Infrathin: An Experiment in Micropoetics
Esteemed literary critic Marjorie Perloff reconsiders the nature of the poetic, examining its visual, grammatical, and sound components.
The “infrathin” was Marcel Duchamp’s playful name for the most minute shade of difference: that between the report of a gunshot and the appearance of the bullet hole, or between two objects in a series made from the same mold. “Eat” is not the same thing as “ate.” The poetic, Marjorie Perloff suggests, can best be understood as the language of infrathin. For in poetry, whether in verse or prose, words and phrases that are seemingly unrelated in ordinary discourse are realigned by means of sound, visual layout, etymology, grammar, and construction so as to “make it new.”
In her revisionist “micropoetics,” Perloff draws primarily on major modernist poets from Stein and Yeats to Beckett, suggesting that the usual emphasis on what this or that poem is “about,” does not do justice to its infrathin possibilities. From Goethe’s eight-line “Wanderer’s Night Song” to Eliot’s Four Quartets, to the minimalist lyric of Rae Armantrout, Infrathin is designed to challenge our current habits of reading and to answer the central question: what is it that makes poetry poetry?
About the Author
Marjorie Perloff teaches courses and writes on twentieth and now twenty-first century poetry and poetics, both Anglo-American and from a Comparatist perspective, as well as on intermedia and the visual arts. Her first three books dealt with individual poets--Yeats, Robert Lowell, and Frank O'Hara. She then published The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage (1981), a book that has gone through a number of editions, and led to her extensive exploration of avant-garde art movements in The Futurist Moment:Avant-Garde, Avant-Guerre, and the Language of Rupture (1986, new edition, 1994), and subsequent books (13 in all). Wittgenstein's Ladder brought philosophy into the picture and Perloff has recently published her cultural memoir The Vienna Paradox (2004), which has been widely discussed. Her most recent book Differentials: Poetry,Poetics, Pedagogy won the Robert Penn Warren Prize for literary criticism in 2005 as well as Honorable Mention for the Robert Motherwell Prize of the Dedalus Foundation. She is a frequent reviewer for periodicals from TLS and The Washington Post to all the major scholarly journals, and has lectured at most major universities in the U.S. and at European, Asian, and Latin American universities and festivals. Perloff has held Guggenheim, NEH, and Huntington fellowships, served on the Advisory Board of theStanford Humanities Center, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is currently Scholar-in-Residence at theUniversity of Southern California. Perloff was the 2006 President of the Modern Language Association.