English 9139B

“Words are Victims”: Modernist Poetry and Ruins of Language

Professor A. Pero
Winter Half Course.

“Allegory is in the realm of thought what ruins are in the realm of things”—Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama

“Of poetry, I will now say that it is, I believe, the sacrifice in which words are victims”—Georges Bataille, Inner Experience

This course will explore the poetic and theoretical ways in which several modernist poets grapple with what Wallace Stevens calls “metaphor as degeneration.” What does it mean to think of poetry as an allegorical space in which language is fragmented, broken or lying in ruins? How does poetry express or conjure such spaces into being—or conversely, mourn their collapse? How do the modernist obsessions with precision and concentration victimize language in the guises of suspicion and skepticism, of nostalgia or novelty, to rescue concepts like truth or beauty? Or are they beyond rescue? How are such fraught modern spaces-- of the city, the body, the interior, the metaphoric and metonymic, even death itself--examples of what Maurice Blanchot describes as the fragmentation which “denounces thought as experience...no less than thought as the realization of the whole”? We will work to situate these questions in the work of Stevens, Amy Lowell, Mina Loy, T. S. Eliot, and Hart Crane. We will read the works of these poets together with such thinkers as Maurice Blanchot, Martin Heidegger, Georges Bataille, Paul de Man, Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, Walter Benjamin, and Alain Badiou.

View the course syllabus here: English 9139B. PDF download