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Poetry at Stake: Lyric Aesthetics and the Challenge of Technology.

Noland, Carrie. Poetry at Stake: Lyric Aesthetics and the Challenge of Technology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1999. Pp. 264. ISBN 0-691-00416-1 (cloth), 0-691-00417-X (paperback)

From the start, it is clear that the author of Poetry at Stake not only addresses the "challenge of technology" which threatens to overhaul lyric traditions and change them into "technopoems" (216), but that she is equally concerned with the fate of modern subjectivity as it manifests itself through "lyric aesthetics dedicated to the expression of the self" (213). She places her discourse under the theme of heteronomy (in the Kantian sense of reciprocal contingent forces at work in apparently autonomous expressions). For poetry's very future is at stake if it continues to insist on its autonomous and privileged position of difference -- or marginality -- within an increasingly mechanized world. This study, on the contrary, welcomes the challenges of an awakening industrialization (nineteenth century) and of a growing technological dominance (twentieth century) as invigorating and revitalizing elements for lyric creativity.

Noland's strategy is twofold. For one, she examines the lyric output of three French poets, Arthur Rimbaud, Blaise Cendrars, and Rene Char, and of late twentieth-century performance-oriented artists Patti Smith, punk rock musician, and Laurie Anderson, a multi-media performer. Excellent in its informative reading of each artist in question, the chapters are independent, richly documented studies of the creative self and its embrace of a particular technology or commercial development that profoundly affects, and ultimately participates in, its poetic expression. Noland distinguishes between poetry that voices heteronomy on a "level of analogy" and limits its expression to its own textuality, and poetry characterized by a "level of materializing the analogy," for which the multi-media performance artistry of Patti Smith and Laurie Anderson provide examples. The chapter on Rene Char, with its detailed investigation of the role French Resistance idiom and radio broadcasting played in shaping the poet's expression, is an excellent instance for the kind of heteronomous adoption Noland envisions for authentic poetry.

Although Noland's highly eclectic selection lends this book a somewhat disparate character, she draws together the various aspects of the commonly shared heteronomous fate with consistent references to Rimbaldian poetics. Rimbaud is the foremost poet of this study and remains the leading comparative reference, in particular what the author characterizes as the poet's preoccupation with the commercial marketability of his poetry and, more generally, with "material conditions of the literary occupation" (33). She finds both neglected and suppressed by traditional exegetical and biographical scholarship that has favored the "exemplary virginal and monoglossic utterance" of lyric poetry "against a background of contesting voices" (17). She insists that past failures to recognize the heteronomous voices and compositional practices that work with the lyric "I" to produce lyric expressions make it imperative to identify the part of Rimbaud's poetic vision that gives equal importance to market conditions and to the machine, and to use this multi-voiced lyric as a leitmotif for her quest to identify the "stakes" that get ever higher for aU genuine poetry of modern time. It is an effective strategy that Noland maintains throughout her study, even when Rimbaud's "textuality-transgressing" textuality (180) poses some difficulty in evaluating the art work of punk rock singer Patti Smith, or when it fades into slightly banal generalizations in the chapter on Laurie Anderson.

The second aspect of Noland's approach involves a philosophic-sociological underpinning to her interpretative reading of the poetic works in question. In Theodor Adorno's writings, specifically in Negative Dialectics and Minima Moralia, she finds the necessary breadth and depth of reflection, on the heteronomous nature of both artistic expression and the subjective self, to convincingly posit the absolute exigency for poetry to adopt openly and freely its heteronomous fate. As with the treatment of Rimbaud's multi-voiced poetry, Noland presents an excellent synopsis of Adorno's theory of the relationship between philosophy and the expression of the lyric self. In Negative Dialectics, the first-person confessional mode combined with a revelation of mediation allows the subject "to seize himself as a mediated object instead of a [mere] source of expression" (61). Noland sees in the approach to assess the "lyric `I' at stake" an "admission of the inadequacy of concepts, personal pronouns, and other objective means, [that] is presented not as an endless spiraling downwards or a degrading fall but as an incremental advance entailing the acquisition of an `infinitesimal freedom'" (64).

The attempt to fuse Rimbaud's lyric challenge of the "JE est un autre" and Adorno's appeal for a mediation of (and through) "objectivity inhabiting the subject" (63) allows Noland to conflate the concerns of poetry, as it confronts the heteronomous intrusion of a highly industrialized and commercialized world, with those of the modern and postmodern self grappling with either its historically overdetermined "position at the center of the universe" (85) or its total reification and absent presence, depending on the given interpretative point of view. The poets discussed in this volume provide Noland with practical examples to demonstrate to what extent all "poetry at stake" is a true mirror of authentic subjectivity that knows itself "at stake."

Maria L. Assad, State University College at Buffalo
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Assad, Maria L.
Publication:Nineteenth-Century French Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2001
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