This bold new theoretical study explores dissident subjectivity, that is, the struggle for unique authorial identity in American literary discourse that has existed, according to David Jarraway, since the Romantics. From Emerson’s “Experience” remarking upon the “focal distance within the actual horizon of human life” to Toni Morrison’s Nobel Prize address sanctifying the artist’s “sophisticated privileged space,” American literature has continuously recognized a necessary “distance” —the gap between culturally accepted ideas of selfhood and the intractable reality of the self’s never-completed construction in time. Jarraway’s fascinating examination of modernist poets shows that engaging with this artistic space, or “going the distance,” empowers writers and their readers to create and perceive identities that resist the frozen certainties of conventional gender, sexual, and social roles.
Employing this theory with grace and precision, Jarraway ranges through the dissident process in Gertrude Stein, the cultural criticism of William Carlos Williams, the deferred racialism of Langston Hughes, the queer perversities of Frank O’Hara, and the spectral lesbian poetics of Elizabeth Bishop. Bolstered further by insights from the pragmatism of William James through the cultural critique of Theodor Adorno to the queer theory of Judith Butler, the author challenges his audience with politically engaged insistence on the life-affirming potentialities of human subjectivity in literature. His passionate conclusion demonstrates the liberating fluidity of self made possible by feminist chartings of modern identity’s depths.
Lucidly composed, theoretically sophisticated and up-to-the-minute, Going the Distance painstakingly recovers the dissident American subjective in modernist literary discourse within its fullest cultural context. Jarraway’s readings are a major contribution to poetry scholarship and to cultural studies that will provoke further investigations into the history of subjectivity in American literature as a whole.
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