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The Poethical Wager

Joan Retallack (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 291 pages
ISBN: 9780520218413
March 2004
$34.95, £27.00
In these highly inventive essays, Joan Retallack, acclaimed poet and essayist, conveys her unique post-utopian vision as she explores the relationship between art and life in today's chaotic world. In the tradition of the essay as complex humanist exploration, she engages ideas from across history: Aristotle's definition of happiness, Epicurus's swerve into unpredictable possibility, Montaigne's essays as an instrument of self-invention, John Cage's redefinition of Silence. Within her unifying rubric of poethics, Retallack gives the reader plenty of surprises with a wonderful range of examples, situations, and texts through which she conducts her exploration. A computer glitch, a passage from Gertrude Stein's favorite detective novelist, the idea of the experimental feminine, a John Cage performance—all serve as occasions for inquiry and speculation on the way to her poethics of a "complex realism."
Introduction: Essay as Wager
The Poethical Wager
Wager as Essay
Blue Notes on the Know Ledge
Poethics of the Improbable: Rosmarie Waldrop and the Uses of Form
The Experimental Feminine
The Scarlet Aitch: Twenty-Six Notes on the Experimental Feminine
:RE:THINKING:LITERARY:FEMINISM: (three essays onto shaky grounds)
The Difficulties of Gertrude Stein, I & II

Geometries of Attention
Fig. 1, Ground Zero, Fig. 2: John Cage—May 18, 2005
Poethics of a Complex Realism
Uncaged Words: John Cage in Dialogue with Chance

Acknowledgments and Permissions
Joan Retallack is John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Humanities at Bard College. She is author of How to Do Things with Words (1998), Musicage: Cage Muses on Words Art Music (1996), Afterrimages (1995), and Errata 5uite (1993), among other books.
"In this very coherent collection of essays, Retallack goes a long way toward constructing meaning out of the restlessness and anxiety that characterize postmodern art. The result is a strong affirmation of the imagination—and, in a way, an affirmation of affirmation itself. The book is powerful and beautiful."—Lyn Hejinian

"Joan Retallack is a thinker of refreshing clarity, frankness and drive, with a wily, engaged intelligence. This remarkable book of her speculative essays is at once a dynamic conceptual art work and an artistically subtle probing of concepts. Retallack has produced a witty, penetrating work that raises the stakes of poetics with her commitment to a utopian ethics of lucidity, attentiveness, responsibility, and hope."—Rachel Blau DuPlessis, author of Drafts 1-38, Toll and The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice

"Joan Retallack shows not why but how poetry matters in these fractal provocations in, around, and through Cage, Stein, Waldrop, Wittgenstein, Winnicott, and a large supporting cast that potentially includes you. Retallack's "newsense" turns knowledge into nowledge, weaving words into thought's improbable possibilities."—Charles Bernstein, author of Republics of Reality: 1975-1995

"Joan Retallack is our supreme theoretician of poetic contingency. With great patience, profundity, and good humor, she lays out a 'poetics of the swerve,' a 'constructive preoccupation with what are unpredictable forms of change.' Whether writing about Gertrude Stein or John Cage, or feeling her way to a more adequate 'feminism'--a feminism that refuses to close off the possibilities of chance and change--Retallack 'essays' toward a 'poethics' that, in Wittgensteinian terms, 'leaves everything as it is' so as to dis-cover what it might be. "—Marjorie Perloff, author of Wittgenstein's Ladder

"Retallack has a deliciously complicated sense of the world, which combines with superb tact and an unpretentious but imposing sense that she is making a poethical wager at every moment in the writing, especially in her sense of the tension between memory and 'productive conjecture'.This is one of the most cogent and capacious rationales for experimental poetics that I have read."—Charles Altieri, author of Painterly Abstraction in Modernist American Poetry and Postmodernisms Now

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