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Erotic Poetics: Love and the Function of US Literature from Melville to Modernism

Forlow, Racheal (2015) Erotic Poetics: Love and the Function of US Literature from Melville to Modernism. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The dissertation argues Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Jean Toomer, and Wallace Stevens belong to a genealogy of what I call “erotic poetics.” I use these terms to identify the common set of resources I believe these writers leave to the present. For this genealogy, “poetry”—from the Greek poesis (to make)—encompasses the expansive set of enterprises by which humans create and transform ourselves and our worlds in time. These writers also consider human love, or eros, a category worthy of attention when questions of self- and world-making are at stake. I argue the genealogy of “erotic poetics” develops a historical, material, and secular vision of human life grounded in these terms. I trace its continuities and ruptures by making observations about the language, formal innovations, and historical circumstances of several significant American novels and poems, including “Song of Myself,” Pierre; or the Ambiguities, and Cane.

In each chapter, I turn these observations toward a set of contemporary challenges we face today in the US and elsewhere. These include democratic crises at home and abroad, the ecological disasters we associate with climate change, and the struggles for liberty that continue to take shape in opposition to an ongoing history of race violence in the US. The dissertation argues we can best approach these problems if we view human life in the ways the tradition of imaginative literary writing I identify offers. Although many critics have found in these writers’ works materials that support projects of mythic nationalism, I argue the tradition to which they belong also contains elements that destroy those projects. The dissertation identifies these elements and suggests they are of special value today. The genealogy gives us ways to challenge those who continue to insist humans should not interfere with the powerful and invisible forces many argue we cannot influence.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBove, Paulbove@pitt.eduBOVE
Committee MemberArac,
Committee MemberScott, William Davidwdscott@pitt.eduWDSCOTT
Committee MemberRobbins,
Date: 18 June 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 30 March 2015
Approval Date: 18 June 2015
Submission Date: 13 April 2015
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 268
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: erotic, poetics, American literature, modernism, secular, modernity
Date Deposited: 18 Jun 2015 17:35
Last Modified: 18 Jun 2020 05:15


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