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Inventing the Language to Tell It

Robinson Jeffers and the Biology of Consciousness

George Hart is Professor of English at California State University, Long Beach. He edited, with Scott Slovic, Exploring Social Issues through Literature: Literature and the Environment.

Publication Year: 2013

From 1920 until his death in 1962, consciousness and its effect on the natural world was Robinson Jeffers’s obsession. Understanding and explaining the biological basis of mind is one of the towering challenges of modern science to this day, and Jeffers’s poetic experiment is an important contribution to American literary history—no other twentieth-century poet attempted such a thorough engagement with a crucial scientific problem. Jeffers invented a sacramental poetics that accommodates a modern scientific account of consciousness, thereby integrating an essentially religious sensibility with science in order to discover the sacramentality of natural process and reveal a divine cosmos. There is no other study of Jeffers or sacramental nature poetry like this one. It proposes that Jeffers’s sacramentalism emerged out of his scientifically informed understanding of material nature. Drawing on ecocriticism, religious studies, and neuroscience, Inventing the Language to Tell It shows how Jeffers produced the most compelling sacramental nature poetry of the twentieth century.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Robinson Jeffers’s Sacramental Poetics

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pp. 1-14

In 1928, Robinson Jeffers received a questionnaire from a local newspaper that was preparing a special feature on him as Carmel, California’s most famous literary resident at the time. From the draft response that remains in his papers, it apparently inquired about his current projects, favorite themes, and daily routine, as well as the books, experiences, people,...

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1 / Rock, Bark, and Blood: Sacramental Poetics and West Coast Nature Poetry

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pp. 15-38

At a “Reinhabitation Conference” in 1976, Gary Snyder remarked: “The biological-ecological sciences have been laying out (implicitly) a spiritual dimension. We must find our way to seeing the mineral cycles, the water cycles, air cycles, nutrient cycles as sacramental.”1 Poets deal in metaphors and paradoxes, the tensions between image and reality, mind and ...

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2 / The Strain in the Skull: Biopoetics and the Biology of Consciousness

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pp. 39-60

In the first paragraph of “The Poet,” Ralph Waldo Emerson introduces one of the essay’s four master metaphors, fire:
There is no doctrine of forms in our philosophy. We were put into our bodies, as fire is put into a pan, to be carried about; but there is no accurate adjustment between the spirit and the organ, much ...

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3 / The Whole Mind: Brains, Biology,and Bioregion in the Middle Period

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pp. 61-88

That the reception of “The Women at Point Sur” did not damage Robinson Jeffers’s reputation overall is indicated by the notice his 1932 collection, Thurso’s Landing and Other Poems, received from the popular media. After the book was published in March, an Edward Weston photograph of Jeffers appeared on the cover of the April 4 issue of ...

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4 / To Keep One’s Own Integrity: “The Inhumanist” and the Crisis of Holism

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pp. 89-107

In the relative calm of the “idyllic” years of the early and mid-1930s, Jeffers resolved the tensions of his struggle with the biology of consciousness into a philosophical holism. He expressed it succinctly in a 1934 letter: “I believe that the universe is one being, all its parts are different expressions of the same energy, and that they are all in communication...

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5 / The Wound in the Brain: The Discoveries of the Later Poetry

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pp. 108-125

As we saw in chapter 3, Jeffers explores the “comic” potential for human integration in nature in other poems of the 1930s, and in chapter 4 we examined the crisis of holism brought on by the Second World War and resolved in “The Inhumanist.” In his later poems, Jeffers returns to the biology of consciousness and confronts many of the questions left unanswered in the 1920s. One of the most important advances is a more ...

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Conclusion: The Jeffers Influenceand the Middle Generation

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pp. 126-142

The introduction to this study outlined Robinson Jeffers’s reputation as it relates to modernist poetry and environmental history. As I pointed out there, Jeffers is often omitted from the literary history of American poetry even as he finds a prominent place in the evolution of environmental literature and ethics. The significance of Jeffers in both areas can ...


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pp. 143-160


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pp. 161-168


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pp. 169-180

E-ISBN-13: 9780823254927
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823254897

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Cloth