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The Zukofsky Era

Modernity, Margins, and the Avant-Garde

Ruth Jennison

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Zukofsky, Oppen, and Niedecker wrote with a diversity of formal strategies but a singularity of purpose: the crafting of an anticapitalist poetics.

Inaugurated in 1931 by Louis Zukofsky, Objectivist poetry gave expression to the complex contours of culture and politics in America during the Great Depression. This study of Zukofsky and two others in the Objectivist constellation, George Oppen and Lorine Niedecker, elaborates the dialectic between the formal experimental features of their poetry and their progressive commitments to the radical potentials of modernity.

Mixing textual analysis...

Zukofsky, Oppen, and Niedecker wrote with a diversity of formal strategies but a singularity of purpose: the crafting of an anticapitalist poetics.

Inaugurated in 1931 by Louis Zukofsky, Objectivist poetry gave expression to the complex contours of culture and politics in America during the Great Depression. This study of Zukofsky and two others in the Objectivist constellation, George Oppen and Lorine Niedecker, elaborates the dialectic between the formal experimental features of their poetry and their progressive commitments to the radical potentials of modernity.

Mixing textual analysis, archival research, and historiography, Ruth Jennison shows how Zukofsky, Oppen, and Niedecker braided their experiences as working-class Jews, political activists, and feminists into radical, canon-challenging poetic forms. Using the tools of critical geography, Jennison offers an account of the relationship between the uneven spatial landscapes of capitalism in crisis and the Objectivists’ paratactical textscapes. In a rethinking of the overall terms in which poetic modernism is described, she identifies and assesses the key characteristics of the Objectivist avant-garde, including its formal recognition of proliferating commodity cultures, its solidarity with global anticapitalist movements, and its imperative to develop poetics that nurtured revolutionary literacy. The resulting narrative is a historically sensitive, thorough, and innovative account of Objectivism’s Depression-era modernism.

A rich analysis of American avant-garde poetic forms and politics, The Zukofsky Era convincingly situates Objectivist poetry as a politically radical movement comprising a crucial chapter in American literary history. Scholars and students of modernism will find much to discuss in Jennison’s theoretical study.

Reviews

Reviews

An illuminating, insightful, and theoretically rigorous engagement with Objectivist poetics that is sure to shape subsequent discussion.

Jennison embraces a precise critical vocabulary that serves her purpose well... Most importantly, [she] presents an incisive and rigorous reading of Zukovsky's early work, not against his own interpretive choices but informed by them.

The signal theoretical work of the year is Ruth Jennison's The Zukofsky Era... It seems unlikely that work on both [Zukofsky and Oppen] in the coming years will be able to avoid responding to Jennison's reconfiguration of the critical terrain—this is a work sure to have a wide influence.

Jennison delivers the most satisfying and intellectually robust explanation we have yet had of Zukofsky, in particular, and Objectivism, in general. No account of modernist poetics should be able to present itself without embarrassment if it avoids Jennison's readings. Along with Moretti and Eagleton, The Zukofsky Era shows that large-scale historical accounts can deliver complex textual readings. More please.

An original and compelling piece of scholarly work, The Zukofsky Era arrives at an especially opportune moment: it is the first closely integrated and theoretically sophisticated, full-length discussion of the Objectivists, a group of poets who are receiving increasing critical attention. Jennison's materialist reading of these late-born modernists will no doubt go far toward setting the terms of debate over Objectivist poetry for some time to come.

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Book Details

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Part I: The Uneven Poetics of Radical Parataxis
Chapter 1. Zukofsky: The Political Economy of Revolutionary Modernism
Chapter 2. G. Oppen, Materialiste: Cinematic Capitalism
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Acknowledgments
Introduction
Part I: The Uneven Poetics of Radical Parataxis
Chapter 1. Zukofsky: The Political Economy of Revolutionary Modernism
Chapter 2. G. Oppen, Materialiste: Cinematic Capitalism
Part II: The Commodity's Inscape
Chapter 3. Zukofsky: The Voice of the Fetish
Chapter 4. Niedecker: The Interior Voice Commodified
Part III: The Objectivist Reflex
Chapter 5. Zukofsky: Counterfetishistic Literacy
Appendix
Notes
Index

Author Bio
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Ruth Jennison

Ruth Jennison is an associate professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.