Zack Finch, SUNY Buffalo Poetics Program
Zack Finch is a doctoral student in the poetics program at SUNY Buffalo and a lecturer in the Creative Writing program at Dartmouth College. Poetry has appeared in Poetry, American Letters & Commentary, Tin House, and Radical Society among other journals. Recent essays and reviews have appeared in P-Queue and Boston Review.
Caliban's Gait: Transgressive Grammars of American Exploratory Writing
The paper defines the term "Caliban-esque" as a postcolonial aesthetic that embraces misshapenness, deformation, ugliness, waywardness, and opacity, in contrast to dominant models of beauty, fluency, coherence and linguistic mastery. What kind of non-binding fluencies would Caliban have cultivated had he refused to follow Prospero back to Europe? This is the question that D.H. Lawrence posed in the introduction to his seminal Studies in Classic American Literature, published in 1923, the same year that William Carlos Williams published The Great American Novel, an iconoclastic anti-novel that violently rejected the notion of narrative "progress" in favor of what Michel de Certeau would call "delinquent narrativity," or "the inscription of the body in the order's text" (130). The brute physicality and propulsive errancy of Williams' untaught grammars sought to emancipate writing from the authorial "functions" of imitation and proof of discursive competence. This paper anatomizes the Caliban-esque features of Williams' virulent anti-European poetic tactic and, with reference to Gertrude Stein and Henry James as well, shows how the transgressive character of early transatlantic avant-garde writing must be understood as belonging to an incipient postcolonial critique of the hegemony of "standard usages" of the English language. In all, the paper argues that the non-binding grammars of Williams, Stein and (I will suggest) Henry James seek to restore some semblance of free agency to the "author" of a text in a way that anticipates, by some half a century, Foucault's observation that "BooksÉreally began to have authorsÉonly to the extent that discourses could be transgressive" (382).