American Errancy Jacket Image
List Price:
Discount Price:

American Errancy
Empire, Sublimity and Modern Poetry

Justin Quinn (author)
Publication date:
20th June 2005

Author Biography

Justin Quinn is Associate Professor at the Charles University, Prague. He has published three volumes of poetry, most recently Fuselage (Gallery, 2002) and in the same year UCD Press published his Gathered Beneath the Storm: Wallace Stevens, Nature and Community. He was a founding editor of the Irish poetry magazine Metre, which he edited with David Wheatley for ten years.


American Errancy is a wide-ranging study of the connection between ideology and the sublime in the work of twentieth-century poets, all American with two, or perhaps three important exceptions. The poets chosen are in debate with the Romantic individualism of Emerson - some reject it outright, but the remainder have devoted substantial work to adjusting to the changed circumstances of their century. The link between Romantic individualism and ideological contexts has preoccupied much criticism of American literature in the last twenty years. For the most part, critics arraign this tradition, suggesting that the writers abscond from difficult political dilemmas to the realm of transcendence. In consequence, the sublime as category for thinking about literary texts has been largely abandoned. Emerson's transcendence is considered at best naive, at worst as providing the nascent corporate capitalism of the late nineteenth century with an iconography with which to execute its agenda.Justin Quinn argues that this critical approach distorts the achievement of poets in the twentieth century: many of the poets discussed extend the tradition of Romantic individualism, but they are not ideologically naive in the above sense. Their work anticipated historicist criticism of the 1980s and 1990s as they began to 'socialise' the sublime, and to explore the ways in which the inheritance of Romantic individualism could engage with ideological contexts. For some of the poets, these explorations supported their oppositional politics (i.e., Allen Ginsberg); for others, paradoxically, the explorations supported conservative politics (i.e., A. R. Ammons); others rejected the Emersonian inheritance outright (Eliot, Hill), but that rejection itself has left an enduring mark on their work.