In this dissertation, I focus on the work of five contemporary experimental poets - Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Lyn Hejinian, Carla Harryman, Hannah Weiner, and Leslie Scalapino - in order to demonstrate various aspects of a philosophical dynamic at work in their poetry. The critical debates surrounding experimental poetry often tend to be structured as a dualistic opposition with, for example, the forces of coherence, narrative linearity, and transparent referentiality on one side, and the forces of semantic disruption, narrative discontinuity, and linguistic materiality on the other. On each side, critics attempt to bolster the essential value of one term or set of terms over the other, in a binary polarity. However, such a critique only leads to the formation of another hierarchy. I believe that it is important to understand the dialectical motion at work in much experimental poetry in order to avoid lapsing into reductive theories that reinstate hierarchical structures and dualistic thinking.
By describing a "radical dialectics," I am proposing a strategy of reading experimental work that recognizes its philosophical significance and its attempts to complicate dualistic conceptual constructions such as public and private realms of experience, subject and object relations, and narrative and non-narrative forces. This strategy emphasizes the mutually informing and critiquing dialogue and the nonresolving aspect of the dynamic interplay between conceptually opposed terms. I demonstrate this interdependent dialogue in several different yet related realms, including subject and object perceptual experience, the construction of individual subjectivity, temporality and narrativity, and intersubjectivity.
To support my argument for the dialectical motion that I describe in the poetry, I draw upon a diverse range of thinkers, some of whom have influenced the poets whose work I analyze. These theorists span a wide range of fields, including ancient Indian Buddhist philosophy, cognitive science, feminist psychoanalysis, and phenomenology. In their various ways, these thinkers share, along with the poets with whom I place them side by side, the common project of transforming a dualistic view of the world and engaging in a profoundly dialectical philosophical project.