3. Lyn Hejinian and Russian Estrangement

Through an examination of US Language poet Lyn Hejinian’s encounter with Russia, this chapter argues that estrangement––far from being the product of a free-floating transnational modernism––remains inextricable from everyday experiences of strangeness and from the collective cross-cultural read­ings that shape those experiences. In The Guard (1984), Oxota (1991), and Leningrad (1991), Hejinian came to conflate Viktor Shklovsky’s concept of estrangement (ostranenie) with the estranging effect of Russia itself and, in so doing, developed her poetics of the person, which linked poetic estrangement with everyday life. Everyday life in Russia took on qualities that Hejinian associated with estrangement: the dissolution of defined objects and essential selfhood and the dynamic experience she called “personhood.” Hejinian found in this dynamic personhood a means to oppose essentialist national identities, so that Russian estrangement also became central to her utopian vision of bridging the Cold War divide between Russia and the United States.

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