A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature

A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature

A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature

A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature

Synopsis

Why is our world still understood through binary oppositions - East and West, local and global, common and strange - that ought to have crumbled with the Berlin Wall? What might literary responses to the events that ushered in our era of globalization tell us about the rhetorical andhistorical underpinnings of these dichotomies? In A Common Strangeness, Jacob Edmond exemplifies a new, multilingual and multilateral approach to literary and cultural studies. He begins with the entrance of China into multinational capitalism and the appearance of the Parisian flaneur in the writings of a Chinese poet exiled in Auckland, NewZealand. Moving among poetic examples in Russian, Chinese, and English, he then traces a series of encounters shaped by economic and geopolitical events from the Cultural Revolution, perestroika, and the June 4 massacre to the collapse of the Soviet Union, September 11, and the invasion of Iraq. Inthese encounters, Edmond tracks a shared concern with strangeness through which poets contested old binary oppositions as they reemerged in new, post-Cold War forms.

Excerpt

The transition from the general to the particular always has stimulating
surprises in store, when the interlocutor without contours, ghostly,
takes shape before you, gradually or at a single blow, and becomes the
Mitmensch, the co-man, with all his depth, his tics, anomalies, and
incoherences.

—PRIMO LEVI, The Periodic Table

… the common strangeness that does not allow us to speak of our friends
but only to speak to them …

—MAURICE BLANCHOT, Friendship

There is no third alternative. Yet that is precisely the one that must be
chosen.

—VIKTOR SHKLOVSKY, Third Factory

In 1984, in what was to become a foundational text for attempts to understand our current era of globalization, Fredric Jameson cited the then-little-known San Francisco Language writer Bob Perelman and his poem “China,” alongside canonical figures from Samuel Beckett to Andy Warhol. For Jameson, Perelman’s short, disjunctive poem was exemplary of the “cultural logic of late capitalism.” This was precisely because it had “little enough to do with that referent called China.” As a unified, collective “subject of history,” China was for Jameson antithetical both to the breakdown of the subject in postmodern culture and to the fragmentation of late capitalism as a whole.

Almost three decades later, much has changed. Today it would be hard to imagine a discussion of “multinational capitalism” (to use Jameson’s other, more neutral term) that dismissed the relevance of China. Literary and cultural studies have likewise taken a transnational—and increasingly Asian—turn. This turn throws into relief the narrowness of Jameson’s assumed Western and US frame of . . .

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