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DAVID R. JARRAWAY Ammons Beside Himself: Poetics of "The Bleak Periphery" In the context of American literature, the presentiment of the writer-as-critic or the critic-as-writer is likely to be inherently a more available one than in other literatures. This is due in no small part to the fact that American literature, as Kenneth Dauber pointed out several years ago, "is a literature whose primary concern has always been its own nature," and whose object, even in the classic period ofAmerican letters, "[is] its own process," the "act of writing" in other words, "into which all forms of the written are returned" (53, 62). American literature, therefore, will repeatedly sensitize us to a historical moment in the writing of its poetry in which the traditional "apology" conventionally located outside the artifact—one thinks, for instance, of the classic statements of poets such as Sidney, Shelley, and Wilde—will be gathered up inside the American poem, allowing the text itself to become its own medium of authorization and legitimation. From the autoaffection of "Song of Myself," through to "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror," the romance in American poetry for self-reflexivity is given without apology—at least, without any kind offormal apology. Writing continually turning back upon itself in such a manner thus elides any clear separation between introspection and retrospection in the poet's art. "The Philosophy of Composition" then, as "Composition as Explanation " now, both seem somewhat beside the point when it is actually the practice that constitutes the theory (and the theory constituting the practice) that forms the basis of America's longstanding romance with text. In this regard, Gerald Graff has therefore been quite correct to Arizona Quarterly Volume 49 Number 4, Winter 1993 Copyright © 1993 by Arizona Board of Regents issN 0004- 1610 iooDavid R. Jarraway surmise that "It has taken little time for earlier theories ofAmericanness of American literature to be written in the deconstructionist register . . . [since] Americanness lay not in the romance of the symbol or the frontier but in reflexive awareness of the problematic of writing itself, which is to say, in the romance of self-deconstruction and of heterogeneity " ('American Criticism" 113). In keeping with "the 'secret' autobiographical agenda of [American] writing" (Renza 82), A. R. Ammons thus contends that a poem, once it is thoroughly known, "contains / its [own] motion," and that this modus operandi can be reproduced completely whole to the mind—"all its shapeliness intact"—as the mind travels in and around it.1 He says this in a longer poem called, characteristically , "Essay on Poetics," the significance of whose title I must return to later.2 Using this poem primarily, I would here like to explore Ammons' own re-versal of the classic defense in the self-reflexive scene ofmodern American poetry, and specifically, to investigate further both the possible and what I consider to be the impossible wager his textuality dares to encumber in so dividing, on both theoretical and/or practical levels, the discourse against itself. The self-defensiveness of American letters as a whole, in view both of the absence of a historically stabilizing tradition within and the presence of a politically intimidating authority without, is by now a commonplace among the master-narratives attending to the sanctioning of American literature's own Declaration of Independence (for example, Weisbuch, Fredman). In the literature's repudiation oíarche and deregulation of telos, one becomes rather easily persuaded to the view that writing is grounded in no metaphysical principle outside writing itself, indeed, that "we descend into the void that the loss of metaphysical grounds for words has opened up" (Dauber 65). At an early point in his "Essay on Poetics," this appears to be a view to which Ammons is somewhat partial, a view of writing he labels "enterprise": enterprise is our American motif, riding horseback between the obscure beginning and the unformulated conclusion, thinking grace that show of riding, the expertise, performance, the intricacy of dealing: to be about something . . . "The Bleak Periphery"??? enterprise then's the American salience, rainbow arch colossus: but the aristoi are beauty, wealth, birth, genius & virtue who should be governors: enterprise somewhat, though not necessarily, inconsistent...


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