it appears in the writings of Jacques Derrida, Theodor Adorno, and Roland Barthes.
Language Poetry is a timely book on an influential literary movement. Reinfeld’s analysis of this writing is sure to illuminate the study of American poetics and critical theory.
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