This article argues that it is only by detailed attention to Williams’s economic thinking in Paterson that we can adequately account for tensions which animate the poem right down to what Williams called “the lay of the syllables.” In particular, it demonstrates how the guiding terms of Williams’s “variable foot” poetics emerged from Paterson’s tense negotiation of political economic themes. The article draws on Walter Benjamin’s account of allegory to show that the poem’s precarious balance between earnest and mock, optimism and jeremiad, play and mourning and its obsessive, auratic accumulation of fragments, monsters and curios can be understood within a much longer history of modernity. Placed alongside Benjamin’s speculative sociological insights, Williams’s late baroque can thus be read as a singular affective exposure of the unresolved antagonisms informing the lived experience of the modern subject.

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