Social address and the modernist word in Louis Zukofsky, Bruce Andrews, P. Inman

Louis Cabri, University of Pennsylvania


I examine three limit-cases of poetic address to the social as a distinct medium. In the background to Zukofsky's, Andrews's, and Inman's social stance is Pound's, which required a fascist Italy to realize the modernist word—“language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree”—as ideas in action. These three do not equate the social with the political—nor do they equate it with the aesthetic. Zukofsky uses a secularized esoteric address to the social in order to critique Pound's exoteric extremism. I turn to Spinoza's writing method as a model for understanding Zukofsky's quotational technique and use of esoteric address. Andrews and Inman continue this Zukofsky mode which is characteristic of Language Writing, theorizing and expanding its use into a broad societal critique. I propose a lineage for Andrews by arguing that he reinvents Mayakovsky's obscured categorical imperative of a “social command” for poetry, which was intended to resolve contradictions between Formalism and Marxism. I read Andrews's mid-1980s booklength poem, I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up (or Social Romanticism ) as a negation and inversion of Socialist Realism, and as posing a crisis for the idea of a social command in poetry. Andrews is a limit-case for the Marxian social in poetry. Inman's textual opacity continues Zukofsky's career-long effort to reduce words to seen things. Inman explores what I call a nonce level between letter and word. Nonce-words socially undermine the well-formed sign that neologisms aestheticize. Inman is a limit-case of the nonce-word as language and as social critique. Critics have aligned neologisms with Pound's injunction to condense meaning. Nonce-words dis-assemble what neologisms assemble: the visual and phonic axes of the modernist word. The nonce-word is an accident waiting to be recognized as historical contingency, pointing toward economic and linguistic factors structuring language as a social medium prior to authorial intent—from Westernizing products in Beijing markets (dis-assembling the Chinese ideogram) to cryptic ciphers as motivated or arbitrary signs.

Subject Area

Literature|American literature

Recommended Citation

Cabri, Louis, "Social address and the modernist word in Louis Zukofsky, Bruce Andrews, P. Inman" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3179710.