This book is a comprehensive approach to interpreting Frank O’Hara’s highly influential work. Frank O’Hara’s poetry, initially inspired by the Modernist avant-garde, underwent a radical change around 1960. This change parallels the decline of Abstract Expressionism and the rise of Pop Art. The book includes historical contextualization as well as practical criticism. The author analyzes how Frank O’Hara could be regarded. As a Modernist poet, or as one who realizes that the aesthetic of High Modernism is on the wane, and is preparing himself for a paradigmatic change. Earlier poems are best seen as Modernist/avant-gardist, while the later ones as no less vanguard forays into uncharted territory. While the book takes up issues such as mimeticism, realism and abstraction in both poetry and painting, the boredom of the new as seen by Walter Benjamin, and the representational potential of the camp aesthetic, the main emphasis is on practical criticism, modes of reading O’Hara’s œuvre.
Introduction “Everything is impossible in a different way”
My main concerns in this book are how to read Frank O’Hara’s poetry and how to situate it within, or beyond, the aesthetic of Modernism, whose influence by the time of O’Hara’s death in 1966 had started to wane. Since Modernism was not limited to one aesthetic, or one ideology, this introduction narrows down their scope to those most relevant to O’Hara, while subsequent chapters focus on specific aspects of his work and its reception. Even as it grows consistently, the number of critical works on O’Hara’s poetry remains relatively modest, so instead of trying to generalize, I shall consider individual readers’ reflections, frustrations and illuminations. The term “Modernist aesthetic,” which appears throughout this book, serves as a convenient abbreviation, and is implicitly limited to those aspects of the various Modernist aesthetics O’Hara found important or inspirational.
The flourishing of vanguard art in the United States at a time when European art was reassessing its own reasons for being owes as much to the effects of World War II and the Holocaust on the Continent as to the cultural belatedness of pre-war America. The enthusiasm that Abstract Expressionism and, shortly afterwards, Pop Art, inspired, was to some extent the result of a conviction that Americans were at last world leaders in the arts, and not just everything else. Patriotic sentiments played a not-negligible role in the popularization by the media of the new art forms, State Department support for overseas exhibitions of Action Painting notwithstanding.1 Contemporary...
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