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SubStance 35.3 (2006) 157-161

Reviewed by
Franck Le Gac
University of Iowa
Noland, Carrie. Poetry at Stake: Lyric Aesthetics and the Challenge of Technology. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1999. Pp. 280.

In Poetry at Stake, Carrie Noland undertakes a revisionist study that posits "an alternative critical discourse on lyric poetry as well as an alternative account of its evolution into the plurivocal poetries of the twentieth-century avant-garde" (7). Noland begins by recalling a little known work by Guillaume Apollinaire, "L'Esprit nouveau et les poètes," a 1917 lecture and manifesto that called for a hybridization of lyric composition and technology. Her aim is to re-historicize late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century poetic practices by calling into question the traditional binarism that opposes the corrupting influences of early industrial modernity to the work of the isolated poet who resists its effects and remains unsullied by them. Taking her cue from Apollinaire, Noland argues that lyrical poetry need not be merely defined through the resistance it mounts to the forces of commerce, mass culture and technology. Rather, in the modern era, its marketing modalities and integration in technology-saturated settings create contexts where the relation of poetic form to print and electronic media does not have to be one of mutual indifference. Noland is cognizant, however, that poetic language and its lyrical force can be readily instrumentalized and commodified. How, then, are we to understand poetry's subversive and emancipatory powers in societies dominated by the mass production, [End Page 157] circulation and consumption of goods and by the values they purvey? The critical approach Noland adopts in pursuing the answer to this question comes by way of Theodor W. Adorno.

In Negative Dialectics, Adorno holds that in the aftermath of Auschwitz, it is impossible for the speaking subject, alienated and reified in language, to assert any autonomy in relation to the social, economic and technological fields. Just as Adorno engages in a confessional exercise that both unveils the self and reveals the mediations its construction relies on, the poets Noland examines seek in their writing "the moment when the lyric subject is forced to divulge that its voice is not entirely its own" (9). Adorno's critique of lyric poetry makes a belated appearance in Noland's study (Chapter 3), yet it clearly has implications for her preceding discussion of Arthur Rimbaud's poetry. Indeed, Noland's appeal to Adorno, who wrote extensively on Rimbaud's Illuminations in his work Aesthetic Theory, appears to stand as the theoretical hinge for both the analysis of Rimbaud's poetics in Chapters One and Two, and those devoted to Blaise Cendrars, René Char, Patti Smith and Laurie Anderson that follow. Adorno's comments on lyric poetry do not, however, figure in Poetry at Stake's opening chapters, where they could have such a strong critical resonance. Here Rimbaud is portrayed not as a solitary genius, but as an aspiring writer deftly adapting to the rules of a literary and print market. The poet's subtle use of generic and poetic codes, his skill at imitation and emulation, his recourse to parody and détournement provide a perfect starting point for Noland's project of formulating a new literary history that accounts for poetry's engagement with the capitalist marketplace. In this context, Adorno's very pertinent essay "On Lyric Poetry and Society" might have been usefully invoked to further illuminate the complex relationship between art and the emerging consumer and industrial order that Noland describes. This essay might also have enriched the discussion of Blaise Cendrars's poetry, which, Noland asserts, "represents a turning point between a modernist celebration of the everyday and the postmodernist commercialization of the same" (139). Indeed, in the following chapter, Noland treats Cendrars's attention to the world of fashion, recalling that while Walter Benjamin understood fashion creation to be a form of "pure reification" (114), Adorno saw it as an immanent expression of the historical that was not easily instrumentalized by the culture industry.

In subsequent...


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