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Public Enemies: Transience, Lyric, and Sociality in American Poetry


A shadowy double to infrastructure expansion, resettlement, and urban development, the "transient" has long been a contradictory figure of permission and repression in imaginations of America, be it as Emerson's idealized "being-in-transience," the romantic freedoms of the "hobohemian," or the criminalized "stranger." What Public Enemies argues is that a crucial genealogy of thinking about transience and its antagonistic relationship to existing concepts of democracy has been carried out in the most local, seemingly private of scenes: lyric encounters between an “I” and a “you.” While Walt Whitman was the first to put serial pressure on the relation between transient persons and lyric formation, a long history of twentieth-century poetic interlocutors—Robert Frost, Hart Crane, George Oppen, Robert Creeley, and Amiri Baraka—adapt his experiments in transient speech acts to challenge normative conceptions of personhood, masculinity, affiliation, publicity, and national belonging. To understand the social character and content of lyric speech, Public Enemies situates current debates in literary formalism and lyric theory within political, juridical, sociological, and queer theoretical accounts of transience in America. In turn, the project reframes a trajectory of modernist and postmodern American lyric poetry as both a critical and complicit interlocutor in defining who or what counts as a member of a democratic whole.

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