Ordkonst och levnadskonst: Det skrivande subjektet i John Ashberys, Yves Bonnefoys och Inger Christensens diktning

Translated title of the contribution: The Art of Poetry and the Art of Existence: The Writing Subject in the Poetry of John Ashbery, Yves Bonnefoy and Inger Christensen

Erik Erlanson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

1365 Downloads (Pure)


The chief aim of this thesis is to investigate the use of language called poetry during the second half of the 20th century and how the writing subject is implicated in it. Building on the theoretical perspectives enabled by Michel Foucault’s late work on the technologies of the self, I analyze the practices of writing in John Ashbery’s, Inger Christensen’s and Yves Bonnefoy’s poetry.
The introductory chapter discusses Foucault’s work on the history of the technologies of the self and what perspectives it provides for the study of 19th- and 20th-century literature. It opens for a study not concerned with the meaning of poetry or particular poems. The theoretical framework enables a focus on the mode of subjection at work in the writing and reading of poetry; on the forms of subjectivity produced and on the fields of experience enabled. In order to analyze such questions, the thesis investigates how and under what conditions the three poets problematize what they are and do qua poets. The second chapter turns to Ashbery’s writings on art and poetry as well as his writing of poetry, in particular the two major long poems, ”Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” (1974) and ”Fragment” (1966). The first is analyzed as a problematization of poetic and artistic activity and the second is read in relation to a certain, for the American context specific, idea of what lyric poetry is and does, also elaborated in the chapter. The problem in the center of this chapter is the historical conditions of possibility for avant-garde poetry, in Ashbery’s sense, i.e., for the production of something unrecognizable. The third chapter is primarily concerned with Bonnefoy’s early books of poetry, Du movement et de l’immobilité de Douve (1953) and Hier regnant desert (1958), and collection of essays, L’Improbable (1959). In focus are the relations between subject, language and the sensuous reality, that which simply is. Bonnefoy’s poetry and poetics are analyzed in order to elaborate what the writing subject, given the negativity of language, has to do in order to establish a relation, be touched by the sensuous reality. The chapter dealing with Christensen, finally, turns to her idea of poetry as a form of knowledge and investigates under what conditions knowledge is produced in the form of a poem. Through an analysis of her poetics, it is demonstrated that writing subject function as a medium for knowledge production rather than as its agent. In order, however, to function as such, a preparatory work, an askēsis, transforming the subject must be performed. In Christensen’s poetry book it (1969) a number of exercises that initiate to a form of life in which poetry may be produced are identified and analyzed.
In the concluding chapter a common rule that governs the three poets is elaborated. Although their poetry differ ostensibly, it is argued that insofar as the subject is implicated in their practices, it is not primarily an object for knowledge, but a material to work with and modify in order to gain access to a certain form of experience. In this respect, their poetry constitutes an art of existence. The relation between poetry and life that follows is, furthermore, traced back and related to earlier conceptions of poetry, in particular to French symbolism.
Translated title of the contributionThe Art of Poetry and the Art of Existence: The Writing Subject in the Poetry of John Ashbery, Yves Bonnefoy and Inger Christensen
Original languageSwedish
Awarding Institution
  • Division of Comparative Literature
  • Schönström, Rikard, Supervisor
  • Tenngart, Paul, Supervisor
Award date2017 Feb 4
Place of PublicationLund
Print ISBNs978-91-88473-23-3
Electronic ISBNs978-91-88473-24-0
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Jan 4

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Literature Studies


  • 20th Century Poetry, Aesthetics, Agamben, Arts of Existence, Avant-garde, Ashbery, Bonnefoy, Christensen, Experience, Foucault, Subjection, Subjectivation


Dive into the research topics of 'The Art of Poetry and the Art of Existence: The Writing Subject in the Poetry of John Ashbery, Yves Bonnefoy and Inger Christensen'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this