Saturday, October 22, 2011

Apostrophe & The Post-Romantic: Part 2

So I just finished reading Bright Lights Big City  (but why have I not seen the movie?) and it really made me think that the use of apostrophe in fiction, or long form narrative, has a much different end and reaches very different levels than that of Culler's 'levels'.  In this section I talk about post-modern address of the other in poetry.  I think that the post-modern address does not break outside of Culler's levels in the way that Bright Lights does.  Just an interesting thought...

Ann Keniston’s focus on apostrophe among Post-Modern poets in Overheard Voices, yields little expansion on these idealizations of the trope.
Keniston looks at various poets of the last half of the twentieth century:  Robert Lowell’s confessional, During Fever (1959), Kenneth Koch’s New Addresses (2001), Lucie Brock-Broido’s The Master Letters (1995), Sylvia Plath’s Ariel (1965), Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris (1993) and several others that fall in the last half of the twentieth century.  She sees these poets as challenging the Romantic notion of the address in terms of form, tone, and in the effect of the address in the poems, yet acknowledges that apostrophe is still a means of examining the self.  In this way she separates herself from Waters, who sees apostrophe as other centered and slightly breaks with Culler who sees apostrophe as a means of uniting self with other.
To discus the breaking of form, Keniston points to Brock-Broido’s “Her Habit” as an example of how, though Brock-Broido uses prose and epistle, the lyric address remains in tact (18).  Keniston also shows that Brock-Broido’s effect is unlike Culler’s ideal of reaching unity through the address.  The speaker of “Her Habit” switches the roles of the speaker and object as the speaker becomes the listener of the beloved:  “I have watched for you up & down the long clay path, demi-daily.  Sometimes I think I hear you in the solemn bark of birds, or the cantering of the dogs…”  Keniston sees this changing of roles “in the midst of the speaker’s attempt to unmake the addressee’s absence…” as a failure to “summon up her addressee” by the use apostrophe (19).
Though Keniston doesn’t note this, “Her Habit” actually does fall into some of Culler’s levels of apostrophe.  Brock-Broido creates an event where the speaker and the object are given the potential for unity (Culler’s second level), and the address itself is out of a desire and passion to be heard by the object or by the passion for address itself (Culler’s first level).  I find the former to be most true, as The Master Letters is entirely poetry of address.  Brock-Broido’s speaker has such a passion for address or for the object that she can’t help but apostrophize.  The conscious recognition of failure to achieve unity or proximity also isn’t a new complication of the trope, but a mainstay of elegiac apostrophe.
Though Keniston doesn’t see the same use of apostrophe flowing from Culler’s view of Romanticism to her view of Post-Modernism, there is a common theme among these critics and that is their vision of how pathos functions as a recurrent and indivisible notion of apostrophic poetry.  Keniston shows us poetry of address that “explore(s) selfhood, love, loss, and memory--issues associated with confessional poetry” (5).  In the history of poetic movements, which movement exudes more pathos than confessional poetry?  Culler sees Keats’ “This Living Hand” as a poem that risks being “a pathetic document testifying to misplaced poetic pride” (154).  Though readers don’t see “a pathetic document”, one can see the emotional appeal in “This Living Hand”.  This elemental nature of pathos in apostrophe might be the most undocumented aspect of the trope, but it is not an aspect that goes unchallenged by emerging poets.

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