Abstract: The Poetry of the Formless

by: Jeroen Mettes

This is the abstract of Jeroen Mettes’ uncompleted PhD —


“Modern Western poetry is historically defined by its break with traditional forms. The caesura that separates poetic tradition from poetic modernity, however, is not simply a matter of one poetics being replaced by another poetics, i.e., a new set of forms; a full crise de vers, already sensed by Hölderlin and Mallarmé, can now clearly be demarcated. In the nineteenth century, free verse and prose poetry opened up new fields of possibilities, which violate the notion of form itself. We can easily see how a particular Petrarchan sonnet refers back to a general Form, even when the poem in question shows minor deviations from the model. It is much more difficult to see how Rimbaud’s “Marine” refers back to a general structure, since the free verse poem is only defined by the minimal condition that it is written in lines and stanzas of verse and not in sentences and paragraphs of prose. Obviously, the prose poem lacks even this minimal condition and therefore appears defined solely by its lack of a Form.

The development of phonetic, visual and concrete poetry in the twentieth century has made things even more problematic by introducing into poetry nonlinguistic elements and principles. If its form is indeed what makes a poem poetic (a critical commonplace), modern poetry poses a serious problem for critics who want to avoid talking merely about the poem’s “message” or its historical context, precisely because of modern poetry’s tendency to escape form.

It is my goal to develop, against the theoretical horizon of Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy of formlessness and modernity, a set of useful analytical tools for the reading of modern poetry. Eventually, the formless will be defined as a fully positive phenomenon, which is not marked simply by the absence of form but by a process that pushes poetry, and ultimately “language as whole to its limits, to its outside” (Deleuze 1997:113).

Several chapters will deal with specific “outsides” of poetry: prose, the image, music or non-signifying sound, and silence – these are all Others or absolute limits of poetry, but immanently so. One cannot imagine a poem without images, without music, without silences (the breath pauses for instance), or even without prose. What distinguishes modern poetry, however, is its desire to look up these limits and “make language stutter” (108), producing a variety of nonlinguistic affects, which are perhaps meaningless in the strict sense of the term, but not at all senseless or ahistorical, and can be critically described. — Jeroen METTES”


Tags: ,

Comments are closed.