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The Constructivist Moment

From Material Text to Cultural Poetics

Barrett Watten

Publication Year: 2003

As one of the founding poets and editors of the Language School of poetry and one of its central theorists, Barrett Watten has consistently challenged the boundaries of literature and art. In The Constructivist Moment, he offers a series of theoretically informed and textually sensitive readings that advance a revisionist account of the avant-garde through the methodologies of cultural studies. His major topics include American modernist and postmodern poetics, Soviet constructivist and post-Soviet literature and art, Fordism and Detroit techno--each proposed as exemplary of the social construction of aesthetic and cultural forms. His book is a full-scale attempt to place the linguistic turn of critical theory and the self-reflexive foregrounding of language by the avant-garde since the Russian Formalists in relation to the cultural politics of postcolonial studies, feminism, and race theory. As such, it will provide a crucial revisionist perspective within modernist and avant-garde studies.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv

CONTENTS

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pp. vii-viii

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. ix-xiv

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INTRODUCTION

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pp. xv-xxxii

The Constructivist Moment is a series of essays, written over the past ten years, that address the gap between constructivist aesthetics and a larger cultural poetics. By constructivist aesthetics I mean, broadly put, the imperative in radical literature and art to foreground their formal construction; cultural poetics, discussed below, may be minimally defined as the reflexive relation of artistic form and cultural context. The essays take their...

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1. NEW MEANING AND POETIC VOCABULARY

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pp. 1-44

Toward a cultural poetics of the material text, I will begin with a construction of "the words themselves." This chapter charts the development — in American modernist and postmodern poetry — of the use of preestablished, nonauthorial poetic vocabularies for literary composition. While Coleridge's concept of poetic diction is normative and hierarchical in its selection of appropriate vocabularies for literature, what I am going to call poetic vocabulary is both...

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2. THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE EQUAL SIGN

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pp. 45-102

The Language School is known for its production of material texts, but an equally important dimension, in fact the one that defines it as a school, is the way it constructs the relation between material text and literary community. In this chapter, I read a number of key works of the Language School to show how the movement from text to community takes place through the use of strategies of multiple...

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3. THE BRIDE OF THE ASSEMBLY LINE

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pp. 103-146

This essay is an avowed polemic that addresses the situation of avant-garde poetry and poetics in the mid-1990s. After the work of the Language School in revising and contesting the generic confines of the author function, there was a marked return to an author-centered, formally immanent lyricism by a number of experimental writers in the decade. A reconstruction of the relation between author and...

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4. THE CONSTRUCTIVIST MOMENT

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pp. 147-196

This essay is a response to a call to define the state of modernist studies, which I chose to answer again from the social space of Detroit — where modernism, as a cultural imperative, vanishes and reappears at random within the rationalized modernity that surrounds. Where the descent into production that frames the previous chapter might be seen as an affirmative and willful confrontation with the...

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5. NONNARRATIVE AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF HISTORY

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pp. 197-237

This essay has a history, one that is still in the process of being made. The first written in this volume, it was originally presented at a symposium, "The Narrative Construction of History," at Southern Exposure Gallery in San Francisco in March 1990. It is safe to say that the anxieties about the generally unquestioned foundational status of narrative for literary and Cultural Studies it engaged were substantial, ...

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6. NEGATIVE EXAMPLES

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pp. 238-290

On the way to negativity, I want to stop to explore its centrality for three philosophical traditions as they intersect the history of the avant-garde. The work of Slavoj Zizek, it may be said, is a form of avant-garde cultural theory even if it does not foreground examples from the historical avant-garde to make its point (although examples from the avant-garde, or examples that are avant-garde in their...

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7. POST-SOVIET SUBJECTIVITY IN ARKADII DRAGOMOSHCHENKO AND ILYA KABAKOV

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pp. 291-320

In 1989, I had the opportunity to encounter the work of a number of post-Soviet artists whose work was becoming known in the West at the moment of the breakup of the Soviet Union. In fact, the emergence of this work was only possible in the political context of that moment, anticipating and even furthering it in many ways. The Institute for Contemporary Art in London had staged a two-person exhibition...

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8. ZONE

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pp. 321-348

Le Detroit, a photographic/cinematic installation by Canadian photographer Stan Douglas, was exhibited by the Art Gallery of Windsor, Ontario, in 1999. This essay was delivered in the gallery space, surrounded by Douglas's photographs of the urban terrains of Detroit. Due to the presence of his images, it was written not so much as a critical commentary on them but as a kind of prelude and fantasia on...

NOTES

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pp. 349-394

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 395-414

INDEX

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pp. 415-430


E-ISBN-13: 9780819569783
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819566096

Page Count: 364
Publication Year: 2003

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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Avant-garde (Aesthetics) -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Avant-garde (Aesthetics) -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Russian literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Comparative literature -- American and Russian.
  • Comparative literature -- Russian and American.
  • American literature -- Russian influences.
  • Constructivism (Russian literature).
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