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The Poetic Turn of Culture, or the “Resistances of Structure”



Paul Friedrich (1996) argues that poetry helps us to understand the cultural assumptions of particular societies, as well as think about what culture is. What does it mean to say that culture is in poetry, or poetry in culture? And what are the consequences of such questions for theories of culture or structure? I qualify what Friedrich says about poetry and culture, taken separately, as well as the two interwoven sides of his equation—culture in poetry, and poetry in culture. Yet, Friedrich gives us a fundamental insight: that both culture and poetry possess structural elements while they may also be highly allusive. To unravel this paradox we can turn to the telling phrase of the poet, Heather McHugh (1996): poetry (and I would add culture) is “a making full of breakings.” Both rely on a “structure of resistances,” less a blueprint for action than a watercolor wash, at once elliptical and suggestive of both social memory and imagined futures.

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