PJAS 15 Spring-5

Kacper Bartczak
The Paradigm of the Void: Louise Glück’s Post-Confessional Deadlock
Polish Journal for American Studies, vol. 15 (Spring 2021), pp. 69-87

Abstract: Awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, Louise Glück emerges as one of the major and most important American poets of the late 20th and early 21st century. What does this centrality tell us about the trajectory that the American poetry has traced since modernism? I attempt to offer a critical evaluation of Glück’s post-confessional stylistic, developed between the debut Firstborn (1968) and Averno (2006), by setting it in contexts that are historical and, later in the paper, psycho-theological. First, I treat her formula as a double response – to the modernist legacy of T. S. Eliot and to the challenges of postmodernity. Faithful to Eliot’s urge to transcend the biographical by connecting it with the transcendental, Glück resists the skeptical thesis of the demise of grand narratives, and writes in defiance of the postmodernist poetics of such poets as John Ashbery. Not undermining the biographical foundation of the lyric – the way Ashbery has done in his linguistic excess – she strives to make it paradigmatic. However, in this heroic search for a paradigm, Glück proposes a deeply ambiguous modification of Eliot that I characterize in psycho-theological terms. Following Agata Bielik-Robson’s research, I characterize Glück’s metaphysics as a form of Thanatic Lacanian Gnosticism. At this level we confront the costs of Glück’s post-confessionalism: a serious impairment of all those aspects of the self that make it an embodied and gendered human being.

Keywords: Louise Glück, post-confessional lyric, psychoanalysis and poetry, post-secular studies, John Ashbery, Agata Bielik-Robson, psycho-theology, Gnosticism and poetry

DOI: 10.7311/PJAS.15/1/2021.05

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