American Epic Consciousness During the Age of Late Capitalism
: A Reading of William Carlos Williams’s Paterson, Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems, and Edward Dorn’s Gunslinger as Conscious Post-War American epic poems

  • Safwa-Anfel Yargui

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The present thesis reads William Carlos Williams’s Paterson (1946-1958), Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems (1960-1975), and Edward Dorn’s Gunslinger (1968-1975) as conscious epic poems. The aim of this thesis is to demonstrate the possibility of a post-war American epic poem through the concept of epic consciousness. Epic consciousness provides a significant nuance to the reading of the post-war American epic by focusing on Paterson’s, The Maximus Poems’, and Gunslinger’s responsiveness to late capitalism, via various language forms; cultural manifestations; and conscious distortions of late capitalist media-related language; in addition to the epics’ conscious inclusion of the process of writing a post-war epic that requires a direct engagement with American materials. By focusing on interdisciplinary theoretical approaches, this thesis includes both socio-cultural literary theories as well as literary and epic approaches developed by Williams, Olson, and Dorn in their critical texts that respectively contextualise the late capitalist situation and the question of post-war American epic poetry. The emphasis on the possibility of an epic poem in the context of post-war late capitalist America, despite the prevailing scholarly scepticism regarding the existence of epic poetry after Milton’s Paradise Lost, is a significant point explored throughout this thesis. Chapter One explores Paterson’s consciousness of the value of the “American idiom” for the expression of American epic poetry, which is the reason why it engages in a quest to redefine the American epic, based on speech patterns of the community of Paterson. Epic consciousness, in Chapter One, establishes a new reading of Paterson as an epic that is conscious of its quest for a new post-war American epic poem. Chapter two investigates The Maximus Poems’ conscious inclusion of ancient epic forms, notably the Sumerian epic tradition, while seeking to establish a new post-war American epic tradition via Olson’s objectism, post-modernism, “istorin”, and the projective verse. Epic consciousness, in Chapter Two, provides a new epic perspective, that simultaneously acknowledges the value of ancient epic traditions, whilst experimenting with a new epic form appropriate for post-war late capitalist America. Chapter Three on Dorn’s Gunslinger changes the perception of epic poetry by rejecting all forms of literary authority, including the epic’s. Epic consciousness, in the chapter, challenges all forms of literary conventions and mocks the prevailing late capitalist culture in the 1960s and 1970s, in order to provide a renewed definition of the post-war American epic that is more appropriate to the American space and time. In examining the role of epic consciousness, this thesis prompts a re-thinking of the post-war American epic that is capable of auto-reflection, for the purpose of achieving a new sense of epic poetry in post-war late capitalist America
Date of Award26 Feb 2024
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDavid Rudrum (Main Supervisor) & Stephen Ely (Co-Supervisor)

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