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Balachandra Rajan. The Form ofthe Unfinished: English Poetics from Spenser to Pound Princeton University Press. 318. $30.00 It is perhaps a characteristic of a contemporary consciousness to see validity in its own valorization of fragmentation and incompletion, and to criticize their earlier appearance as reflections of defeat. Balachandra Rajan very successfully argues against this conceit, showing that the unfinished long poem, since Spenser's Faerie Queene, has exhibited reasons for its denial of closure. Non-closure is not an aberration in a tradition that reveres contrunment, as Herrnstein Smith's Poetic Closure intimates, nor is its rationalization peculiar to a modernist aesthetic, as Marjorie Perloff's localized The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage leads one to believe. Rajan's argument for a reconsideration of nonclosure in long poems is based on the distinction between the incomplete (those which ought to be finished) and the unfmished (those which ask 'not to be finished, which carry within themselves the reasons for arresting-or effacing themselves as they do') (p 14). The history of texts Rajan considers reveals a tradition of the unfinished long poem that suggests that 'resistance to closure ... may be nearly as persistent as closure itself' (p 305). The authority of his study is mruntained by the historical breadth of texts it considers. The Faerie Queene's resistance finds a source in its internal debate between Virgilian epic purposiveness and Ariostan romantic errancy, between'closure and the deferral of closure' (p 295). In the Areopagitica, the continual reconsideration of the status of its own fictions leads to a demystification that cannot support closure, but instead a 'fragment-by-fragment recovery ' of a 'lost wholeness' (p 101). Paradise Lost is a poem of constant self-revision, whose strengths are 'to reconsider itself' (p 122), and 'to bring under its organizing momentum the evolving cross-play of its stresses and strains' (p 124) that are political, moral, and linguistic, as well as generic. Don Juan defers closure by mocking epic purposefulness and satirizing the unfinished; that is, it raises the uncertainties of aesthetic and generic self-consciousness to a status of validity. Shelley's The Triumph of Life begins 'a new era in inconclusiveness' (continued, for Rajan, by both Hyperions) because 'the fiction it constructs is powerfully anti-fictional, a waking dream of the desolation of reality' (p 185). The Waste Land's indeterminacy of fragments, articulated by the speaker near the poem's end, makes it 'a text capable of accepting many subsequent texts, including the text of its own futility' (p 262). The final text discussed is the last volume of Pound's Cantos, 'Drafts & Fragments: Rajan's argument that it continues the poem's indeterminacy by preserving a contest between 'the interior and the public mode' is pursuasive: by twisting his terminology slightly, he could have argued that it maintains a tension between closure and disclosure. Had he HUMANITIES 99 repeated here the illuminating study of early typescripts, undertaken in the Waste Land discussion, though, he might have been forced to argue otherwise: the early versions of 'Drafts & Fragrnents' preserve an 'interior mode,' largely tempered by an editorial committee which also supplied its title and numerical sequence (and chose which poems were to appear at all) - a task that Pound was too tired and ill to oversee in "968, nine years after the poem's composition. Both .the political and the social ramifications of Rajan's dominant theme, that the forces of determinacy and closure are frequently seen as dangerous or threatening, are enormously interesting: Rajan alludes to the first through reference to jameson's Political Unconscious. In The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979) Lyotard argues that knowledge, and scientific knowledge in particular, will take the form of a search for 'instabilities' that discounts a privileged meaning, and substitutes instead a refusal to arbitrate the arguments it has created - the very refusal that Rajan presents as the form of the unfinished long poem. (R. PETER STOICHEFF) J.R. de J. Jackson. Annals of English Verse, "770-"835: A Preliminary Survey of the Volumes Published Garland. xiv, 709. $76.00 Readers of J.R. de J. jackson's Poetry of the Romantic Period (London: Routledge and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 98-99
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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