Lyn Hejinian is among the most prominent of contemporary American poets. Her autobiographical poem My Life, a best-selling book of innovative American poetry, has garnered accolades and fans inside and outside academia. The Language of Inquiry is a comprehensive and wonderfully readable collection of her essays, and its publication promises to be an important event for American literary culture. Here, Hejinian brings together twenty essays written over a span of almost twenty-five years. Like many of the Language Poets with whom she has been associated since the mid-1970s, Hejinian turns to language as a social space, a site of both philosophical inquiry and political address.
Central to these essays are the themes of time and knowledge, consciousness and perception. Hejinian's interests cover a range of texts and figures. Prominent among them are Sir Francis Bacon and Enlightenment-era explorers; Faust and Sheherazade; Viktor Shklovsky and Russian formalism; William James, Hannah Arendt, and Martin Heidegger. But perhaps the most important literary presence in the essays is Gertrude Stein; the volume includes Hejinian's influential "Two Stein Talks," as well as two more recent essays on Stein's writings.
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"Hejinian's essays are a keystone of postwar North American poetics. They are also a great pleasure to read, for Hejinian is an extraordinarily resonant stylist whose work combines the lushness of her poetry with an engaging aesthetic and philosophical inventiveness. This is writing that avoids closure in the pursuit of unfolding, multifaceted, restive thought. The Language of Inquiry's meditations on the possibilities of poetry create an experience in which each reader is at the center. To engage with this work is to be put in touch with oneself as if anew."—Charles Bernstein, author of My Way: Speeches and Poems
"From 1975, when she wrote 'A Thought Is the Bride of What Thinking' -- the first 'essay' in this collection -- Lyn Hejinian has always regarded poetry and poetics as intimately interwoven: her poetry has sometimes been highly theoretical even as her theoretical and critical peices are nothing if not poetic. The Language of Inquiry, the first collection of Hejinian's essays, lectures, introductions, and meditations, constitutes, in the words of Gertrude Stein, about whom she has written so brilliantly, Hejinian's own 'composition as explanation,' culminating in her new long Steinian poem, aptly called 'Happily.' This is an exciting and deeply moving book."—Marjorie Perloff, author of Wittgenstein's Ladder
"'Intelligence is romantic.' These essays, prefaces, lectures, aphorisms, portraits, and meditations, by one of America's most innovative poets, passionately explore, as did the critical writings of Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore, and Wallace Stevens, the philosophical foundations of contemporary American culture. [For Hejinian, the process of 'theorizing is . . . a manner of vulnerable, inquisitive, worldly living . . . very closely bound to the poetic process.'] The Language of Inquiry brilliantly demonstrates the myriad, paradoxical ways in which philosophy and poetry are indivisible and distinct." —Susan Howe
Lyn Hejinian is a poet and the author of Writing Is an Aid to Memory (1996), The Cold of Poetry (1994), The Cell (1992), and My Life (1987), among other books. She has taught at several universities and colleges and was the 1993 Roberta Holloway Lecturer in the Practice of Poetry at the University of California, Berkeley.
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