The Point Is to Change It: Poetry and Criticism in the Continuing Present

By Jerome McGann | Go to book overview

4
The Apparatus of Loss
Bruce Andrews Writing

I don’t give anybody hell. I just tell them the truth, and they think
it’s hell.

—Harry S. Truman

Late in my poetic professionalism I renounced the satisfaction
of poetic success in words. The Telling is descended from that
renunciation. I speak in it at the common risks of language,
where failure stalks in every word.

—Laura (Riding) Jackson, The Telling

Audisne haec Amphiarae, sub terram abdite?

—Shelley’s motto for Prometheus
Unbound, from Aeschylus’ Epigoni

Nothing is more obdurate than the writing of Bruce Andrews—in the current scene of writing.1 He is hard, and all the more difficult because of his outspoken didactic aims. For a poet who continues to make much of the politics of poetic form, the texts can appear anarchic, indifferent, even meaningless. Who are they addressing? What is their language?

Like Blake’s Urizen exploring his dens, Andrews wanders the streets of a strange world—for Andrews, an estranged world. That world is the origin of the difficulty of his work. Though it can appear, like its discourse, ordered and transparent to itself, it is in fact a debased world, dominated by the illusions that are captured, with perfect irony, in recent marketing labels like New World Order, Axis of Evil, and Culture of Life.

Resistance to administered propaganda has typically assumed various Romantic forms that assume a self-identical subject who wills to resist. Andrews’s work is difficult because while he is a resisting writer, part of his resistance is raised against Romantic form itself. Andrews approaches Romantic forms as historically quixotic—from a present vantage, part of the solution to the problems his work addresses only

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