A Poetics of Scholarly Inquiry: Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 1-1-2006


Campus Only

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Linda A. Kinnahan

Committee Member

Daniel P. Watkins

Committee Member

Greg Barnhisel


American Poetry, Charles Bernstein, Contemporary Poetry, Language Poetry, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Susan Howe


This dissertation examines the poetic works of three Language-oriented poet-critics with particular emphasis on the question of the co-optation of Language School poetry by the American academy. Performing a close analysis of their discursive engagement with institutional structures and scholarly practice, I argue that Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis write a "poetics of scholarly inquiry" that not only challenges current and historical models of literary scholarship, but also submits a revised literary-critical practice based on principles of subjectivity, sophistry, and provisionality.

Chapter One sets the theoretical groundwork for my investigation of these poets' scholarly interventions, arguing that their tactical poetic resistance to academic practices is best carried out by their locations within academe as experimentalist poet-critics. The chapter on Susan Howe's The Nonconformist's Memorial examines her revision of the field of textual studies in order to critique the scientific objectivity of the New Critical school of literary interpretation and to emphasize the value of personal insight in scholarly readings of texts. Chapter Three looks at Bernstein's volume, The Sophist, as a critique of the "official verse culture" that he believes is sustained by the academy, specifically examining his rhetorical engagement of the "I" or first-person speaker integral to mainstream verse. My final chapter on Rachel Blau DuPlessis' Drafts 1-38 Toll, focuses on her use of citation as a means to both de-lyricize her poetry and to examine the ways in which women and other minorities are positioned within discourses. I end with a brief conclusion suggesting that these poets' interventionist emphases on collaboration, rhetorical awareness, and self-implication function to suggest newer models of poetry pedagogy.





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