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Physics EnvyAmerican Poetry and Science in the Cold War and After$
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Peter Middleton

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226290003

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226290140.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 29 March 2020

The Poetic Universe

The Poetic Universe

Mapping Interrelations between Modern American Poetry and the Sciences

Chapter:
(p.17) 1 The Poetic Universe
Source:
Physics Envy
Author(s):

Peter Middleton

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226290140.003.0002

Postwar New American poets and their successors, the Language Writers, insisted that their poetry was capable of intellectual inquiry. After giving examples of their claims for poetry, the chapter sets out the book’s methodological assumptions. Literary theory has struggled to represent adequately the interrelations between science and poetry because it has not engaged with the epistemological claims of the sciences. Yet science is part of the DNA of modern literary theory. One major theme of the book is how poets attempted to develop new poetic epistemologies. Science envy has been attributed to the early-twentieth-century modernist poets, but the book argues that the picture is more complex in the postwar era. Many disciplines employed methods and concepts from physics, seeing this not as physics envy but as intellectual opportunity. The book then maps out schematically the different kinds of responses made by postwar American poets of all kinds to the sciences. It goes on to show how some of these responses had antecedents among modernist predecessors. Archibald MacLeish’s poem “Einstein” is discussed in detail because of its representative character. The importance of William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound for later poets is discussed.

Keywords:   New American poets, language writers, postwar poets, literary theory, epistemology, modernist poetry, physics envy, Archibald MacLeish, William Carlos Williams

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