Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Readers of my first two expressly “philosophical” books may be surprised by the literary terrain explored here, although those familiar with my Post-Rationalism may see strong parallels with the themes addressed there. Crossing disciplinary boundaries, in this case from continental theory and psychoanalysis to a theoretical and comparative literary studies, can be arduous work, but the travel was significantly eased by a group of eminent literary minds who have accepted a stranger in their ranks with grace and generosity. I should mention in this...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-32

This book proposes a new theory of literary form and formalization. I will claim that literature works not through any kind of reflection or mimesis, nor through any overrunning of literary forms by their historical contexts or determinants. Rather, I will argue that literary texts, insofar as they are able to at least partially break free from their prior determinants and refigure those determinants anew, embody a formal speculative capacity that prevents their final absorption or neutralization by those prior conditions, even as the result may well...

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1. Clearing the Ground: New Digital Positivisms, the Fate of Literary Theory, and the Stakes of a “Speculative Formalism”

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pp. 33-56

Humanities scholarship in the United States and the United Kingdom is perhaps more fragmented now than at any time in recent memory, at least since the popularization of higher education in the mid-twentieth century. Arguably, there has been no dominant school of thought or trend that has succeeded in converting significant numbers of scholars since the heyday of deconstruction in the early 1980s, a period that also saw the more modest ascendency of numerous theoretical subcultures, from postcolonial studies to psychoanalysis. Many of those...

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2. Francis Ponge, Jean Cavaillès, and the Vexed Relation between Word and World

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pp. 57-94

There is more than one way to “return to objects,” to reignite the fires of realism, if indeed such a task is truly worth pursuing. The internal divisions within so-called “speculative realism,” a new philosophical movement defined more by what it is against than by any shared positive content, attest to this. If the philosopher Graham Harman, the founder of “object-oriented philosophy,” is concerned principally with a generalization of Kant’s limitation of our access to things-in-themselves, such that it is not only humans but all objects that relate partially...

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3. Alain Badiou, Wallace Stevens, and the Paradoxical Productivity of Poetic Form

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pp. 95-123

It is hard to imagine two more apparently opposed philosophical approaches to the poetry of Wallace Stevens, indeed to poetry as such, than those of the contemporary theorists Simon Critchley and Alain Badiou. For Critchley, the later Stevens is emblematic of a more general poetic capacity, namely to present the world in its “mereness,” its placid, human-affected but nonetheless independent existence. For Badiou, the poet instantiates what Stevens himself described in the title of one of his poems as art’s “description without place,” which is to say...

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4. Paul de Man’s Poetic Materialism

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pp. 124-149

It is unsurprising that scholars in the humanities spend so much time talking about their apparent contemporary ills—perceived crises, changes in fashion, dispensability in the face of the corporatization of the university, and so on. Disciplines such as cultural studies, continental philosophy, and literary studies are overwhelmingly textual and linguistic in both their sources and methodologies, and a proliferation of meta-commentary, the occasion for an ever-spooling series of articles, books, and lectures—an irruption of texts, to...

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5. Language Poetry, Psychoanalysis, and the Formal Negotiation of History and Time

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pp. 150-182

What to make of the so-called “language poets,” thirty-five-odd years since the height of their influence? Most poetic movements, it should be noted at the outset, resist their incorporation into movements at all, if such an attempt is even made during the lifetimes of the poets in question. Symbolism, the decadents, the spasmodics, to say nothing of the most contested of such categories, the romantics and the moderns—these, among many others, were groups formed largely in hindsight. When contemporary attempts were made...

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Conclusion

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pp. 183-200

From one angle, this book has concerned itself with the pact between literary, and especially poetic, form, and the meaning we assume it produces. Wordsworth, in his “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads,” comments on his own setting up, and then breaking, of such a pact or contract:

It is supposed, that by the act of writing in verse an Author makes a formal engagement that he will gratify certain known habits of association...I will not take upon me to determine the exact import of the promise which by the act of writing in verse...

Notes

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pp. 201-226

Bibliography

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pp. 227-240

Index

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pp. 241-245