Provincial Matters: Poetry and the Work of Space in the Global Twentieth Century

Author: ORCID icon
Liu, Wei, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Levenson, Michael, AS-English (ENGL), University of Virginia
Ramazani, Jahan, AS-English (ENGL), University of Virginia
Felski, Rita, AS-English (ENGL), University of Virginia

“Provincial Matters: Poetry and the Work of Space in the Global Twentieth Century” proposes that twentieth-century Anglophone poetry’s production of geo-cultural spaces often pivots on an understudied concept—provincialism. I argue that poetry begets occasions of “critical provincialism” where poets test their worldviews against states of insularity, limitation, backwardness, and inconsequence signified by provincialism and unveil the fundamental indeterminacies in the conceptualization of global geo-cultural relations. Critical provincialism illuminates how poetry requires and exemplifies an Adornoian negative dialectics as integral to transnational thinking; it marks transnationalism as composed of spatial topologies that cannot but critically reckon with the premises, implications, or methods of the transnational. Provincial Matters theorizes critical provincialism as an essential dimension of poetry’s investment in global geo-cultural politics, showing how negative dialectics comes alive in particular works of poetic spatiality.
Structured around three major poets—T. S. Eliot, Derek Walcott, and Elizabeth Bishop—my project both studies poetry from a transnational perspective and reflects on the climate of transnational studies via poetry. Putting in dialogue poets’ engagements with provincialism, Adorno’s negative dialectics, and cultural theorists’ challenges to nationalism, I maintain that poetry’s provincialist thematics attunes us to a negative, nonidentical mode of thinking that both informs the genesis of transnational configurations and subjects them to contradiction and qualification. Transnational studies has an inbuilt skepticism about finality and closure that de-fetishizes global encounter as well as local attachment, and to rearticulate what Jahan Ramazani calls a “transnational poetics” in terms of provincialism is to shift focus from repudiations of the national to topological inquiries into the transnational. These inquiries gain concrete lives in poetry’s verbal and formal constructions of geo-cultural spaces. Invoking major theories of spatial representation and Heidegger’s idea of “work,” I see poetry as conducting “the work of space” that not only registers particular geo-cultural spaces but also foregrounds the conditions of regenerating spatiality. A poetic correlative of critical provincialism, the work of space embodies the negative dialectics inherent in transnational thinking.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
provincialism, anglophone poetry, space, twentieth century, transnationalism and globalism
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