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Classiscisms and Beyond-Matthew Pfaff

Monday, October 7, 2013
12:00 AM
3241 Angell

Poetry & Poetics Workshop-article in process discussion.

American experimental poets after modernism turned to Greek and Latin texts as pretexts to explode the ideal of the classical tradition, and to explore, instead, the radical discontinuity and linguistic alterity of the classics. Focusing on divergent but related modes of classical reception in American avant-garde poetry, this dissertation asks why and how “the classical” is a key site for poetic experiments by several generations of poets, including Louis Zukofsky, David Melnick, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Spicer, Charles Bernstein and Susan Howe. Though heterogeneous in many respects, their poetics demonstrate the irreconcilability of classical texts—in all their graphic, phonic, and material particularity—with an idea of classics at the center of Anglo-American culture. They create “strange new canons” through epitextual, paratextual, and metatextual engagements with classicism, demonstrating how canon becomes anti-canon, and opening up alternative models for canonical revision. Chapter Three, “C=L=A=S=S=I=C=I=S=M=S and Beyond,” contrasts Howe’s poetics of luminous fragments (in Pythagorean Silence) with Bernstein’s poetics of citation (in The Sophist and other pseudo-classical texts) as two examples of “metatextual” reception, creating classical simulacra divorced from Greek and Latin texts for ironic critique or historical transformation. This workshop will focus on Chapter Three, with an eye towards revising this completed chapter into a shorter article.

Matt Pfaff recently completed his doctorate in Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan.

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The chapter is available on the Poetry & Poetics Workshop’s CTools page. To join the page, please contact Aran Ruth ( We hope to see you there!

The Poetry & Poetics Workshop is a Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop committed to providing a forum in which professors and graduate students can exchange work in progress and explore recent work in the fields of poetry, poetics, and lyric theory. Please visit our website ( for more information regarding our past and future events!