Skip to main content

Radium of the Word

A Poetics of Materiality

With fresh insight and contemporary relevance, Radium of the Word argues that a study of the form of language yields meanings otherwise inaccessible through ordinary reading strategies. Attending to the forms of words rather than to their denotations, Craig Dworkin traces hidden networks across the surface of texts, examining how typography, and even individual letters and marks of punctuation, can reveal patterns that are significant without being symbolic—fully meaningful without communicating any preordained message.

Radium of the Word takes its title from Mina Loy’s poem for Gertrude Stein, which hails her as the Madame “Curie / of the laboratory / of vocabulary.” In this spirit, Dworkin considers prose as a dynamic literary form, characterized by experimentation. Dworkin draws on examples from writers as diverse as Lyn Hejinian, William Faulkner, and Joseph Roth. He takes up the status of the proper name in Modernism, with examples from Stein, Loy, and Guillaume Apollinaire, and he offers in-depth analyses of individual authors from the counter-canon of the avant-garde, including P. Inman, Russell Atkins, N. H. Pritchard, and Andy Warhol. The result is an inspiring intervention in contemporary poetics.

264 pages | 21 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020

Thinking Literature

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature, General Criticism and Critical Theory


“We count on Dworkin to say the smartest things about contemporary poetics, so the smartness of Radium of the Word comes as no surprise. What does come as a surprise is the book's first sentence: ‘This book proposes a methodology.’ And it does not disappoint. Dworkin is reinventing the practice of reading by unscrewing the locks on its doors. Not close, not distant, not surface, not formal, not historical, not reparative, not paranoid reading. This book bypasses adjectives and heads straight for the nouns: the death penalty, paper cuts, opera queens, gossip, songs, riots, print, quotation marks, homelessness, names, the typeset line, spaces, prose. Oh, and poetry. This is a difficult book that everybody should read.”

Virginia Jackson, University of California, Irvine

“Dworkin is the closest reader we have. In startling, revelatory, and delightful essays on an astonishing range of writers and artists, Dworkin resists the systematic and canonical in pursuit of the peculiar, specific, and particular. Radium of the Word proposes a radically new approach to reading poetry, focusing on textual features that are not necessarily intentional. This book will be of importance to scholars of modernist and avant-garde literature, postwar African American poetry, and anyone interested in contemporary poetics.”

Charles Bernstein, author of 'Near/Miss' and 'Topsy-Turvy'

Table of Contents

List of Figures


One    The Prosaic Imagination

Two    The Onomastic Imagination

Three    The Logic of the Work (on P. Inman)

Four    The Logic of Print (on Russell Atkins)

Five    The Logic of Spacing (on N. H. Pritchard)

Six    The Logic of Registration (on Andy Warhol)

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press