In Honor of Richard Poirier
Photo by Patricia Logan. Richard Poirier, 1974.
For and by . . .
Poetry, Pragmatism, and American Literature:
An Interview with Richard Poirier
"I have always thought that the distinctive trait of American literature is this effort to use language in order to make the individual, and more generally civilization, aware of the possibilities that language can in fact only suggest but never fully sustain."
About . . .
Lisa Honaker, Cheryl Hurley, Jonathan Levin, Stephanie Volmer, Thomas F. Shea, William Vesterman
RP in 1973
"What I remember most from the class is not pioneering work in progressive modes of criticism—though that was evident enough—but instead Poirier's exacting reading of short passages of the works we covered. We functioned on the level of words and learned to back up generalizations with those words, with syntax, with allusions—close reading with an edge."
The Ground of Thought
"In one essay, Poirier examines a single paragraph from Emerson's ‘Self-Reliance,’ which he regards as the most important and influential piece of writing in American literary history. Reading Poirier read Emerson, you believe it too."
Essays in literary analysis . . .
Male Gazers After Mulvey: Roth and Stone
"Their fiction over the past three decades consequently shares a recognition that educated audiences will embrace both gender equality and sexual candor, even though these practices have often and influentially been treated as incompatible, thanks to much breached, awkwardly and anxiously policed boundaries between candor and exploitation, erotica and pornography."
The Poet as a Man of Action: Emersonian Reflections on Williams' The Wedge
"The poetics of transition refuses ‘resolution’ along with many, perhaps all, of the consolations of the definite. Maybe this is why critics have had so much trouble nailing down important aspects of his poetics and practice. He keeps slipping away: ‘The poet isn't a fixed phenomenon, no more his work’ Williams insists with some asperity."
When Knighthood Was in Error
" Cervantes wasn't the first to regard the novel as a carnival, where you can get away with anything (bearded ladies! fearsome lions! a puppet show for the kiddies!) as long as you keep your readers entertained, but his example expanded the possibilities for the genre as it entered the modern age."
The Messiah of Nature: Transatlantic Idealism and the Early Emerson
"To enter into Nature means to follow Emerson into ‘Nature,’ as the first chapter is symptomatically titled, as if he wanted to duplicate and explicate, through the concrete example of a romantic excursion, the title of the book itself. "
Meddling in Crime and Wordsworth
"This is a way of saying that decay is not really disorder, not really a lack of ‘concord,’ to those who truly see and hear. I think I understand the proposition made in this sonnet. I have some sympathy for its fitness. But I do not credit it as Wordsworth here states it. The invincible faith of his statement of the idea irritates me."
Emerson's Proud Discontent
"Emerson understood the productive potential of low self-esteem. And when he found a ‘good life’—he said that a ‘personal ascendancy’ was the only thing worth contemplating—he liked to ‘degrade’—one of his favorite words—that ascendancy. In 1867, Emerson and his daughter Ellen went to see General Ulysses S. Grant in New York. Emerson took Grant's ascendancy, his representative stature, for granted. He was happy to come away thinking that Grant wasn't much, was pretty regular, like the rest of us, who know nothing, do nothing, are nothing."
Coming to Terms with Time in Faulkner
"In Wallace Stevens's words, the Judge wants not ideas about the thing, but the thing itself. His initial quest for belief is like the hand-made cigarette he keeps rolling and re-rolling throughout the story because no one in Beyond can come up with a light to enable a cigarette to do what a cigarette can do."
A Selective Bibliography