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The Zukofsky Era

Modernity, Margins, and the Avant-Garde

Ruth Jennison

Publication Year: 2012

Inaugurated in 1932 by Louis Zukofsky, Objectivist poetry gave expression to the complex contours of culture and politics in America during the Great Depression. This study of Zukofsky and two others in the Objectivist constellation, George Oppen and Lorine Niedecker, elaborates the dialectic between the formal experimental features of their poetry and their progressive commitments to the radical potentials of modernity. Mixing textual analysis, archival research, and historiography, Ruth Jennison shows how Zukofsky, Oppen, and Niedecker braided their experiences as working-class Jews, political activists, and feminists into radical, canon-challenging poetic forms. Using the tools of critical geography, Jennison offers an account of the relationship between the uneven spatial landscapes of capitalism in crisis and the Objectivists’ paratactical textscapes. In a rethinking of the overall terms in which poetic modernism is described, she identifies and assesses the key characteristics of the Objectivist avant-garde, including its formal recognition of proliferating commodity cultures, its solidarity with global anticapitalist movements, and its imperative to develop poetics that nurtured revolutionary literacy. The resulting narrative is a historically sensitive, thorough, and innovative account of Objectivism’s Depression-era modernism. A rich analysis of American avant-garde poetic forms and politics, The Zukofsky Era convincingly situates Objectivist poetry as a politically radical movement comprising a crucial chapter in American literary history. Scholars and students of modernism especially will find much to discuss in Jennison’s theoretical study.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Hopkins Studies in Modernism


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. xi-x

This project has benefi ted from generous support and wise counsel. Lyn Hejinian presided over its fi rst stage at the University of California, Berkeley, off ering her time and erudition far beyond what this pupil might have hoped for. Abdul JanMohamed and Colleen Lye were similarly giving of their time and critical acumen....

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pp. 1-26

This book takes as its object of study the Depression-era works of three poets who constellated around the aesthetic nexus of Objectivism: Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen, and Lorine Niedecker.1 Objectivism was a high modernism, but it was also a modernism whose...

I: The Uneven Poetics of Radical Parataxis

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1. Zukofsky: The Political Economy of Revolutionary Modernism

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pp. 29-68

In the fi elds of modern and contemporary poetics in particular and cultural studies in general, recent scholarship has turned to world systems theory and critical geography to situate questions of culture in a global matrix. Increasingly, literary theorists and scholars are deploying the social-scientifi c concepts of center, margin, core, periphery, and uneven development in order to problematize critical...

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2. G. Oppen, Materialiste: Cinematic Capitalism

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pp. 69-99

George Oppen’s fi rst published work, Discrete Series (1934), at once marked the poet’s entrance and then-indefi nite departure from the world of literary modernism. Composed of thirty-one poems with relations that often vex, Discrete Series was Oppen’s last...

II: The Commodity’s Inscape

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3. Zukofsky: The Voice of the Fetish

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pp. 103-136

Throughout the mid-1930s, Pound and Zukofsky carried on a sometimes congenial, sometimes explosive epistolary relationship. They debated, among other things, the nature of the commodity form; the political stakes and ideological underpinnings of anti-Semitism; the role...

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4. Niedecker: The Interior Voice Commodified

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pp. 137-172

Just prior to Jenny Penberthy’s 1996 discovery of Lorine Niedecker’s “Next Year Or I Fly My Rounds Tempestuous” in Zukofsky’s archive, National Poetry Foundation then director Burton Hatlen found her expanded version of the 1933 poem Progression buried in Pound’s papers at the Beinecke Library. If critical accounts of Niedecker’s surrealist

III: The Objectivist Reflex

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5. Zukofsky: Counterfetishistic Literacy

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pp. 175-203

The previous chapters visited Objectivism’s theater of confrontation, where it, by turns sober and wildly imaginative, faced off with tumultuous, uneven developments and resiliently undead commodities. In battling these mediations of Depression-era American crisis capitalism, Objectivism poses a deeply strategic and utopian question: what kind of poetics are adequate to the collectives and individuals radicalized...


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p. 204


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pp. 205-225


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pp. 227-232

E-ISBN-13: 9781421406114
E-ISBN-10: 142140611X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421405292
Print-ISBN-10: 1421405296

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 1 b&w illustration
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Hopkins Studies in Modernism
Series Editor Byline: Douglas Mao, Series Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 867788977
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Zukofsky Era

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American poetry -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- United States.
  • Avant-garde (Aesthetics) -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Zukofsky, Louis, -- 1904-1978 -- Criticism and interpretation
  • Oppen, George -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Niedecker, Lorine -- Criticism and interpretation.
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