Expanding on the concept of essaying democracy as evinced in the post/modern intertextual relations between Williams, Maxine Hong Kingston and Richard Rodriguez around In the American Grain, this article deploys a similar intertextual approach to illuminate a related mode of poetic history enacted by Williams, Walter Benjamin, Joshua Corey and Susan Howe. Linking Benjamin’s philosophy of history, the concept of aura in the work of art, theory of translation and related notions of tactility, it argues that the transtemporal kinship of these different writers is forged by a shared understanding of poetic history as a countervailing force to the limits of empiricism and dangers of official history—an aesthetic and ethical mode of translation that, however fleetingly, strives to touch the truth of the past.

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