My article offers a reading of the relations between materialist poetics and global universals in William Carlos Williams’s 1944 collection The Wedge. In this keystone collection of mid-century modernism, the poet “represent[s] the negative” through a wide range of scenes of destruction as anticipation of and response to the Second World War and the nuclear age. I focus on the libidinal dynamics of Williams’s attention to destruction as prelude to cultural renewal in his work, seeing the “self-shattering” of sexuality, after Leo Bersani, as a life-long aesthetic concern. At the same time, I argue for the importance of The Wedge in periodizing, historicist terms, while recovering from the archive under-acknowledged value in work from the poet’s middle period. The Wedge, in my view, anticipates the turn to language in poetry, but in historicist as much as formalist terms; in both cases “language splits off from matter as the remains of what can be looked at but not comprehended.” Similarly, I see ­Williams’s thematic of destruction in the little-known cover image of The Wedge, from the celebrated Cummington Press edition, by Wightman Williams. My approach thus offers interarts comparisons along with a revisionary consideration of the relations between history, violence, formalism, and what I regard as the anti-formalist unity of The Wedge. Throughout my discussion, a concern with art’s materiality leads directly to Williams’s invocation of universals, connecting Williams and Critical Theory in the same period.

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