Towards a poetics of overtakelessness: the work of contemporary elegy in the writing of five North American poets

Mackay, John (2015) Towards a poetics of overtakelessness: the work of contemporary elegy in the writing of five North American poets. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Abstract

This thesis addresses a condition of ‘overtakelessness’ – a word used by Emily Dickinson to refer to the irretrievability of the dead – developing it as a conceptual framework to explore contemporary elegy in the work of five North American poets: Susan Howe, Mary Jo Bang, Anne Carson, Dean Young, and Mark Doty. Overtakelessness, a term to describe that which is unavoidable but cannot be encompassed, serves to illuminate the divide between desire and fulfilment in poetic encounters with loss. In Chapter 1, I argue that Susan Howe’s ethical configuration of lost others as retrieved textual traces from the archive represents her attempt to establish a visual and material conception of overtakelessness, and places under scrutiny the role of language in the scene of elegy. I show in Chapter 2 that Mary Jo Bang’s failure to reach her son can be attributed to the fact that language, like the sought other, has an unfathomable surplus that cannot be encompassed, and that the printed word is unequal to the task of articulating grief. In Chapter 3, Anne Carson’s interaction with personal relics represents an exploration of what constitutes her brother’s absence, and an implicit recognition that material objects – and the overtakelessness that they carry into her work – have supplanted his presence. Chapter 4 demonstrates that an engagement with overtakelessness is problematised further by the poet’s preoccupation with an unassimilable self as Dean Young’s alter ego undergoes an imagined disintegration. Finally, in Chapter 5 I propose that for Mark Doty overtakelessness has personal, social and political dimensions as he responds to an actual catastrophe, the AIDS epidemic, and explores the tension between private and public loss. I show in this thesis that overtakelessness emerges in the poetic space, suggesting that the elegy’s encounter with the dead might equally be described as a negotiation with overtakelessness itself.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Arts > English & Humanities
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 12 Feb 2015 11:03
Last Modified: 02 Dec 2016 12:47
URI: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/id/eprint/111

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