Powers of Possibility: Experimental American Writing since the 1960s

Paperback | January 4, 2015

byAlex Houen

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In The Meaning of Contemporary Realism (1957) Georg Lukacs discussed how the power struggle of the Cold War made it all the more pressing for literary writers to present "concrete potentialities" of individual character in novel ways. Powers of Possibility explores how American experimentalwriters since the 1960s have set about presenting exactly that while engaging with specific issues of social power. The book's five chapters cover a range of writers, literary genres, and political issues, including: Allen Ginsberg's anti-Vietnam War poems; LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka and Black Power theatre; William S. Burroughs's novels and the Space Programmes; Kathy Acker's fiction and Biopolitics; and LynHejinian, Language poetry, and the Cold War. Each chapter examines how relations of character and social power were widely discussed in terms of potentiality: Black Power groups, for example, debated the "revolutionary potential" of African Americans, while advances in the space programmes led to speculation about the evolution of "humanpotential" in space colonies. In considering how the literary writers engage with such debates, Alex Houen also shows how each writer's approach entails combining different meanings of "potential": "possible as opposed to actual"; "a quantity of force"; a "capacity" or "faculty"; and "potency". Such an approach can be characterised as a literary "potentialism" that turns literary possibilities (including experiments with style and form) into an affective aesthetic force with which to combat or reorient the effects of social power on people. Potentialism is not a literary movement, Houenemphasises, so much as a novel concept of literary practice - a concept that stands as a refreshing alternative to notions of "postmodernism" and the "postmodern avant-garde".

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In The Meaning of Contemporary Realism (1957) Georg Lukacs discussed how the power struggle of the Cold War made it all the more pressing for literary writers to present "concrete potentialities" of individual character in novel ways. Powers of Possibility explores how American experimentalwriters since the 1960s have set about present...

Alex Houen is a University Lecturer in Modern Literature, and Fellow of Pembroke College, University of Cambridge. He is the author of various articles on literature and political violence, modernism, postmodernism, sacrifice, and theories of affect. He is co-editor of the online poetry journal Blackbox Manifold

other books by Alex Houen

Format:PaperbackDimensions:294 pages, 8.5 × 5.43 × 0.68 inPublished:January 4, 2015Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0198719922

ISBN - 13:9780198719922

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Table of Contents

Introduction1. 'Back! Back! Back! Central Mind Machine Pentagon. . .': Allen Ginsberg and the Vietnam War2. 'This Black World of Purest Possibility': LeRoi Jones / Amiri Baraka3. Writing Outer Space for 'Potential America': William S. Burroughs4. Novel Biopolitics: Kathy Acker and Michel Foucault5. Making a Person Possible: Lyn Hejinian and Language Poetry6. Conclusion: Potentialism and Practical ImaginationBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

"Powers of Possibility is an absorbing reading of the relationship between social activism and literary art ... Houen enables varied and subtle analyses of how the performance of feeling may provoke the reader to recognize not only that alternative possibilities exist, but that suchrecognitions are also forms of meaningful action. Against panoramas of violence or social unrest ranging from the conflicts of war to calls for a larger sexual revolution, Houen provides startling insights into the role of unexpected possibilities ... an immensely valuable book that will be ofinterest to anyone concerned with the energy and originality of those US experimental writers who reclaim the connections between innovative art and social dilemma." --Josephine G. Hendin, The Modern Language Review