Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Barrett Watten


This dissertation proposes that the literary fact, first discussed by Jurij Tynajnov in his 1924 essay "The Literary Fact," and later in "On Literary Evolution" (1929), names an intersection of literary formalism and social representation central to experimental modernist texts in the twentieth century. The poetics of literary fact that I propose finds its basis in Russian Formalist and Frankfurt School theory and reflects several important twentieth century social moments to illustrate how historical and social facts seek poetic form. In my use of the term, "fact" is the materiality of history as it moves from the social world, carrying with it the index of its own production, through to literary form. Radical form thus becomes a mode of social rethinking for conditions like gender, race, queerness, and nationality as they relate to historical context and individual authorship. In turn, the literary fact helps us to see how experimental texts are not purely self-conscious formalist gestures but are, instead, crucially connected to the social and historical periods that produced them. I propose that form follows fact, and thus that a study of the literary fact can open even the most radically anti-realist texts to socially based readings.

Gertrude Stein's Geography and Plays incorporates into its form the facts of World War One, its ruptures and transformations, and joins them with sociality as Stein has experienced it to create a way of knowing the war that is both a model of relating to history and a language to bring forward into future social and textual investments. Likewise, Langston Hughes's Montage of a Dream Deferred produces not simply an illustration of black modernity with a bebop soundtrack, but a record of the emergence of modern blackness freed from American capitalist narratives of progress to tell modernity in its own terms. Jack Spicer's practice of dictation becomes more than alien transmissions reaching a poet fatally estranged from the pre-Stonewall, Cold War social world; Heads of the Town up to the Aether documents spaces outside of language that Spicer called "love" in the facts this text makes literary. Spicer's devotion to the idea of (queer) love implored poets to create a world that they would not be consumed by. Finally, Nan Goldin's photographs cease to be simple snapshots of a now mythologized bohemia; beyond their transformation into documents of the loss of that bohemia to the early days of AIDS, we can see how these images disclose the facts of the collective production of both a community's history and its possible future. Thus, experimental forms transform both documentary evidence and material language into facts that accumulate, creating new knowledges.