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American Errancy

Empire, Sublimity and Modern Poetry

American Errancy is a wide-ranging study of the connection between ideology and the sublime in the work of twentieth-century poets, all American with two, or perhaps three important exceptions. The poets chosen are in debate with the Romantic individualism of Emerson - some reject it outright, but the remainder have devoted substantial work to adjusting to the changed circumstances of their century. The link between Romantic individualism and ideological contexts has preoccupied much criticism of American literature in the last twenty years. For the most part, critics arraign this tradition, suggesting that the writers abscond from difficult political dilemmas to the realm of transcendence. In consequence, the sublime as category for thinking about literary texts has been largely abandoned. Emerson’s transcendence is considered at best naive, at worst as providing the nascent corporate capitalism of the late nineteenth century with an iconography with which to execute its agenda.Justin Quinn argues that this critical approach distorts the achievement of poets in the twentieth century: many of the poets discussed extend the tradition of Romantic individualism, but they are not ideologically naive in the above sense. Their work anticipated historicist criticism of the 1980s and 1990s as they began to ’socialise’ the sublime, and to explore the ways in which the inheritance of Romantic individualism could engage with ideological contexts. For some of the poets, these explorations supported their oppositional politics (i.e., Allen Ginsberg); for others, paradoxically, the explorations supported conservative politics (i.e., A. R. Ammons); others rejected the Emersonian inheritance outright (Eliot, Hill), but that rejection itself has left an enduring mark on their work.

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Table of Contents

Introduction American Errancy T. S. Eliot’s Journey Home Geoffrey Hill in America Coteries and the Sublime in Allen Ginsberg Thom Gunn’s American Dispersals A. R. Ammons’s Cold War Sublime Empire, Sublimity and the Look of Things in Amy Clampitt Robert Pinsky and the Ends of America Jorie Graham’s Manifest Destiny Works Cited Index

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