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American Pragmatism and Poetic Practice


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Wittgenstein wrote that "philosophy ought really to be written only as a form of poetry." American poetry has long engaged questions about subject and object, self and environment, reality and imagination, real and ideal that have dominated the Western philosophical tradition since the Enlightenment. Kristen Case's book argues that American poets from Emerson to Susan Howe have responded to the central problems of Western philosophy by performing, in language, the continually shifting relation between mind and world. Pragmatism, recognizing the futility of philosophy's attempt to fix the mind/world relation, announces the insights that these poets enact.
Pursuing the flights of pragmatist thinking into poetry and poetics, Case traces an epistemology that emerges from American writing, including that of Emerson, Marianne Moore, William James, and Charles Olson. Here mind and world are understood as inseparable, and the human being is regarded as, in Thoreau's terms, "part and parcel of Nature." Case presents a new picture of twentieth-century American poetry that disrupts our sense of the schools and lineages of modern and postmodern poetics, arguing that literary history is most accurately figured as a living field rather than a line. This book will be of particular interest to scholars and students of pragmatism, transcendentalism, and twentieth-century American poetry.

Kristen Case is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Maine at Farmington.


A sensitive and imaginative study, responsive to the vast potentiality of aesthetic and poetic commentary inherent in the midst of pragmatism, which has always been, and continues to be, a strongly Emersonian poetic philosophy. It is an ambitious and useful attempt to fuse the various strands of the discussions of pragmatist poetics and to open up new connections. POLISH JOURNAL FOR AMERICAN STUDIES

An excellent and much-needed study of the diverse and complex interplay between the philosophical tradition of American pragmatism and the "objectivist" current in twentieth-century American poetry. The book is thoroughly researched, original in its argument and contribution to the study of contemporary poetry and poetics, and written in an engaging and innovative style. In fact, argument and form/style are more or less inseparable in this project - as indeed they are, as Case convincingly argues, in the pragmatist and objectivist traditions of philosophy and poetry she explores - leading her to "hope to enact, rather than simply describe, a pragmatist conception of knowledge." Thus this book's most significant contribution may be in its approach and form: that form and content work together here, dialectically, and produce a text that is at once scholarly and poetic. --Stephen Collis, Simon Fraser University

Case argues that the American poets she investigates offer an "interactive model of knowledge" that she mirrors in her own analyses, making her text not only of interest for its poetic and philosophical genealogies, but also for its engagement with reading methodologies. AMERICAN LITERATURE


First Published: 08 Dec 2011
13 Digit ISBN: 9781571134851
3 black and white illustrations
Pages: 178
Size: 9 x 6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: Camden House
BIC Class: HP

Details updated on 05 Oct 2015


  • 1  Preface
  • 2  Acknowledgements
  • 3  "By Their Fruits": Words and Action in American Writing
  • 4  Emerson, Moore, America
  • 5  Robert Frost, Charles Sanders Peirce, and the Necessity of Form
  • 6  "As Much a Part of Things as Trees and Stones": John Dewey, William Carlos Williams, and the Difference in Not Knowing
  • 7  Henry Thoreau, Charles Olson, and the Poetics of Place
  • 8  Howe/James
  • 9  Works Cited
  • 10  Index

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