The Constructivist Moment
From Material Text to Cultural Poetics
Publication Year: 2003
Published by: Wesleyan University Press
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The Constructivist Moment is a series of essays, written over the past ten years, that address the gap between constructivist aesthetics and a larger cultural poetics. By constructivist aesthetics I mean, broadly put, the imperative in radical literature and art to foreground their formal construction; cultural poetics, discussed below, may be minimally defined as the reflexive relation of artistic form and cultural context. The essays take their...
1. NEW MEANING AND POETIC VOCABULARY
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Toward a cultural poetics of the material text, I will begin with a construction of "the words themselves." This chapter charts the development — in American modernist and postmodern poetry — of the use of preestablished, nonauthorial poetic vocabularies for literary composition. While Coleridge's concept of poetic diction is normative and hierarchical in its selection of appropriate vocabularies for literature, what I am going to call poetic vocabulary is both...
2. THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE EQUAL SIGN
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The Language School is known for its production of material texts, but an equally important dimension, in fact the one that defines it as a school, is the way it constructs the relation between material text and literary community. In this chapter, I read a number of key works of the Language School to show how the movement from text to community takes place through the use of strategies of multiple...
3. THE BRIDE OF THE ASSEMBLY LINE
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This essay is an avowed polemic that addresses the situation of avant-garde poetry and poetics in the mid-1990s. After the work of the Language School in revising and contesting the generic confines of the author function, there was a marked return to an author-centered, formally immanent lyricism by a number of experimental writers in the decade. A reconstruction of the relation between author and...
4. THE CONSTRUCTIVIST MOMENT
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This essay is a response to a call to define the state of modernist studies, which I chose to answer again from the social space of Detroit — where modernism, as a cultural imperative, vanishes and reappears at random within the rationalized modernity that surrounds. Where the descent into production that frames the previous chapter might be seen as an affirmative and willful confrontation with the...
5. NONNARRATIVE AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF HISTORY
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This essay has a history, one that is still in the process of being made. The first written in this volume, it was originally presented at a symposium, "The Narrative Construction of History," at Southern Exposure Gallery in San Francisco in March 1990. It is safe to say that the anxieties about the generally unquestioned foundational status of narrative for literary and Cultural Studies it engaged were substantial, ...
6. NEGATIVE EXAMPLES
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On the way to negativity, I want to stop to explore its centrality for three philosophical traditions as they intersect the history of the avant-garde. The work of Slavoj Zizek, it may be said, is a form of avant-garde cultural theory even if it does not foreground examples from the historical avant-garde to make its point (although examples from the avant-garde, or examples that are avant-garde in their...
7. POST-SOVIET SUBJECTIVITY IN ARKADII DRAGOMOSHCHENKO AND ILYA KABAKOV
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In 1989, I had the opportunity to encounter the work of a number of post-Soviet artists whose work was becoming known in the West at the moment of the breakup of the Soviet Union. In fact, the emergence of this work was only possible in the political context of that moment, anticipating and even furthering it in many ways. The Institute for Contemporary Art in London had staged a two-person exhibition...
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Le Detroit, a photographic/cinematic installation by Canadian photographer Stan Douglas, was exhibited by the Art Gallery of Windsor, Ontario, in 1999. This essay was delivered in the gallery space, surrounded by Douglas's photographs of the urban terrains of Detroit. Due to the presence of his images, it was written not so much as a critical commentary on them but as a kind of prelude and fantasia on...
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Page Count: 364
Publication Year: 2003