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The Darkness of the Present

Poetics, Anachronism, and the Anomaly

Steve McCaffery

Publication Year: 2012

The Darkness of the Present includes essays that collectively investigate the roles of anomaly and anachronism as they work to unsettle commonplace notions of the “contemporary” in the field of poetics.
In the eleven essays of The Darkness of the Present, poet and critic Steve McCaffery argues that by approaching the past and the present as unified entities, the contemporary is made historical at the same time as the historical is made contemporary.
McCaffery’s writings work against the urge to classify works by placing them in standard literary periods or disciplinary partitions. Instead, McCaffery offers a variety of insights into unusual and ingenious affiliations between poetic works that may have previously seemed distinctive. He questions the usual associations of originality and precedence. In the process, he repositions many texts within genealogies separate from the ones to which they are traditionally assigned.
The chapters in The Darkness of the Present might seem to present an eclectic façade and can certainly be read independently. They are linked, however, by a common preoccupation reflected in the title of the book: the anomaly and the anachronism and the way their empirical emergence works to unsettle a steady notion of the “contemporary” or “new.”

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

I want to offer my sincere thanks to the editors of the books and journals who first published earlier versions of some of the materials in this book. Chapter 11 appears for the first time in English. Chapters 3 and 9 appear for the first time in print. All other chapters have...

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Introduction: Linearity, Anomaly, and Anachronism: Toward an Archaeology of the New

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pp. 1-10

Many of the chapters in The Darkness of the Present started life on emergent occasions, the details of which can be consulted in the acknowledgements section. Some have appeared in earlier versions and these I have chosen to update; accordingly most are substantively revised and altered (mainly by amplification). As such, they might...

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1. Cacophony, Abstraction, and Potentiality: The Fate of the Dada Sound Poem

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pp. 11-24

First let me offer a necessary prolegomenon. This chapter relies heavily upon quotations from Ball’s diary—which was published posthumously (in abridged form) as Flight Out of Time—for precisely the same reason as Ball’s fellow Dadaist Hans Richter relied upon it. As Richter...

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2. Corrosive Poetics: The Relief Composition of Ronald Johnson’s Radi os

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pp. 25-40

This chapter is divided into two separate but related parts. The first revisits the over-theorized matter of periodization to take issue with the accuracy of the label “postmodern” in its specific application to much recent North American poetic practice; the second examines Ronald Johnson’s 1977 Radios as a complex intertextual enterprise whose...

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3. Interpretation and the Limit Text: An Approach to Jackson Mac Low’s Words nd Ends from Ez

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pp. 41-50

It would be perfectly in order to approach Jackson Mac Low’s poem Words nd Ends from Ez (WNEFE hereafter) as an exemplary text of neo-picturesque detail, embodying the variety and fragmentariness that forms the central core of picturesque poetics (outlined in chapter 9); it would be equally pertinent to examine the affinities between Mac Low’s work and Ronald Johnson’s method of corrosive reduction..

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4. Transcoherence and Deletion: The Mesostic Writings of John Cage

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pp. 51-62

take this short epigraph by H. Leivick that prefaces Harold Bloom’s Kabbalah and Criticism as my entry into the semiology of John Cage’s mesostic (medial-acrostic) writings. My point of reference will be his mesostic treatments (called by Cage the “writing-through” method) of Finnegans Wake, a text conceived by Joyce on the wrong side...

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5. A Chapter of Accidents: Disfiguration and the Marbled Page in Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

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pp. 63-74

This chapter digresses from contemporary matters in order to delineate the odd trajectory of a single wordless leaf in Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman; I conduct this exploration according to Jarry’s ’pataphysical rule of the anomaly, which governs exceptions and is the subject of chapter 10.1 At the same...

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6. From Muse to Mousepad: Informatics and the Avant-Garde

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pp. 75-94

The institutional origin of the avant-garde is well known; its formative impetus being none other than Napoleon III who in 1863 set up the Salon des Refuséesas a deliberate countermove to the jury tampering of the then director-general of the Imperial Museums of Paris. The Salon exhibited Manet’s new painting Déjeuner sur l’herbe to a scandalized...

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7. Parapoetics and the Architectural Leap

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pp. 95-114

The death of God, the end of Man, the end of theory, the death of the subject, the death of art courtesy of Hegel, the death of man courtesy of Foucault, the death of Marxism courtesy of North American English departments, the end of narrative courtesy of my friend with a smile like those horses in Picasso’s “Guernica”: having survived a tedious...

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8. “To Lose One’s Way” (For Snails and Nomads): The Radical Labyrinths of Constant and Arakawa and Gins

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pp. 115-148

Hermann Kern concludes Through the Labyrinth, his magisterial study and exhaustive cataloguing of that eponymous architectural form, with a short chapter on the labyrinth “revival.” Since 1982, Kern contends, “a renewed interest in labyrinths has swept the globe” (311). Although his catalogue is daunting, neither the contributions...

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9. Difficult Harmony: The Picturesque Detail in Gilpin, Price, and Clark Coolidge’s Space

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pp. 149-166

So far there has been no attempt to historicize the work of Clark Coolidge beyond the 1960s; his early work is usually considered inaugural of a minimalist and disjunctive non-referentiality, and he is seen as a pioneer of, or fellow traveler with, Language writing. Jed Rasula’s “News and Noise: Poetry and Distortion” is an interesting..

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10. The ’Pataphysics of Auschwitz

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pp. 167-184

Ever since the mind developed as a machine to think without fingers, ’pataphysics, the science of imaginary solutions, has been around as a renegade rationality whose project has been the ludic anamorphosization of truth, science, and their reactionary structures, regulatory ideals, and compromise formations. Ludic? By all means...

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11. The Instrumental Nightingale: Some Counter-Musical Inflections in Poetry from Gray to Celan

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pp. 185-210

My argument in this chapter presupposes the validity of a crucial distinction between the semiotics and the acoustics of poetic music; the former is evident in the discovery by English poetry (largely via Swinburne and Tennyson) of an accumulative continuity through symphonic syntax, which is found residually in much subsequent procedural..


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pp. 211-242

Works Cited

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pp. 243-256


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pp. 257-282

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780817386429
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817357337

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2012