We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Language of Inquiry

Lyn Hejinian

Publication Year: 2000

Lyn Hejinian is among the most prominent of contemporary American poets. Her autobiographical poem My Life, a best-selling book of innovative American poetry, has garnered accolades and fans inside and outside academia. The Language of Inquiry is a comprehensive and wonderfully readable collection of her essays, and its publication promises to be an important event for American literary culture. Here, Hejinian brings together twenty essays written over a span of almost twenty-five years. Like many of the Language Poets with whom she has been associated since the mid-1970s, Hejinian turns to language as a social space, a site of both philosophical inquiry and political address.

Central to these essays are the themes of time and knowledge, consciousness and perception. Hejinian's interests cover a range of texts and figures. Prominent among them are Sir Francis Bacon and Enlightenment-era explorers; Faust and Sheherazade; Viktor Shklovsky and Russian formalism; William James, Hannah Arendt, and Martin Heidegger. But perhaps the most important literary presence in the essays is Gertrude Stein; the volume includes Hejinian's influential "Two Stein Talks," as well as two more recent essays on Stein's writings.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (62.7 KB)
pp. 2-7


pdf iconDownload PDF (59.6 KB)
pp. vii-x

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (52.5 KB)
pp. 1-6

In putting together this collection of essays, I have been aware of the fact that they will be read as poetics rather than poetry. But it would be a mistake to regard the poetics represented here as a discourse for which poetry is merely exemplary, one for which poetry stands at a distance, objectified and under scrutiny. ...

read more

A Thought Is the Bride of What Thinking

pdf iconDownload PDF (88.6 KB)
pp. 7-21

Superficially, this says no more than that prose can be (and is) used in the service of one or another of numerous genres (all those, in fact, that are not poetry). But, this being the case, prose, taken in and of itself, may be regarded as the site of numerous simultaneous genres; it is a genre after all, a genre of multitudes. ...

read more

Preface to Writing Is an Aid to Memory

pdf iconDownload PDF (59.4 KB)
pp. 22-24

In the fall of 1977, not long after my family and I had moved back to Berkeley from Mendocino County (and into a neighborhood very near where I had lived as a child), Geoff Young, the editor of The Figures, invited me to write a manuscript for his press. The result was Writing Is an Aid to Memory.1 ...

read more

If Written Is Writing

pdf iconDownload PDF (58.6 KB)
pp. 25-29

“If Written Is Writing” was written in 1978, specifically for one of the first issues of Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein’s journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, the advent of which seemed to invite (and even demand) response. Like most of the other poets with whom I was in constant conversation during this time, ...

read more

Who Is Speaking?

pdf iconDownload PDF (70.4 KB)
pp. 30-39

The question “Who is speaking?” is uttered from within the social relationship that binds together the problematics of power and ethicality. As the question was first posed in the early 1980s as a topic for discussion by a group of Bay Area women poets and intellectuals, it constituted a challenge to certain styles of discourse, ...

read more

The Rejection of Closure

pdf iconDownload PDF (109.3 KB)
pp. 40-58

“The Rejection of Closure” was originally written as a talk and given at 544 Natoma Street, San Francisco, on April 17, 1983.1 The “Who Is Speaking?” panel discussion had taken place several weeks earlier, and with the “Poetry & Philosophy” issue of Poetics Journal (volume 3) about to come out, ...

read more

Language and “Paradise”

pdf iconDownload PDF (117.0 KB)
pp. 59-82

The Guard, the last publication in the Tuumba chapbook series, appeared in September 1984, a year after my first visit to the Soviet Union and my first meeting with the poet Arkadii Dragomoshchenko (to whom The Guard is dedicated).1 “Language and ‘Paradise,’ ” a purported exegesis of portions of that work, was written a year later, ...

read more

Two Stein Talks

pdf iconDownload PDF (183.0 KB)
pp. 83-130

In 1933 my father, Chaffee Earl Hall Jr., an aspiring writer (he became an academic administrator and a notable painter), wrote to Gertrude Stein. He was a college student, attending the University of California in Berkeley, to which he commuted from his parents’ Oakland house. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (67.0 KB)
pp. 131-134

My brief comment on “the line” was written in 1988, prompted by an invitation from Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein to contribute to the “L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Lines” section of a book on The Line in Postmodern Poetry.1 The topic was of interest to me because, after a prolonged period of working with sentences, I was eager suddenly to disrupt their integrity, ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (120.3 KB)
pp. 135-160

The metonymic association that justified (to my mind) a comparison between lines of travel, lines of investigation, and lines of poetry in the early talk (see the previous essay, “Line”) did so on empirical grounds. This talk was one of a series curated by Bob Perelman and it was given at the San Francisco Art Institute, probably in 1979. ...

read more

Materials (for Dubravka Djuric)

pdf iconDownload PDF (97.4 KB)
pp. 161-176

On April 2, 1990, the Serbian poet Dubravka Djuric wrote to me from Belgrade with some interview questions for a short essay to accompany her translations into Serbian of sections from My Life. The essay, interview, and translations appeared in the journal Polja in December 1990. ...

read more

Comments for Manuel Brito

pdf iconDownload PDF (110.1 KB)
pp. 177-198

I wrote the “Comments for Manuel Brito” in response to a set of fourteen questions that I received from Manuel Brito, a scholar and editor based in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. With the intention of conducting interviews with several American poets, Brito had been doing research in the library at the University of California, San Diego, ...

read more

The Person and Description

pdf iconDownload PDF (81.4 KB)
pp. 199-208

In the fall of 1988, Carla Harryman undertook to curate three evenings of discussion on “The Poetics of Everyday Life.” They took place in Berkeley at Small Press Distribution, and most of the papers that were given were subsequently published in Poetics Journal 9: “The Person” (1991). ...

read more

The Quest for Knowledge in the Western Poem

pdf iconDownload PDF (114.7 KB)
pp. 209-231

The somewhat sardonically titled “Quest for Knowledge in the Western Poem” was written in 1992 for presentation at the Naropa Institute’s Summer Writing Program. 1992 saw various quincentennial celebrations of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery of America,” ...

read more

La Faustienne

pdf iconDownload PDF (195.7 KB)
pp. 232-267

The first version of “La Faustienne” was presented as a talk at Temple University, Philadelphia, in March 1994. The subsequent revisions (and, I believe, improvements) are much indebted to Barrett Watten, who was of great help as I was preparing the essay for publication (it appeared in Poetics Journal 10: “Knowledge” in 1998). ...

read more

Three Lives

pdf iconDownload PDF (130.6 KB)
pp. 268-295

The essay called “Three Lives” was written in 1998 as an introduction to a planned Green Integer Press edition of Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives.1 The invitation to write such an introduction provided me with a context in which to examine Stein’s approach to psychological investigation. ...

read more

Forms in Alterity: On Translation

pdf iconDownload PDF (106.4 KB)
pp. 296-317

In August of 1998, the Swedish Academy sponsored a four-day Nobel Symposium on “The Translation of Poetry and Poetic Prose” in Stockholm. I was invited to participate as a discussant on the panel devoted to “The Translation of Metrical and /or Rhymed Poetry” and to present a response to a paper by Judith Moffett, ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (104.0 KB)
pp. 318-336

In the spring of 1995 I spent a month in Australia and New Zealand, visiting various universities to lecture and give readings on a tour very kindly organized on my behalf by Professor Anne Brewster, who was then teaching at Curtin Institute of Technology in Perth, Western Australia. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (105.8 KB)
pp. 337-354

Reason constitutes both the method and the object of Western philosophical investigations. It is philosophy’s fundamental concern. But as a foundation it is everywhere fissured; reason is a concept that constantly bifurcates. ...

read more

A Common Sense

pdf iconDownload PDF (128.1 KB)
pp. 355-382

In various conversations over the years, Charles Bernstein has taken exception to my use of the term theory to apply to anything that poetry does. In part, as I understand him, he objects on the grounds that theory detaches itself from the object of its scrutiny and pretends to authority over it. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (123.1 KB)
pp. 383-406

In responding to Dubravka Djuric’s question about the origins of my interest in writing, I said that it was the materiality of writing that first drew me to it, the prospect of working with “the typewriter and the dictionary.”1 This is accurate as far as it goes, and I find among the quotations I’ve written into notebooks over the years ...

Works Cited

pdf iconDownload PDF (75.5 KB)
pp. 407-420

Acknowledgment of Permissions

pdf iconDownload PDF (35.8 KB)
pp. 421-422


pdf iconDownload PDF (1022.0 KB)
pp. 423-438

E-ISBN-13: 9780520922273
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520217003

Page Count: 447
Publication Year: 2000