This study begins with a question: if a good deal of poetry produced by twentieth-century American poets has been labeled “difficult,” and if that designation has proven central to the poetics, criticism, and reception of that poetry, then what do we mean by “difficult” in the first place? Through an examination of theories of difficulty (including those of T.S. Eliot, George Steiner, and Stanley Fish), of poetics aimed to defend or debunk difficult practices, and of the poetry itself of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, Eliot and Hart Crane, Lyn Hejinian and Jane Kenyon, and others, I come to argue that, while the idea of the difficult as a meaningful and surprisingly stable category has persisted, the claim for difficulty has largely operated with surprisingly tangential reference to the poetry itself. Rather, the presence of such claims tend to indicate most reliably that other concerns are at work: a critical lament of mass culture, for example, or the formation of a coterie by the inclusion and exclusion of like-minded poets. At the same time, the claim of difficulty has served the mid-century rise of English as a discipline, where an assertion of the need to explicate hard-to-read texts proved to be the necessary work of pedagogues whose usefulness to the university was not historically assured. Once the connection between difficult poetry and the need for a methodology to approach it was established, to claim difficulty or its lack would henceforth become a hardy strategy by which critics, teachers, readers, and poets would often struggle over the value of a text.
|Commitee:||Hoy, Pat, Shaw, Lytle|
|School:||New York University|
|School Location:||United States -- New York|
|Source:||DAI-A 70/01, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Modern literature, American literature|
|Keywords:||Difficult, Eliot, T. S., Kenyon, Jane, Modern, Poetry|
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