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Experimental

American Literature and the Aesthetics of Knowledge

Natalia Cecire

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A compelling revision of the history of experimental writing from Pound and Stein to Language poetry, disclosing its uses and its limits.

In this bold new study of twentieth-century American writing and poetics, Natalia Cecire argues that experimental writing should be understood as a historical phenomenon before it is understood as a set of formal phenomena. This seems counterintuitive because, at its most basic level, experimental writing can be thought of as writing which breaks from established forms. Touching on figures who are not typically considered experimental, such as Stephen Crane…

A compelling revision of the history of experimental writing from Pound and Stein to Language poetry, disclosing its uses and its limits.

In this bold new study of twentieth-century American writing and poetics, Natalia Cecire argues that experimental writing should be understood as a historical phenomenon before it is understood as a set of formal phenomena. This seems counterintuitive because, at its most basic level, experimental writing can be thought of as writing which breaks from established forms. Touching on figures who are not typically considered experimental, such as Stephen Crane, Jacob Riis, Busby Berkeley, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Gottlob Frege, Experimental offers a fresh look at authors who are often treated as constituting a center or an origin point of an experimental literary tradition in the United States, including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Marianne Moore. In responding to a crisis of legitimization in the production of knowledge, this tradition borrows and transforms the language of the sciences.

Drawing upon terminology from the history of science, Cecire invokes the epistemic virtue, which tethers ethical values to the production of knowledge in order to organize diverse turn-of-the-century knowledge practices feeding into "experimental writing." Using these epistemic virtues as a structuring concept for the book's argument, Cecire demonstrates that experimental writing as we now understand it does not do experiments (as in follow a method) but rather performs epistemic virtues. Experimental texts embody the epistemic virtues of flash, objectivity, precision, and contact, associated respectively with population sciences, neuroanatomy, natural history and toolmaking, and anthropology. Yet which virtues take precedence may vary widely, as may the literary forms through which they manifest.

Bringing it up to the 1980s, Cecire reveals the American experimental literary tradition as a concerted and largely successful rewriting of twentieth-century literary history. She shows how the Language poets, a group of primarily white experimental writers, restored to the canon what they saw as modernism's true legacy, whose stakes were simultaneously political and epistemological: it produced a poet who was an intellectual and a text that was experimental.

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Experimental

Natalia Cecire

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Reviews

Reviews

Experimental moves deftly across expanses of twentieth-century literature and culture, addressing the intersections of technology, gender, epistemology, and poetic form. Cecire is a wonderful guide to this material, as she traces the uses of the concept of experimentalism in both scientific and literary contexts. This is a fantastic book—provoking, insightful, and assured.

Cecire brilliantly constructs an archaeology of experimental knowledge with modern literature front and center. This is an ethically minded, politically engaged, and deeply knowledgeable book that fundamentally recasts the relationship between twentieth-century literary studies and the history of science. As generative as it is transformative.

Cecire's book about ways of seeing offers its own pleasures of scale: at the macro level, a striking argument about experimental poetry's dream of scientific virtues; at the micro, a series of dazzling inquiries into those virtues' ambivalent workings, from precision's cool finesse to the panorama captured in a flash.

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Book Details

Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
1. Experimental
2. Flash
3. Objectivity
4. Precision
5. Contact
Coda. Future Texts
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
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Natalia Cecire

Natalia Cecire is a lecturer in English and American studies at the University of Sussex.