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Presented By: Poetry and Poetics Workshop

Performative Typography and the Threat of Metaphorical Identity in the Poetry of Douglas Kearney

Poetry and Poetics Workshop with Kelly Hoffer, Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Poetry

Please join us for a work-in-progress workshop featuring Kelly Hoffer, Helen Zell Visiting Assistant Professor of Poetry. You can sign up to receive Kelly's draft and RSVP for lunch here:

Kelly will present her chapter, "Performative Typography and the Threat of Metaphorical Identity in the Poetry of Douglas Kearney." Abstract: Metaphors move, or, etymologically, “carry over.” At the level of the poetic line, the metaphor is the consummate change-maker. Metaphor is always staving off its dismissal as a mere decorative rhetorical figure, but modern critics and philosophers have affirmed its force. Nietzsche argues that metaphors constitute our notion of “truth”; Lakoff thinks of metaphor as a mechanism essential to language and conceptualizing the world; and Sontag concludes it is a force that both intervenes in, and is shaped by, societal attitudes. Despite this, recently metaphor has come under attack by poet Douglas Kearney as a figure that resists, rather than inducing, change. In his book of poetics Optic Subwoof (2022), Kearney argues the metaphorical relation promises false equivalency, substituting one form of suffering for another. As such, metaphors offer the reader a narcissistic reflection rather than a true encounter with difference. This article considers Kearney’s resistance to metaphor in the context of debates about the (im)potency of the aestheticization of suffering (Sontag) and humanistic empathy (Hartman) as engines for social change. It then turns to analyze Kearney’s own poems in light of his stated poetics. Does his visual poetry avoid the metaphor he is so suspicious of? If this poetry isn’t doing metaphor, what is it doing? And why might his form of visual poetics, or what Kearney calls “performative typography” be the structure he chooses as his intervention in today’s experimental poetic field?

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