• 'Some Reckonings with the Not-Old and with Surprise': Postmodern Ballads of Urban Crisis

    Scott Challener (see profile)
    CLCS 20th- and 21st-Century, GS Poetry and Poetics, LLC 20th- and 21st-Century American, LLC African American, TC Marxism, Literature, and Society
    American literature--African American authors, American literature, Economics and literature, Poetics
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    Uneven Development | Capitalist Crisis | Poetics
    Conf. Org.:
    Modernist Studies Association
    Conf. Loc.:
    Boston, MA
    Conf. Date:
    November 19-22, 2015
    poetic form, urbanism, ballads, African American literature, Literature and economics
    Permanent URL:
    This paper offers a brief consideration of the literary ballad as a register of what by the mid-’60s economists had diagnosed as “urban crisis” and in 1970 John Ashbery called “urban chaos.” I’m particularly interested in how poets used the ballad to see and see into the failures of the “spatio-temporal fix” of urban renewal. My general idea is that in the twentieth-century, as the formal properties and “barriers” of traditional ballads fragment and disperse, the non-modern attributes of the ballad—its orality, its structure of address, the performative, anonymous, narrative dimensions of popular song—appear embossed, lending the postmodern ballad’s distortions a specifically comparative and institutional character. The ballad’s historical transformation in the crucible of “print-capitalism” heightens this embossment. By the somewhat incongruous term postmodern ballad, I mean to signal the transition from the modern to the postmodern that Frederic Jameson has described in terms of a “temporal sinking to a subordinate feature of space as such” and the shrinkage of time to the present. I see the postmodern ballad’s distinctive responsiveness to crises of capital not only as embossment or register, but in the words of Gwendolyn Brooks, as a reckoning with “the not-old and with surprise”—a phrase that seems particularly apt to the lived experience of these crises.
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