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Being Numerous: Poetry and the Ground of Social Life: Poetry and the Ground of Social Life (20/21) [Kindle Edition]

Oren Izenberg
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Book Description

"Because I am not silent," George Oppen wrote, "the poems are bad." What does it mean for the goodness of an art to depend upon its disappearance? In Being Numerous, Oren Izenberg offers a new way to understand the divisions that organize twentieth-century poetry. He argues that the most important conflict is not between styles or aesthetic politics, but between poets who seek to preserve or produce the incommensurable particularity of experience by making powerful objects, and poets whose radical commitment to abstract personhood seems altogether incompatible with experience--and with poems.

Reading across the apparent gulf that separates traditional and avant-garde poets, Izenberg reveals the common philosophical urgency that lies behind diverse forms of poetic difficulty--from Yeats's esoteric symbolism and Oppen's minimalism and silence to O'Hara's joyful slightness and the Language poets' rejection of traditional aesthetic satisfactions. For these poets, what begins as a practical question about the conduct of literary life--what distinguishes a poet or group of poets?--ends up as an ontological inquiry about social life: What is a person and how is a community possible? In the face of the violence and dislocation of the twentieth century, these poets resist their will to mastery, shy away from the sensual richness of their strongest work, and undermine the particularity of their imaginative and moral visions--all in an effort to allow personhood itself to emerge as an undeniable fact making an unrefusable claim.

Editorial Reviews


"A blazingly astute assessment of postmodern poetics, Oren Izenberg's Being Numerous examines the role contemporary poetry plays in representing being and what constitutes value of being."--Jeffrey Cyphers Wright, Brooklyn Rail

"[Izenberg] makes an intriguing case for focusing on the ontological dimension of poetic practice in general; readers might move beyond seeing the poem as a self-contained artifact and instead see it as a function of the poet's desire to define the person. . . ."--Choice

"Izenberg's conclusive meditation on known and unknown readers, then, seems to open and invite the readings that this book will generate, as it powerfully, scrupulously recalls us to the responsibilities inherent in any literary response."--Siobhan Phillips, Contemporary Literature

From the Back Cover

"Controversial and important, Being Numerous resurveys the poetic landscape and offers an alternative way of considering both it and our involvement in it. For Izenberg, poetry might well be considered 'something that we are.' And despite the philosophical richness of his arguments, he writes with a lucidity so attentive that his style can seem a kind of tenderness. This is a significant, revisionary book. It might also be a guide. Its claims on our attention will be more than momental."--Forrest Gander, Brown University

"Being Numerous provides a general theory of poetry's claim to universalism through lyric transactions between a writer and a reader that are both enabled and tortured by poetic form. As a result, Izenberg pays very close attention to the reader's experience of feeling connected to the scene of being one of many through the poem. I love reading this manifestic and meticulous writing, and it has a lot to offer scholars of affect, emotion, and intimacy."--Lauren Berlant, University of Chicago

"In this major book, Oren Izenberg introduces a crucial and generative new distinction that reorganizes twentieth-century poetry. Izenberg is simply the best young critic of modernist poetry around--for his capacious scholarship, his elegant prose, his imaginative scope, his close and intelligent reading, and especially his ability to show how some quite diverse poetic projects share a basic purpose."--Charles Altieri, University of California, Berkeley

Product Details

  • File Size: 1454 KB
  • Print Length: 245 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 069114866X
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 3, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004KKXN00
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #801,348 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The We-Intention In Many Permutations April 17, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Those of us who have finished our typically frustrating stints with the know-it-alls of poetry in the United States, particularly those of the spoken word variety, some of us are curious enough to investigate what leading literary and linguistic thinkers and intellectuals have to add to our experience in both the craft and comprehension of verse. The typical and by far most common route to this is, of course, that of discovering how to better craft poetry and to examine various theories of the actual dynamic between worker and product. Oren Izenberg's "Being Numerous: Poetry and the Ground of Social Life" takes another, equally important dynamic: the social, writer/reader dynamic of poetry as he studies the phenomenon of audience and how a variety of poets from Yeats to O'Hara to Oppen to Ammons and beyond have discovered new, less-traveled pathways where shadows slant in ways that indeed will spark the sort of argument with oneself Keats once described as poetry's main theme.

In such a sharply-divided ideological landscape within the United States, particularly in terms of politics, it seems odd but also heartening Izenberg would begin with that rarest of political poets, George Oppen, openly a Communist, and one who ceased writing throughout the crisis between the liberal democratic tradition and the four major totalitarian tyrannies that beset the world for a number of decades. Izenberg deftly digs deeply into the finest and most miniscule aspects of Oppen's vision that it is impossible for the individual to exist in terms of either poet-poetry or reader-poem, and that there is indeed a collective, social grounding to even the most personal of poems.
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