Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Dennis Lee's Testament
The future-poetry of Dennis Lee published in Testament (2012) is the culmination of four cycles of creativity in his lifetime, each seeking a Real beyond the nihilism of technological modernity. Ultimately, Lee wagers the role of the poet and the future of poetic language on Earth on a non-modern that risks entangling the poet who enters void and embodies its meaninglessness. CHAPTER ONE: To approach this wager, the thesis first identifies the sources in philosophy of a Canadian Romantic modernism embraced by George Grant in collegial exchanges with Dennis Lee during the period of Civil Elegies (1972). Grant elicits a politics out of Nietzsche; Lee extends a poetics out of classical experimental modernism, made intelligible in this thesis by Mallarmé’s “cadence” or “rhythm” of things in nothingness and by Beckett’s word-play at the impasse of naming. CHAPTER TWO: To think beyond the mastery of the world by technique is to encounter a choice between silence as assumed by Grant and nonsense as explored by Lee during the period of Alligator Pie (1974) and The Gods (1979). CHAPTER THREE: The example of Paul Celan and his revisiting of Hölderlin provokes Lee to attend upon cadence at the level of the discrete word, an experiment with the dissolution of language and selfhood anticipated in the period of Riffs (1993) and Nightwatch (1996). Here, the undermusic felt to belong to the life-world (Lebenswelt) impacts as affect, in contrast to Celan’s alienated death-walk. CHAPTER FOUR: In the spirit of “post-internet poetry,” and by means of the spontaneous polyphonic scoring of cadence, Lee transforms the modernist impasse at the void into a further contradiction, the living of which may allow the poet access to a non-modern, but at a cost: the loss of poetry to incomprehension and insignificance, the reduction of the poet to a medium of the void, the dissolving of structure into materialities colliding in chance. Author Keywords: Dennis Lee, George Grant, Nonsense, Paul Celan, Technological Modernity, Void

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