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The Constructivist Moment written by Barrett Watten


The Constructivist Moment written by Barrett Watten


As one of the founding poets and editors of the Language School of poetry and one of its central theorists, Barrett Watten has consistently challenged the boundaries of literature and art. In The Constructivist Moment, he offers a series of theoretically informed and textually sensitive readings that advance a revisionist account of the avant-garde through the methodologies of cultural studies. His major topics include American modernist and postmodern poetics, Soviet constructivist and post-Soviet literature and art, Fordism and Detroit techno--each proposed as exemplary of the social construction of aesthetic and cultural forms. His book is a full-scale attempt to place the linguistic turn of critical theory and the self-reflexive foregrounding of language by the avant-garde since the Russian Formalists in relation to the cultural politics of postcolonial studies, feminism, and race theory. As such, it will provide a crucial revisionist perspective within modernist and avant-garde studies.


Provocative cultural readings of avant-garde literature and art.

Publishers Weekly

Bridging the gap between a poetics that "foregrounds its formal construction"-i.e., sets language apart by fixing it in unintuitive, nonreferential ways -and a poetics that foregrounds a work's relationship to cultural contexts (such as factories, raves, magazines or listservs), Watten, a poet and English professor at Wayne State University, weaves an impressively wide array of perspectives into an argument for the continuing importance of avant-garde strategies in art today. Watten's Total Syntax (1985) helped outline the critico-theoretical underpinnings of the differing practices now known as language poetry. Following up, Watten offers eight extended, densely wrought meditations on making "new meaning," which can, in its inassimilability, form the basis of a politics. Taking in El Lissitzky's "Prouns," Zukofsky's poetry, Detroit-based techno and the art of David Wojnarowicz, chapters cover "Negative Examples: The Theory of Negativity in the Avant Garde"; "Post-Soviet Subjectivity in Arkadii Dragomoshchenko and Ilya Kabakov"; and "The Poetics of Space in Posturban Detroit." Reexamining the founding myths of language poetry itself, "The Secret History of the Equal Sign" questions the East Coast bias to the movement's reception and tracks some of its collaborative texts. "The Bride of the Assembly Line" relates Ford and Fordism to Gertrude Stein's textual production and to Watten's own practices as an editor of This magazine and press.. In another piece, "Nonnarrative Poetics" is compared with the fall of Saigon, where there was "neither a single overarching perspective nor a necessary conclusion." The sheer breadth of local reflections and digressions is impossible to summarize. and recalls Watten's magisterial long poem Bad History (1998). The cumulative effect of these eight pieces, along with a substantial introduction and individual chapter prefaces, is enlivening, opening the way to unusual syntheses of genres and perspectives, and deep engagement with the utopian intimations of radical art. (July) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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