Recovering the Public World: Robin Blaser, Hannah Arendt, and the Discourses of Self and Other in Image-Nations 1–12

  • Andrew Mossin
Part of the Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics book series (MPCC)


When Robin Blaser and Robert Duncan had their falling out in late 1965 over ostensibly poetic matters related to their translations of Gérard de Nerval’s sonnet sequence Les Chimères, what became most immediately apparent perhaps were the fundamentally different ways in which they understood the poet’s role in the writing process and the nature of poetic language. Moreover, as a staged battle over the ethics and aesthetics of translation, the quarrel also revealed fundamentally different stances toward the relationship between language and subjectivity. While Duncan preserved in that conversation a rigid belief in language as gnosis and the poet as scribe and auditor of universalist meaning, Blaser’s approach was to view Nerval’s language through the lens of Arendt’s understanding of an ongoing public action, producing meaning through the exchange that occurs when poet and word are translated through the act of speech-making. It’s a critical difference, one that involves two very different versions of subjectivity and agency: Duncan’s privileging the poet’s role in the process of poetic making, arguing for the centrality of the poet’s choices in matters of form and language; Blaser’s keeping to a resolute skepticism about what actually happens when poet and speech are brought together in poiesis, and in so doing suggesting that, as per the epigraph from Arendt at the beginning of this chapter, “nobody is the author” of any given poem. The poems are, for Blaser, just that: given, and their meaning lies not so much in the singularity of any one text as in the web of associations that text images through a language of public recall and politically informed making.


Public Realm Public World Mass Society Poetic Language Public Meaning 
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© Andrew Mossin 2010

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  • Andrew Mossin

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