Asymmetry Essential to Form


Is there any value outside the poem which as ‘value’ resists nihilistic deconstruction? I adopt the concept of asymmetry to suggest a difference between my metaxological criticism and formalism.

Guillevic’s lyric, translated by Denise Levertov (Selected Poems, New Directions) suggests something about form in lyric large and small. The address of the other establishes a shared between, and betweens literally depend on shaping forces beyond our control. Time/Eternity; life/death; darkness/light. The movement of lyric from knowns and givens to unknowns and gift inscribes a narrative reaching beyond the between of the poem. Reaching as in not overtaking. The final embrace of a radical other exceeding our embrace is a ‘formal fact’ about the lyric. We know this from our efforts to pin down THE meaning. And since this ‘formal fact’ is an affective aspect of our readerly care for the poem, we might adopt a phrase from William Desmond, the ‘agapeic’ origin of the poem.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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