the perennial discontent with language


In her 1967 essay “The Aesthetics of Silence,” Susan Sontag points to a growing tendency among writers to create work that tries “to out-talk language, or to talk oneself into silence.” This “devaluation of language”—due in part to the “unlimited ‘technological reproduction’ of both printed language and speech” as well as “the degenerations of public language within the realms of politics and advertising and entertainment”—has only increased over the past four decades. So, too, has artists’ tendency to reclaim mass-cultural language and use it against itself. Ben Lerner’s Angle of Yaw and Sarah Manguso’s Siste Viator, two second books from a pair of our finest younger poets, exemplify two ways in which poets repurpose “contaminated” public language to make of it something insightful, instructive, consoling, and even beautiful.

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