The 2001-2002 Sawyer Seminar at the University of Chicago
RANGE OF CONTEMPORARY LITERACY:
THE CIRCULATION OF POETRY
|Sponsored by the Andrew Mellon Foundation|
Winter 2002: Poetry and Cultural Transformation
Spring 2002: Poetry and Institutional Contexts
FELLOWSHIPSAlthough research and study fellowships do not formally entail teaching responsibilities, doctoral and postdoctral fellows will participate in the Sawyer Seminar workshops, conferences, and events throughout the academic year.
W. Flagg Miller
"Inscribing the Muse: Re-valuating Discourse in Yemeni Cassette-Poetry."
I am conducting research on transformations in political poetry that accompany the expansion of writing and recording technologies in Yemen. Although Yemeni poets have long been political spokespersons for local communities, they have begun in recent decades to use audiocassette technologies, in particular, to reach national and transnational audiences. Through an ethnography of expressive culture in Yafi`, a region located northeast of Aden, I conduct what I call a project of "historical poetics." When a poet designs oral verses for inscription onto a material medium, such as paper or cassettes, acts of composing poetry often become subject to the demands of new patterns of text-circulation, larger and more diverse audiences, more centralized institutions of production and consumption, and new forms of authorship. By exploring how representations of community, place, and person are articulated by cassette-poets and the singers who perform their verses, I show how concerns over circulation enable reflection on new and ambivalent habits of metropolitan valuation.
I will be devoting my year with the Franke Institute to preparing my book, Inscribing the Muse, for publication. Focusing my analysis on the vernacular qasidah, probably the oldest and most prestigious genre poetry in the Arab world, I examine how meta-commentary on circulation develops in league with an expanding cassette-industry. Discussions between cassette-producers over poetic form, including genre, style, linguistic register, rhyme, and musical performance, foreground the uncertain destinations and audiences of cassette-poems. Moreover, poets and singers re-present spatial topographies in terms of region, and tribesmen in terms of merchants, as they seek mediating grounds for instable, circulating words. Cassette-producers' oscillations between economies of value ultimately enable them to consider spaces for tribal identity within ever-changing metropolitan conceptual frameworks.
"Creating a Soviet Poet-Classic: The Canonization of Vladimir Mayakovsky"
My dissertation project examines how the Russian/Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky was canonized, after Stalin suddenly declared him the "best, most talented Soviet poet" in December 1935. In the late 1930s, the Soviet State was promoting a new concept of tradition and creative method in the official ideal of Socialist Realism. Knowing poetry was an important part of the new Soviet idea of "culturedness" taught to the general populace. Simultaneously, poetry was key to the intelligentsia's self-definition. My work develops the thesis that Mayakovsky's Soviet canonization was a cultural process created by the state-sponsored Soviet "literary jubilees" of the 1930s. I suggest that these events,particularly the nationwide 1937 Pushkin Celebration and the 1940 Mayakovsky Jubilee, created a multi-generic "commentary" which defined theSoviet poet in general, and Mayakovsky in particular. Through analysis of materials such as verse-homages written for the 1940 Mayakovsky jubilee, my work defines how both amateur and professional writers responded to Stalin's declaration of Mayakovsky's value in the context of celebration and commemoration. I also explore ambiguities and contradictions in Mayakovsky's canonization; through Aesopian language and genres such as memoirs, writers could diverge from the standard themes and forms of the celebration while still affirming Mayakovsky's national value. This study of Mayakovsky will show that the model of the Socialist Realist poet drew on Socialist Realist fiction while referencing the Russian poet's traditional role as philosopher, prophet, and social critic. In the future, I intend to expand this project into a larger study of the Stalinist poet-ideal in various social and literary contexts. I would also like to integrate poetic analysis into this cultural study, by considering how Mayakovsky styled himself as a future Soviet classic and model poet; comparing this with the official Soviet image of the classic Mayakovsky.
SEMINAR STEERING COMMITTEERobert von Hallberg
Germanic Studies, English Language & Literature, and Comparative Literature
The Sawyer Seminar Program is sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.