The Spiritual Work of Art in the Poetry of Robert Duncan
Glaser, Brian Brodhead
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In this essay I argue Hegelian phenomenology helps us to see that language can be a form of postmodern spirituality. I aim to contextualize postmodern poetry in a dialogue between spirituality and art that, I suggest, we can join Hegel in viewing as older than Christianity. Both Phenomenology of Spirit and Robert Duncan’s postmodernism show us that language is a spiritual means for transcendence of the self. In the first section of the essay I look at how Duncan used syntactic choices in the writing of poems as the occasion for self-transformation, contrasting the models of poetic structure in two of his books of the 1960s, The Opening of the Field (1960) and Bending the Bow (1968), on the basis of what these two different structural models foreground about Duncan’s syntactic decisions. In the second section of the essay, I analyze Hegel’s phenomenological narrative of the hymn, focusing on his discussion of the role that language plays in this dimension of spiritual life. In the concluding section, I return to Robert Duncan’s later poetry, arguing that Hegel’s conception of the hymn can help us to see that Duncan moved in his creative work from using syntax as a means for self-transformation to turning to it as a resource for self-transcendence.
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