Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century

Paperback | April 15, 2012

byMarjorie Perloff

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What is the place of individual genius in a global world of hyper-information— a world in which, as Walter Benjamin predicted more than seventy years ago, everyone is potentially an author? For poets in such a climate, "originality" begins to take a back seat to what can be done with other people’s words—framing, citing, recycling, and otherwise mediating available words and sentences, and sometimes entire texts. Marjorie Perloff here explores this intriguing development in contemporary poetry: the embrace of "unoriginal" writing. Paradoxically, she argues, such citational and often constraint-based poetry is more accessible and, in a sense, "personal" than was the hermetic poetry of the 1980s and 90s.

Perloff traces this poetics of "unoriginal genius" from its paradigmatic work, Benjamin’s encyclopedic Arcades Project, a book largely made up of citations. She discusses the processes of choice, framing, and reconfiguration in the work of Brazilian Concretism and Oulipo, both movements now understood as precursors of such hybrid citational texts as Charles Bernstein’s opera libretto Shadowtime and Susan Howe’s documentary lyric sequence The Midnight. Perloff also finds that the new syncretism extends to language: for example, to the French-Norwegian Caroline Bergvall writing in English and the Japanese Yoko Tawada, in German. Unoriginal Genius concludes with a discussion of Kenneth Goldsmith’s conceptualist book Traffic—a seemingly "pure’" radio transcript of one holiday weekend’s worth of traffic reports. In these instances and many others, Perloff shows us "poetry by other means" of great ingenuity, wit, and complexity.

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What is the place of individual genius in a global world of hyper-information— a world in which, as Walter Benjamin predicted more than seventy years ago, everyone is potentially an author? For poets in such a climate, "originality" begins to take a back seat to what can be done with other people’s words—framing, citing, recycling, and...

Marjorie Perloff is professor of English emerita at Stanford University and the author or editor of many books, including Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary and The Sound of Poetry / The Poetry of Sound, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:232 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.55 inPublished:April 15, 2012Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226660621

ISBN - 13:9780226660622

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Preface
Acknowledgments
1 Unoriginal Genius
An Introduction

2 Phantasmagorias of the Marketplace
Citational Poetics in Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project

3 From Avant-garde to Digital
The Legacy of Brazilian Concrete Poetry

4 Writing Through Walter Benjamin
Charles Bernstein’s “Poem including History”

5 “The Rattle of Statistical Traffic”
Documentary and Found Text in Susan Howe’s The Midnight

6 Language in Migration
Multilingualism and Exophonic Writing in the New Poetics

7 Conceptual Bridges / Digital Tunnels
Kenneth Goldsmith’s Traffic

Afterword
Notes
Index