The Poetics of the Common Knowledge

By Don Byrd

Subjects: Aesthetics
Series: SUNY series, The Margins of Literature
Paperback : 9780791416860, 404 pages, October 1993
Hardcover : 9780791416853, 404 pages, November 1993

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


1. A Parable of Beginning
Making the Working Space
The Fix
Radical Modernism
Poetic Knowledge
An Orientation

The Constitution of Life as a Symbolic Machine: Some Sub/Versions
2. Symbolic Nature
The Two Cultures
The Pursuit of the Infinite
Ideal Language
The Second House of Culture
The Unacknowledged House
The Two Languages: Space
Compendious Abbreviations
The Equivocations
The Two Languages: Time
The Cyborg
Poetry and the Cartesian Circle
Confidence beyond Thought
What Is
Real Time
Linguistics: Cartesian
Linguistics: Non-Cartesian

3. Symbolic History
The Hegelian Apocalypse The Two Modernisms
The End of Poetry, the Beginning of Poetry
"Betwixt Unity and Number"
Verkehrte Welt
Force and Understanding
The Final Triumph of Humanism
The Tedium of the Absolute
he End of History Whitman and the Wrong Infinity
Language of Eros Fechner's Experiment
The Continuous and the Discrete
The Two Modernisms Again
How to Read and Write

4. Symbolic Person
The Category of the Person
Psychotopography and the Contact Barrier
Psychoeconomy and Symbolic Transfer
The Performance of Person: Louis Zukofsky
The Contingent Person
Jargon and the Displacement of the Symbolic Person

5. Symbolic Symbols
Formal Systems
Statistical Reality
The Aesthetics of Recursion
The Meaning of Recursion
The Ethics of Recursion
The Modernism that Does Not Become Dated
Three Versions of Statistical Reality
The Supreme Fiction: The Algebraic Metaphor and Common Language
The Comedian as the Letter G: The Lattice of Linked Objects
Cognitive Science: Topological Continuity
Statistics and the Single Occasion
Nonstatistical Reality
Logography: Non-Statistical Writing

6. Beginning Again
What Was Right in Metaphysics
What Should Have Come First



The Poetics of Common Knowledge focuses on Descartes, Hegel, Freud, and the information theorists, on the one hand, and the poets of the American avant-garde, on the other. This book is a call literally for a new poetry, a new making, that manifests the possibility for sense-making in a postmodern condition without universals or absolutes. In such a poetry, fragmentation bespeaks not brokenness but the richness of the world apprehended without the habits of recognition.

Don Byrd is Professor of English at State University of New York at Albany. He has also written Charles Olson's Maximus; Aesop's Garden; and The Great Dime Store Centennial.


"Don Byrd's book presents postmodernism as a continuation of the metaphysical skeptical tradition, reaching its dead end with deconstruction. Byrd's alternative in literary studies is a return to poetry as a revitalization of language. The book is very learned, and written with verve and vigor." — Mihai I. Spariosu, The University of Georgia

"This is an important, provocative book. At a time when poetics—especially that of the difficult sort dealt with here—has been increasingly pushed to the margins of academic discourse, Don Byrd has come forward with a tour de force that both argues and enacts the bearing of poetic knowledge upon the issues and debates tending to displace it. He not only offers astute, illuminating readings of work by Stein, Zukofsky, Duncan, Olson, and others, but goes to great lengths to map the ground—intellectual, historical, technological, phenomenological—that makes these works matter. Such ground makes his own undertaking on behalf of poetic knowledge purposeful and necessary, and his mapping of it is not only informed, sophisticated and intellectually stunning but passionate and compelling as well." — Nathaniel Mackey, University of California, Santa Cruz