Manchester Metropolitan University's Research Repository

    The problem of the city: urban anxieties in twentieth century British and American poetics

    Miller, David Richard (2013) The problem of the city: urban anxieties in twentieth century British and American poetics. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


    Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

    Download (2MB) | Preview


    The following research involves an engagement with what will become known as ‘the problem of the city’ as it pertains to twentieth century British and American poetics. What this amounts to is an analysis of how the extremely palpable ‘occlusion’ of the city in contemporary poetry is necessarily premised on various socio-political factors rooted in inadequate conceptions of a ‘common identity’ that have undergirded urban social being since the foundation of Aristotle’s polis. Isolating the root cause of this situation in romantic and modernist aesthetic practice seen as promoting a desire for ‘closure’ in the poem, the research goes on to examine a variety of approaches that tackle this situation in terms of its opposite. The end of the research pitches writing on the city as a ‘perilous’ undertaking skirting a fine line between the demands for authorial control of the materials, and the necessity to engender a more ‘open’ poetics independent of the writing itself. The introduction acquaints the reader with the concept of urban anxieties, as well as the key terms ‘urbicide’, ‘necropolis’ and ‘melee’ in relation to Jean Luc Nancy’s text Being Singular Plural (1996) and Bill Griffiths’ A Book of Spilt Cities (1999). Following on from this chapter one looks, briefly, at the roots of the problem of the city in both romantic and modernist writers, ending with an exposition of George Oppen’s work as a different approach stemming from his engagement with objectivism in the thirties. Chapters three, four and five will branch out to incorporate various postwar understandings of the city that promote aesthetic strategies most able to counter this dilemma in the light of work like Oppen’s. The third chapter sees the boldest attempt in Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems, specifically as they continue in that tradition of objectivism. Olson’s ‘root city’ is juxtaposed with Walt Whitman’s New York, Susan Howe’s text Singularities (1990) and William Carlos Williams’ Paterson sequence, in order to see how effectively the desire for closure was surmounted from within the bounds of a conservative poetic tradition founded on ‘cratylism’. It is in chapters four and five, however, that the conclusions of the thesis really begin to take shape. By examining the influence of Olson and Williams on the English writers Roy Fisher, Iain Sinclair and Allen Fisher, a way forward is determined for the city and poetry albeit perched between a the desire for hope and a profound despair. Allen Fisher’s Place (2005) and his later Gravity as a Consequence of Shape (2004) project are positioned as fundamental to this approach particularly in how they work towards an interruption of linguistic closure enshrined in the very materials themselves. In chapter five romantic aesthetic ideals are firmly questioned in line with the innovations made by Lisa Robertson in both The Weather (2001) and her longer project on the city Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture (2003). Her impulse to see social space in terms of noise or ‘cacophony’ – that is, not the place of a single interpretation of urbanity as much as a residue of different voices – sets the standard by which an open poetics becomes possible. The conclusion and appendix aim to situate this ‘delusional’ poetics within the context of a city that is both ‘panicked’ and subject to ever-greater interference by state historical versions of urban space. Francis Crot’s text Hax (2011) remains fundamental in this climate specifically in how it seeks to disrupt notions of linguistic closure through a determined focus on harnessing the tensions manifest in the city itself.

    Impact and Reach


    Activity Overview
    6 month trend
    6 month trend

    Additional statistics for this dataset are available via IRStats2.

    Repository staff only

    Edit record Edit record