The Poetics of Transition

Emerson, Pragmatism, and American Literary Modernism

The Poetics of Transition

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: Published: February 1999

Author: Jonathan Levin

American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Theory and Philosophy

The Poetics of Transition examines the connection between American pragmatism and literary modernism by focusing on the concept of transition as a theme common to both movements. Jonathan Levin begins with the Emersonian notion that transition—the movement from one state or condition to another or, alternately, the figural enactment of that movement—is infused with power. He then offers a revisionary reading of the pragmatists’ view of the permeability of subjective and objective realms and of how American literary modernists stage this permeability in the language and form of their writing.
Levin draws on the pragmatist and neopragmatist writings of William James, John Dewey, George Santayana, Richard Rorty, and Cornel West to illuminate the work of modernist literature. In turn, he illuminates the poetic imperatives of pragmatism by tracing the ways in which Henry James, Gertrude Stein, and Wallace Stevens capture the moment of transition—a paradoxical moment that, once it is represented in language or art, requires its own perpetual overcoming. Throughout, he explores how modernist writers, who are masters at recording such “illegible” moments of transition in their poetry and prose, significantly contribute to an expanded understanding of pragmatism and its underlying aesthetics. By linking Emerson with the progressive philosophy of turn-of-the-century pragmatism and the experimentation of American literary modernism, Levin offers new insight into Emerson’s lasting influence on later American philosophers, novelists, and poets.
The Poetics of Transition will interest scholars and students in the fields of literary criticism, neopragmatism, literary modernism, and American literature.


“Lucid and solidly argued, The Poetics of Transition will immediately be recognized as an essential and instructive contribution to the now thriving study of pragmatism, especially in its relation to the uses of language in American poetry and fiction.” — Richard Poirier, author of Poetry and Pragmatism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jonathan Levin is Associate Professor of English at Columbia University and Associate Editor of Raritan Review.

Table of Contents Back to Top



Life, Transition, the Energizing Spirit

Chapter One
Diving Overflowings: Emerson's Pragmatic Idealism

Chapter Two
William James and the Metaphorics of Transition

Chapter Three
The Aesthetics of Pragmatism

Chapter Four
Santaana, Dewey and the Politics of Transition

Chapter Five
Henry James and the Drama of Transition

Chapter Six
Gertrude Stein and the Movement of Words

Chapter Seven
Wallace Stevens and the Pragmatist Imagination


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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2296-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2277-1
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