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Yeats and Postmodernism



“After reading Yeats and Postmodernism we are not only especially aware of the postmodern sensitivity to detail and variety in life, but also of the variety of critical approaches possible with respect to Yeats.”—Irish Literary Supplement


In the last twenty-five years, there has been a revolution in literary study in the English-speaking world involving two related shifts in understanding. One is the recognition that the study of literature requires a theoretical grounding, and the other is an acknowledgment that such a grounding is contingent upon the realization that ours is a postmodernist world. Despite much resistance from traditional literary historians and formalist critics, both of these assumptions influence many of today’s most forceful and insightful academic literary analyses.

Yet, Yeats scholarship has remained largely embedded in traditional modes of critical theory. For the first time, this collection of original essays applies a wide spectrum of contemporary critical theories to major works in the Yeats canon, serving as models of how to read and work with Yeats from a postmodernist/poststructuralist perspective.

R. B. Kershner, for example, uses Bakhtin and medical/psychological studies of dyslexia to consider the written versus the oral and the inner dialogization of Yeats’s writing; Cheryl Herr provides a juxtaposition of the major concepts of Foucault’s work, especially the notion of the episteme from The Order of Things as applied to Yeats’s Vision; and Ronald Schleifer considers the designing gestures of postmodern rhetoric found in Yeats, using the work of Lyotard, Jameson, O’Hara, and Derrida.

These and other provocative essays, which challenge us to rethink our most basic notions of how to read Yeats, offer ample evidence of the remarkable new perceptions that can be gained from applying poststructuralist criticism to Yeats.

Leonard Orr was the Lewis E. and Stella G. Buchanan Distinguished Professor of English at Washington State University. He is the editor of several volumes, including A Joseph Conrad Companion and Joyce, Imperialism, and Postcolonialism.


Open access edition funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Humanities Open Book Program.