the disciplinary censoring of lyric poetry

December 5, 2016 § Leave a comment


“Today poetry is largely ignored by literary studies because it forces the question of the category of the poetic as such, for poetry does not respond very well to current constructions of the ‘discipline’ of literary study, which emphasize the social, economic, or political determinants of literary production. Literary production may be so determined, but critical approaches to poetry from these angles cannot tell us much about the nature and function of poetic language, which may be said to be the marker of the literary, the presumed object of literary study. The form that the disciplinary censoring of lyric poetry takes today is a determined evasion of the special status of poetic language as such. Under the mandate to ‘historicize,’ for example, the lyric reduces to a documentary of the inner experiences and private affairs of a bourgeois ‘individual.’ The lyric is a foundational genre, and its history spans millennia; it comprises a wide variety of practices, ranging in the West from Sappho to rap. ‘Historicizing’ the lyric as essentially a late-eighteenth-and nineteenth-century European invention in effect universalizes a historically and geographically specific model of a subject. And the term ‘lyric,’ still used in this sense, has come to serve as an ideological weapon in the ongoing politicized poetry wars. Whether the lyric is read as oppositional or complicitous, it is still understood to be the self-expression of a prior, private, constitutive subject. Lyric language is a radically public language, but it will not submit to treatment as a social document – of a certain stage of capitalism, for example – because there is no ‘individual’ in the lyric in any ordinary sense of the term…”

–Mutlu Konuk Blasing, from Lyric Poetry: The Pain and the Pleasure of Words (2007)

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