The Language of Inquiry

The Language of Inquiry

The Language of Inquiry

The Language of Inquiry

Synopsis

Lyn Hejinian is among the most prominent of contemporary American poets. Her autobiographical poem "My Life, a best-selling book of innovative American poetry, has garnered accolades and fans inside and outside academia. "The Language of Inquiry is a comprehensive and wonderfully readable collection of her essays, and its publication promises to be an important event for American literary culture. Here, Hejinian brings together twenty essays written over a span of almost twenty-five years. Like many of the Language Poets with whom she has been associated since the mid-1970s, Hejinian turns to language as a social space, a site of both philosophical inquiry and political address.

Central to these essays are the themes of time and knowledge, consciousness and perception. Hejinian's interests cover a range of texts and figures. Prominent among them are Sir Francis Bacon and Enlightenment-era explorers; Faust and Sheherazade; Viktor Shklovsky and Russian formalism; William James, Hannah Arendt, and Martin Heidegger. But perhaps the most important literary presence in the essays is Gertrude Stein; the volume includes Hejinian's influential "Two Stein Talks," as well as two more recent essays on Stein's writings.

Excerpt

In putting together this collection of essays, I have been aware of the fact that they will be read as poetics rather than poetry. But it would be a mistake to regard the poetics represented here as a discourse for which poetry is merely exemplary, one for which poetry stands at a distance, objectified and under scrutiny. Rather, these essays assume poetry as the dynamic process through which poetics, itself a dynamic process, is carried out. The two practices are mutually constitutive and they are reciprocally transformative. It is at least in part for this reason that poetry has its capacity for poetics, for self-reflexivity, for speaking about itself; it is by virtue of this that poetry can turn language upon itself and thus exceed its own limits.

Language is nothing but meanings, and meanings are nothing but a flow of contexts. Such contexts rarely coalesce into images, rarely come to terms. They are transitions, transmutations, the endless radiating of denotation into relation.

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