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Attention Equals Life: The Pursuit of the Everyday in Contemporary Poetry and Culture

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Poetry has long been thought of as a genre devoted to grand subjects, timeless themes, and sublime beauty. Why, then, have contemporary poets turned with such intensity to documenting and capturing the everyday and mundane? Drawing on insights about the nature of everyday life from philosophy, history, and critical theory, Andrew Epstein traces the modern history of this pr Poetry has long been thought of as a genre devoted to grand subjects, timeless themes, and sublime beauty. Why, then, have contemporary poets turned with such intensity to documenting and capturing the everyday and mundane? Drawing on insights about the nature of everyday life from philosophy, history, and critical theory, Andrew Epstein traces the modern history of this preoccupation and considers why it is so much with us today. Attention Equals Life argues that a potent hunger for everyday life explodes in the post-1945 period as a reaction to the rapid, unsettling transformations of this epoch, which have resulted in a culture of perilous distraction. Epstein demonstrates that poetry is an important, and perhaps unlikely, cultural form that has mounted a response, and even a mode of resistance, to a culture suffering from an acute crisis of attention. In this timely and engaging study, Epstein examines why a compulsion to represent the everyday becomes predominant in the decades after modernism and why it has so often sparked genre-bending formal experimentation. With chapters devoted to illuminating readings of a diverse group of writers--including poets associated with influential movements like the New York School, language poetry, and conceptual writing--the book considers the variety of forms contemporary poetry of everyday life has taken, and analyzes how gender, race, and political forces all profoundly inflect the experience and the representation of the quotidian. By exploring the rise of experimental realism as a poetic mode and the turn to rule-governed everyday-life projects, Attention Equals Life offers a new way of understanding a vital strain at the heart of twentieth- and twenty-first century literature. It not only charts the evolution of a significant concept in cultural theory and poetry, but also reminds readers that the quest to pay attention to the everyday within today's frenetic world of and social media is an urgent and unending task.


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Poetry has long been thought of as a genre devoted to grand subjects, timeless themes, and sublime beauty. Why, then, have contemporary poets turned with such intensity to documenting and capturing the everyday and mundane? Drawing on insights about the nature of everyday life from philosophy, history, and critical theory, Andrew Epstein traces the modern history of this pr Poetry has long been thought of as a genre devoted to grand subjects, timeless themes, and sublime beauty. Why, then, have contemporary poets turned with such intensity to documenting and capturing the everyday and mundane? Drawing on insights about the nature of everyday life from philosophy, history, and critical theory, Andrew Epstein traces the modern history of this preoccupation and considers why it is so much with us today. Attention Equals Life argues that a potent hunger for everyday life explodes in the post-1945 period as a reaction to the rapid, unsettling transformations of this epoch, which have resulted in a culture of perilous distraction. Epstein demonstrates that poetry is an important, and perhaps unlikely, cultural form that has mounted a response, and even a mode of resistance, to a culture suffering from an acute crisis of attention. In this timely and engaging study, Epstein examines why a compulsion to represent the everyday becomes predominant in the decades after modernism and why it has so often sparked genre-bending formal experimentation. With chapters devoted to illuminating readings of a diverse group of writers--including poets associated with influential movements like the New York School, language poetry, and conceptual writing--the book considers the variety of forms contemporary poetry of everyday life has taken, and analyzes how gender, race, and political forces all profoundly inflect the experience and the representation of the quotidian. By exploring the rise of experimental realism as a poetic mode and the turn to rule-governed everyday-life projects, Attention Equals Life offers a new way of understanding a vital strain at the heart of twentieth- and twenty-first century literature. It not only charts the evolution of a significant concept in cultural theory and poetry, but also reminds readers that the quest to pay attention to the everyday within today's frenetic world of and social media is an urgent and unending task.

39 review for Attention Equals Life: The Pursuit of the Everyday in Contemporary Poetry and Culture

  1. 4 out of 5

    James Gifford

    I read this for the 2017 Modernist Studies Association Book Prize. It's excellent work following on several very strong studies of modernism and the everyday, and it was a finalist for the prize. It's hard not to see Epstein's work as the culmination of such studies of American poetry. Attention Equals Life is the culmination of work from the past several years on modernism and the everyday, particularly American poetry moving toward the mid-century. The book is extremely readable for broad audie I read this for the 2017 Modernist Studies Association Book Prize. It's excellent work following on several very strong studies of modernism and the everyday, and it was a finalist for the prize. It's hard not to see Epstein's work as the culmination of such studies of American poetry. Attention Equals Life is the culmination of work from the past several years on modernism and the everyday, particularly American poetry moving toward the mid-century. The book is extremely readable for broad audiences and makes a compelling extension of discussions of the everyday, both from an American standpoint and with a focus on mid-century literary production. The nuanced attention to poetic language is convincing and the theoretical and philosophical argumentation is bested only by detailed analyses of poems, which are frequent and efficient. Close attention to the text itself is always diligently related to the American philosophical tradition so that textual analyses do not operate as mere illustrations but signal a new step in scholarship. This study challenges our perception of poetry as a genre and as a form – it raises new questions in terms of poetics, aesthetics, and ethics, and particularly how poetry works as a form of cultural and political action. Attention Equals Life is a completely convincing work.

  2. 5 out of 5

    A

    "This study aims to debunk the widely held idea that the 'avant-garde' is diametrically opposed to 'realism.' Instead, the works I investigate constitute a hybrid tendency, one that I refer to as a 'skeptical,' 'experimental,' or 'avant-garde realism.' Such works refuse to accept the strict binary that would pit realism's concern for immediate and ordinary experience against the avant-garde's formal experimentation and skepticism about language and representation. Instead of viewing these as mut "This study aims to debunk the widely held idea that the 'avant-garde' is diametrically opposed to 'realism.' Instead, the works I investigate constitute a hybrid tendency, one that I refer to as a 'skeptical,' 'experimental,' or 'avant-garde realism.' Such works refuse to accept the strict binary that would pit realism's concern for immediate and ordinary experience against the avant-garde's formal experimentation and skepticism about language and representation. Instead of viewing these as mutually exclusive concerns, adventurous poets of the everyday choose both."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Howard

  4. 4 out of 5

    Abe Thinkin

  5. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  6. 5 out of 5

    Robert

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kim Berger

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sean Pierson

  9. 4 out of 5

    Possibly in Michigan, London

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dave

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mark Jenkins

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nick

  13. 4 out of 5

    Goodreader

  14. 5 out of 5

    Julia

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kimmy

  16. 5 out of 5

    Marko Suomi

  17. 5 out of 5

    A. Collins

  18. 5 out of 5

    Emma Felin

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Boon

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  21. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jennie

  23. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Shotts

  25. 4 out of 5

    Floor Buschenhenke

  26. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Birt

  27. 5 out of 5

    M

  28. 5 out of 5

    Stu

  29. 5 out of 5

    Natasha Kristian

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

  31. 4 out of 5

    Emma Sedlak

  32. 4 out of 5

    Josh

  33. 5 out of 5

    Charity Hall

  34. 4 out of 5

    Jashvina Shah

  35. 4 out of 5

    Anvar

  36. 5 out of 5

    Monica Mcdonough

  37. 5 out of 5

    Erin

  38. 5 out of 5

    Keely

  39. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bisagni

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