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The Poetry of the Possible

Spontaneity, Modernism, and the Multitude

2012
Author:

Joel Nickels

The Poetry of the Possible

The abstractions of modernism reimagined as figurations of collective self-organization

The Poetry of the Possible challenges the conventional image of modernism as a socially phobic formation, arguing that modernism’s abstractions and difficulties are ways of imagining unrealized powers of collective self-organization. Establishing a conceptual continuum between modernism and contemporary theorists such as Virno, Hardt, Negri, and Badiou, Joel Nickels rediscovers modernism’s attempts to document the creative potenza of the multitude.

The Poetry of the Possible is one of the finest pieces of scholarship I have recently read. It is an excellent model of how to read modernist works politically while at the same time recognizing that aesthetic strategies are developed in the context of the rich and complex resources of the multitude.

Luke B. Carson, author of Consumption and Depression in Gertrude Stein, Louis Zukofsky and Ezra Pound

The Poetry of the Possible challenges the conventional image of modernism as a socially phobic formation, arguing that modernism’s abstractions and difficulties are ways of imagining unrealized powers of collective self-organization. Establishing a conceptual continuum between modernism and contemporary theorists such as Paulo Virno, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, and Alain Badiou, Joel Nickels rediscovers modernism’s attempts to document the creative potenza of the multitude.

By examining scenes of collective life in works by William Carlos Williams, Wyndham Lewis, Laura Riding, and Wallace Stevens, Nickels resurrects modernism’s obsession with constituent power: the raw, indeterminate capacity for reciprocal counsel that continually constitutes and reconstitutes established political regimes. In doing so, he reminds us that our own attempts to imagine leaderless networks of collective initiative are not so much breaks with modernist forms of knowledge as restagings of some of modernism’s most radical moments of political speculation.

Setting modernism’s individual and collective models of spontaneity in dialogue with theorists of political spontaneity such as Antonio Gramsci, Herbert Marcuse, and Theodor Adorno, Nickels retells the story of modernism as the struggle to represent powers of collective self-organization that lie outside established regimes of political representation.

The Poetry of the Possible

Joel Nickels is assistant professor of English at the University of Miami.

The Poetry of the Possible

The Poetry of the Possible is one of the finest pieces of scholarship I have recently read. It is an excellent model of how to read modernist works politically while at the same time recognizing that aesthetic strategies are developed in the context of the rich and complex resources of the multitude.

Luke B. Carson, author of Consumption and Depression in Gertrude Stein, Louis Zukofsky and Ezra Pound

A smart and timely study of literary modernism’s speculative political imagination and its figural limits. Through consistently insightful close readings of the work of four modernist writers never before brought together in this way, Joel Nickels offers a fresh, exciting account of modernism’s ambivalent encounters with early twentieth-century collective life.

Justus Nieland, author of Feeling Modern: The Eccentricities of Public Life

The Poetry of the Possible is a clever example of the political reading of literature, and a courageous attempt to break the anti-political stance of some Modernist criticism.

Lenoardo Reviews

The Poetry of the Possible

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Modernism and Spontaneous Organization
1. Rising from Nowhere: Self-Valorization in William Carlos Williams’s Poetry
2. Wyndham Lewis, Constituent Power, and Collective Life
3. “An Instantaneous Sympathy of Communication”: Laura Riding and the Politics of Spontaneity
4. Rhapsodies of Change: The Location of the Multitude in Wallace Stevens’s Poetry
5. Conclusion: Beginning Again

Notes
Index