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Title: “Let's Make a List”: James Schuyler's taxonomic autobiography
Authors: Watkin, W
Issue Date: 2002
Publisher: Cambridge University Press (CUP)
Citation: Journal of American Studies, 36(I): 43-68, Apr 2002
Abstract: August 21, 1970 A few sound[s] are embedded in the fog – a gull mewing, different far off fog horns – like unset polished stones laid out in cotton wool. Tuesday, March 5, 1985 At six AM the heavy gray burns a heavier blue. Rain, water drops clinging to the balcony. There is an ethical consideration in James Schuyler's Diary. While we have spent the last fifty years grappling with the aesthetic problems of how to represent the unrepresentable, how to present the unpresentable, and how to signify the significant, little time has been spent considering the status of representations of the unremarkable. There is a whole history in American poetry and literature of validating the everyday, making it special, but Schuyler never really does that. Are things special just because we say so, or rather because we note them down? Do we name things into being, at least linguistic or literary being? The Diary asks these questions and in doing so it broaches the kind of postmodern ethical questions that one finds in the recent work of Lyotard, Derrida, and Nancy. These questions are significant not in the normal sense of the reasons for such interrogations or the answers expected, but rather because they represent a desire on the part of Schuyler to ask after otherness, to try to elicit a response from the other while respecting that such a response may not be comprehensible even if it is forthcoming. I would like here to posit a desire to ask after the other first before one asks after oneself, to enquire without any hope of a satisfactory answer as such as the postmodern ethical position, and to suggest that the autobiographical slant of Schuyler's work is, paradoxically considering the nature of autobiography, just such a positioning of his self in relation to the world.
Appears in Collections:English and Creative Writing
Dept of Arts and Humanities Research Papers

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