Lyric Eye: the poetics of twentieth-century surveillance
AuthorSumner, Tyne Daile
AffiliationSchool of Culture and Communication
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2020-05-24.
Lyric Eye: The Poetics of Twentieth-Century Surveillance presents the first detailed study of the relationship between lyric poetry and twentieth-century American surveillance culture. It examines the work of modern American poets who responded to the knowledge that they and other writers were being closely monitored by United States surveillance agencies from the 1920s to the 1960s. Combining close textual analysis and archival study with a range of critical theory, Lyric Eye argues that so pervasive was the spectre of surveillance in twentieth-century America that even poets who were not directly surveilled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation made it one of their poetic themes. By analysing twentieth-century American lyric poetry and its various ideas about the self across a forty-year period, Lyric Eye also establishes a new mode of interdisciplinary research, whose aim is to demonstrate the extent to which poetry and the discourses of surveillance employ similar styles of information gathering, such as observation, overhearing, imitation, abstraction, repurposing of language, keywords, subversion, fragmentation and symbolism. One of the central arguments of Lyric Eye is that the impositions placed upon individual autonomy by an American surveillance state were most incisively explored in lyric poetry of the period because of its ability to negotiate between the public and private spheres and to be both aesthetic and political at the same time. Thus, contrary to many prior literary histories of the lyric, the new theorisation of lyric poetry argued for in this study positions it as a complex public discourse that uses the very structures of politics, culture and technology to bring about its commentary. The first half of the thesis explores the technical, political and conceptual overlaps that lyric poetry and surveillance share, as well as the reasons behind and consequences of the FBI’s surveillance of modern American poets. The second half of the thesis develops close readings of lyric poems and moments of twentieth-century American culture and politics, organised around the concepts of nationalism, expatriation, modernism, domesticity, overhearing and confession. Key poets examined include Ezra Pound, W.H. Auden, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Claude McKay, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell.
Keywordslyric; surveillance; American Literature; poetry; FBI; twentieth-century
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