The True Forms of Things: Cratylism and American Poetry

  • Carla Billitteri
Part of the Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics book series (MPCC)


This book starts from the assumption that poetics are enabling discourses that support intellectual projects in which poetry as such is not always the horizon. For the three poets I discuss in these pages, Walt Whitman, Laura (Riding) Jackson, and Charles Olson, poetry is a means to an end; that end includes the Utopian prospect of a renewal of society. In conceiving of poetics as enabling discourses, I mean, then, to discuss the inaccuracies, faulty reasoning, and fantasies of accomplishment that one finds in such writing in terms of the poetry they help to produce and the projects they help to support rather than as weaknesses to be identified, problems to be critiqued, or contradictions to be resolved. In varying degrees, all three of my poets consciously turned away from sophisticated theories of language to embrace a dream of a perfect language; they did so for reasons that had everything to do with their deepest commitments as poets and citizens. In each case, workable descriptions of language as it is actually used and as it actually functions were set aside for (or made subservient to) dreams of how language might be used and should function. Thus, unlike other Whitman scholars, who see ambivalence, conflict, or confusion in Whitman’s writing on words, I see the conscious, meticulous construction of an intellectual position that might validate his poetics philologically.


Natural Language True Form Rational Meaning Social Vision Idiomatic Expression 
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© Carla Billitteri 2009

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  • Carla Billitteri

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