Mechanics of allegory in Randall Jarrell


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I first argue that what a generation of scholarship has disinterred as moral "disturbances" in Jarrell' s poetry are not. Rather, Jarrell' s disturbances offer evidence for a functional reading of allegory as being and becoming otherwise than human. Typically, analyses of Jarrell' s allegory remain confined by an ontological circularity; moving beyond humanist poesis as both pretext and culmination, however, creates productive disturbances often and correctly associated with Ovid's own. While affirming a formalist departure for poetry - changes in being tethered to changes in form - Jarrell's use of allegory presents, I argue, an even more dynamic and functional model for an antinominalist poetry: the formlessness of primary being as proper, even necessary, to the arrived at (secondary) human event. Militating against this tendency to prefer human outcomes - as against processes of being - Jarrell's mechanics recognize in formlessness the pleasures of nothingness out of which human subjectivity, the power to shape our own being, arises. A theory of accidents driving poetic change allows me in turn to invoke, and in part to challenge, the premise posed by Martin Heidegger that animal being is subordinated to the human. My analysis of Jarrell's mechanics concludes with the suggestion that his poetry effectively subverts its own poetic inheritances, including the nineteenth-century premise that poetry, like biological necessity itself, is positive and positively human.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-42
Number of pages16
JournalForum for World Literature Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory

User-Defined Keywords

  • Antinominalist poetry
  • Formalism
  • Humanist allegory


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