Addressing subjects as wide-ranging as angelology, the court masque, pop art, caricature, the cult of the ruin, hip-hop, Spenser's Irish policy, and the aesthetics of silence, Brian McHale pulls varied threads together to identify a repertoire of postmodernist elements characteristic of the long poems he examines. As critic Jed Rasula explains, "McHale is wonderfully resourceful in changing the subject from chapter to chapter to fit the poems discussed, and while his approach adheres to the conventions of textual exegesis, the chapters really shine as orchestrations of issues.
For instance, James Merrill's The Changing Light at Sandover works unexpectedly well in raising the subject of found poetry and procedural composition; Melvin Tolson's Harlem Gallery and Edward Dorn's Gunslinger are effectively paired to demonstrate the period flavor of pastiche; Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns and Armand Schwerner's The Tablets explode the modernist fixation with depth; John Ashbery's work is given a nuanced reading as proto-theory; Letter to an Imaginary Friend by Thomas McGrath provides a lucid backdrop to raise the question of political efficacy in approaching language poet Bruce Andrews; and Susan Howe's The Europe of Trusts is explored for its intertextual tapestry." McHale shows how elements from these long poems overlap, interfere, pull in different directions, jar against, and even contradict each other; and he demonstrates how they also echo, amplify, and reinforce each other. They do not slot smoothly together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, but they do form (what else?) a difficult whole.
Publisher: The University of Alabama Press
Number of pages: 336
Weight: 594 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 23 mm
"An extraordinary blend of amazingly detailed scholarship and sustained enthusiasm for a notoriously difficult genre by a well-read scholar who is able to present his observations in ways that are fresh and exciting." --Hank Lazer, series editor and author of Days
"Brian McHale's The Obligation toward the Difficult Whole: Postmodernist Long Poems seeks to distinguish modernist and postmodern poetry without resorting to simplistic chronologies (before and after World War II, before and after 1968, before and after Andy Warhol's Brillo Box ). McHale gains new purchase on this old subject....The rewards are many....adventurous. Throughout, McHale experiments with unexpected juxtapositions, novel textual constellations, cross-media comparisons, and a range of other inventive means of illuminating contemporary poetry. Regardless of whether one agrees with every point in his argument, a reader is sure to take away a renewed sense of the diversity, ambition, and complexity of English language verse since 1960." Brian Reed in Contemporary Literature