The Poetics of Plenitude and the Poet’s Biography: Self-Creation in Some Later Poems by John Ashbery
The article deals with the status of biographical references in John Ashbery’s later poetry. It is an attempt to work out an approach that, while keeping the biographical in view, is an alternative to the way in which the biographical has functioned in recent Ashbery scholarship. In discussing Ashbery’s strategy, I use the neo-pragmatist idea of aesthetic self-creation, especially a version of it developed by Alexander Nehamas in his writings on aesthetic objects. The term I am developing to discuss the variety of self-creation in Ashbery is “the emerging self,” and I see it as a component of a poetics which I am calling the pragmatist ironist poetics of plenitude. The emerging self of the poetics of plenitude, rising over the expanse of a lifetime of poetry writing, is a type of poetic authorial subjectivity whose relation to the empirical facts of the author’s biography reverses the relation between poetry and biography found in confessional poetry. The poetics of plenitude shows the biographical fact to be dependent on the poetic element on which it relies for its authenticity. Within the poetics of plenitude, it is the poetic that is the real and authentic.
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