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JASON ISAAC MAURO "The More I Say I": Frost and the Construction of the Self "Nature within her inmost self divides To trouble men with having to take sides." "From Iron" (The Poetry of Robert Frost 468) Ichard poirier's book Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing was .the first book of criticism that I read well. By "well" I mean that my responses to it were complex and confusing. I did not simply agree with it, and thereby feel endorsed. Nor did I simply disagree with it and feel superior or indignant. In fact, Poirier's landmark book on Frost challenged what I had meant up to that time by the word "agreement." I found that the more I agreed with what Poirier was saying about Frost's work and sensibility, the more agitated I became, the more it felt like a disagreement. And the more finely I tried to write about where I disagreed with him, the more it seemed like the words I was writing were identical with his. The gap between my view and Poirier's view of Frost disappeared to the extent that I tried to describe it, and yawned widely as I tried my best to align my view with his. Flannety O'Connor once said that she could name her dog "Spot," and her mother could name a dog "Spot" and by that same name each of them would mean vastly different things (236). I feel much the same about my view and Poirier's view of Frost. At the limit of Poirier's powerful influence on my sense of what kind of poet Robert Frost is, and what kind ofattention his poems reward, I find myselfsplitting from his reading of Frost: Poirier to the good company that holds Robert Frost to Arizona Quarterly Volume 57, Number 2, Summer 2001 Copyright © 2001 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 1 610 94Jason Isaac Mauro be a pragmatist, a disciple of William James; me to the gtound from which I see this widely accepted connection between Frost and James to be a distortion, an echo of Lawrance Thompson's powerful voice, still resonating after his three volume idiosyncratic biography of Frost has been shut away. To be sure, Frost often sounded like a pragmatist. But I believe that his sounding so serves to push pragmatism to its limits , just as he pushed metaphor to the point of its collapse. His poetry bends over a corner of James's pragmatism, so that it can no more lie flat across his poems than can the name "Spot" settle on O'Connor's dog. The following essay is in large part a reflection upon and an appreciation of my peculiar struggle with Poirier's (and others') work on Frost. What is at stake in that struggle is not simply a determination ofhow to best read Robert Frost's poems, but rather how best to assess his largest poetic designs. In Poetry and Pragmatism, Poirier asks that we allow pragmatism to lead us beyond "the current tedium, rancor, confusion, and professionalist overdetermination" that characterizes literary studies (6). By going beyond James's pragmatism, Frost's poetry anticipates much of what critical theorists have grafted onto literary studies. ("There's literary criticism in them," Frost said of his poems [Selected Letters 181].) His work encourages us to accept the unstable nature of the landscape that such theory reveals. In part my involvement with Frost's poetry encourages me not to accept Poirier's sense that the chaos and confusion of literary studies is a problem to be solved (though I understand that sense given his pragmatic inclinations). I rather accept Jonathan Culler's sense that "we work to protect what is frequently called the chaos ofcontemporary theory—at the very least we do not allow the term 'chaos' to frighten us into futures less capacious than we might desire" (53). Or, as Frost said in his letter to the Amherst Student, "The background is hugeness and confusion, shading away from where we stand into black and utter chaos. . . . What pleasanter than that this should be so?" (Selected Prose 49). For William James, human beings make truth despite their being...


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