AMERICAN WORLD POETRY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURYThis is an English 210 class, you may enroll in this class and it will be counted toward the critical theory emphasis.
Because most histories of American poetics have placed their emphasis on twentieth-century Modernism, we have missed the history beneath what Marx might have called (and Theodor Adorno did call) the “simple abstraction” of the modern lyric. Because few of those genres were homegrown, the secret history of American lyricization reverses the story of a thoroughly Anglicized American modernism: genres derived from British, German, French, Italian, Scottish, classical Latin and Greek, African, South Asian, Persian, Ojibwe, Icelandic, Scandinavian, Cherokee, Cuban, Mexican, Chinese, and many other sources are what the history of American poetry is made of. The mediation of those genres has not been national but global and diasporic. From the perspective of genre-dependence rather than from the desire for generic liberation, American poetry is made out of world literature, or rather out of ideas about poetry from various parts of the world as well as from verse genres from many parts of the world (including worlds within the U.S. and fantasy worlds) that slowly coalesced into a poetry that could (like the U.S.) claim to include all worlds within itself.
The sheer variety of indigenous and imported verse genres attached to communities with incommensurate levels of social power has led to what Aamir Mufti has called “one-world thinking—diverse perspectives. . .that all nevertheless require imagining the world as a continuous and traversable space.” Mufti is describing “the global cacophony of the early twenty-first century” that has resulted in the currency of the idea of world literature. Yet as Mufti also makes clear, that idea emerged with the Orientalism of the late eighteenth century and came to full bloom in the literary and cultural criticism of the mid-twentieth century. This is exactly the trajectory of the modern process of lyricization. That process followed a parallel and coterminous logic from late eighteenth-century shifts in genre theory (themselves deeply influenced by Orientalism) to mid-nineteenth-century realizations of those shifts in ambitious American poems in which genres were mixed together into abstract (rather than organic) wholes, to a mid-twentieth-century crystallization of the universal as the norm in literary criticism. Yet “bloom” and “crystallization” are the wrong words here; the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries also marked the beginning of the poetic naturalization of cultural conflict, and that naturalization drove the process of lyricization forward. It was in its interest to do so, since there was nothing natural about the genocide of indigenous peoples or the enslavement of African peoples or the marginalization of women and queer people—or indeed, about the increasing threats to nature itself—that characterized the nineteenth century. Reading poetry as one idea shared by all rather than recognizing many different genres shared by force, theft, or make-believe (or not shared at all) became a way of making these conflicts dissolve into a continuous and traversable genre, a genre with none of the toughness that lets you know it is there. We could call this process one-poetry thinking, but instead in this course we will call it lyricization, since lyric became one name for that universalized poetic world. Readings will include Mufti, Apter, Casanova, Moretti, Damrosch, Adorno, Emerson, Sir William Jones, Longfellow, Bayard Taylor, "Hafiz," Wheatley, Harper, Ngai, Bryant, Shelley, Hegel, Gummere, Dunbar, and Whitman.