Identity and the Language Poets


ModPo has been moving too fast for me again. We are already on Week 9 and I am struggling to get to grips with Week 8.

Week 8 focussed on an introduction to Language Poetry. This is how the week was introduced (in part) on the Coursera site:

By starting with Silliman’s “Albany” and Hejinian’s My Life, we focus on ways in which – and reasons why – Language poets refused conventional sequential, cause-and-effect presentations of the writing self. The self is languaged – is formed by and in language – and is multiple across time (moments and eras) and thus from paratactic sentence to paratactic sentence. While this radical revision of the concept of the lyric self (and of the genre of memoir) emphasizes one aspect of the Language Poetry movement at the expense of several other important ideas and practices, it is, we feel, an excellent way to introduce the group.

Other poets introduced in Week 8 were Bob Perelman (Chronic Meanings – a beautiful pre-elegy), Susan Howe (My Emily Dickinson) and Charles Bernstein’s “In a Restless World Like This Is” (my mother used to sing the song – When I fall in Love – that this title comes from, when I was a child. At the age of 88 she can still sing it now). And we were introduced to another Ron Silliman poem – BART – written whilst travelling on the BART – the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transport, which I travelled on a couple of years ago on a visit to California.

I don’t have time to give enough thought to the Language Poets  – week 9 is upon us – so here I will record (and at some stage will need to come back to) – the key idea that came out of Week 8 for me – and that is that:

Language constructs the self

This was discussed particularly in relation to Lynn Hejinian’s work – My Life.

The idea that language is central to the construction of the self and identity resonates with me. This explains the ever-changing self as we continually reconstitute ourselves in response to language and social interaction. I like the idea that every time I speak/write I am involved in the act of constructing/reconstructing myself. It makes sense to me that I can use language to construct my self, but that language will also construct me.

Is the self multiple across time – as mentioned in the introduction to Week 8 above? This would fit with Bonnie Stewart’s work on Digital Identities. I have always felt that although I will inevitably be perceived differently by different people, I have one identity with many facets.  All the facets make up me! But I can see how the language I use and the discourse I engage in creates different perceptions of me. I can also see how language and our use of it influences who we are, and that the self is a fluid construct. But I’m not sure that this means that we have multiple identities. I need to think about this a bit more.

This has been in haste! A marker for future reference. There is lots more to think about and I will have to come back. The week 9 poets are calling!

In what way has this sentence, this blog post constructed/reconstructed my self?