Modernist Poetry and the Limitations of Materialist Theory

The Importance of Constructivist Values
By Charles Altieri



In Modernist Poetry and the Limitations of Materialist Theory, Charles Altieri skillfully dissects the benefits and limitations of Materialist theory for works of art. He argues that while Materialist theory can intensify our awareness of how art can foreground sensual dimensions of experience, it does not yet serve as an adequate description of much of what we experience as mental activity—especially in the domain of art, which depends on active imaginations and constructive energies for which no Materialist theory is yet adequate. He carefully shows how constructive imaginations operate in a range of modernist poetry that is especially attentive to the mind’s powers because it provides alternatives to Impressionist sensibilities, which thrive on Materialist modes of attention. These modernists turned to versions of Hegel’s idea of the “inner sensuousness,” stressing how a work’s very construction can provide different levels of sensuousness inseparable from the work of self-consciousness.

Contributor Bios
Charles Altieri holds the Stageberg Chair in the Department of English at UC Berkeley. He is the author of twelve books, including Wallace Stevens and the Demands of Modernity: Toward a Phenomenology of Value and Painterly Abstraction in Modernist American Poetry: The Contemporaneity of Modernism.