Nonnarrative and History in Barrett Watten’s Under Erasure

Manuel Brito


This essay analyzes how Barrett Watten’s long poem, Under Erasure (1991), concentrates on erasure and displacement through the nonnarrative forms of the poem, in which diverse narrations of historical events are present to claim for their discontinuity and the author’s self-consciousness. In formulating those nonnarrative forms in relation to a time structure of continual leaps and absences in his The Constructivist Moment (2003), Watten’s vision of both poetry and history requires agency and the transformation of ideology. For him, nonnarrative poetry and history are strikingly similar in their preference for developing episodic remembering beyond periodization or conventional narrative frame. His approach calls for reflection on the connections of both identity and information as global processes of continual re-interpretation and erasure. More synchronic than diachronic, Under Erasure employs a repeated stanzaic structure throughout the whole poem. All this reveals Watten’s essential paradox: regardless of rigid formal structure, writing is continually generating diverse meanings. By means of these conceptual and formal principles, Watten has investigated how to gain access to a new representation through nonrepresentation, simply by radically re-historicizing what was once culturally reduced.

Keywords: Barrett Watten; Under Erasure; nonnarrative; history; Language Poetry movement

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