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Being NumerousPoetry and the Ground of Social Life$
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Oren Izenberg

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780691144832

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691144832.001.0001

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Oppen’s Silence, Crusoe’s Silence, and the Silence of Other Minds

Oppen’s Silence, Crusoe’s Silence, and the Silence of Other Minds

(p.78) Chapter Two Oppen’s Silence, Crusoe’s Silence, and the Silence of Other Minds
Being Numerous

Oren Izenberg

Princeton University Press

This chapter examines the long silence at the center of George Oppen's poetic career, arguing that it was driven in part by his early choice of left-political activism over art. After the 1934 publication of his Discrete Series, Oppen stopped writing poems and lived, starting in 1950, as a “known subversive” in Mexico. He would resurface in 1962 with the publication of The Materials. Focusing on the figure of Robinson Crusoe, this chapter offers an account of Oppen's poetic knowledge in relation to aesthetics and to the idea of a poetic politics. It also considers Oppen's reconceptualization of what it means “to know” and its relevance to the question of social recognition. It suggests that Oppen's return to poetry was contingent upon his conceptualization of the rigorous charity of his silence and his discovery of a way to make such silence audible.

Keywords:   silence, George Oppen, The Materials, Robinson Crusoe, poetry, Discrete Series, poetic knowledge, aesthetics, poetic politics, social recognition

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