Negative Theology and Utopian Thought in Contemporary American Poetry

Determined Negations

  • Jason Lagapa

Part of the American Literature Readings in the 21st Century book series (ALTC)

About this book


“In Negative Theology and Utopian Thought in Contemporary American Poetry, Jason Lagapa takes the next step in illuminating the Utopian function at work in contemporary American poetry. Steeped in the Marxist tradition of such critics as Ernst Bloch and Fredric Jameson, Lagapa carefully analyzes the work of four crucial poets—Susan Howe, Nathaniel Mackey, Charles Bernstein, and Alice Notley—in order to demonstrate how these poets’ innovative strategies mobilize the anticipatory force that Bloch names the ‘not yet.’ Lagapa makes convincing use of the tradition of negative theology, a tradition predicated on rhetorical premises that are surprisingly appropriate to both Utopian thinking and poetic experimentation. At a time when such thinking is at a premium, Lagapa reminds us that our poetry remains an abundant storehouse of visionary tropes.”

Norman Finkelstein, Professor of English, Jewish Studies, Xavier University, USA

This book explores the utopian imagination in contemporary American poetry and the ways in which experimental poets formulate a utopian poetics by adopting the rhetorical principles of negative theology, which proposes using negative statements as a means of attesting to the superior, unrepresentable being of God.  With individual chapters on works by such poets as Susan Howe, Nathaniel Mackey, Charles Bernstein, and Alice Notley, this book illustrates how a strategy of negation similarly proves optimal for depicting the subject of utopia in literary works. 

Negative Theology and Utopian Thought in Contemporary American Poetry:  Determined Negations contends that negative statements in experimental poetry illustrate the potential for utopian social change, not by portraying an ideal world itself but by revealing the very challenge of representing utopia directly.


distopian religion experimental poetry God religious pluralist

Authors and affiliations

  • Jason Lagapa
    • 1
  1. 1.English DepartmentUniversity of Texas of the Permian BasinOdessaUSA

Bibliographic information

  • DOI
  • Copyright Information The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2017
  • Publisher Name Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
  • eBook Packages Literature, Cultural and Media Studies
  • Print ISBN 978-3-319-55283-5
  • Online ISBN 978-3-319-55284-2
  • About this book