Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Literary nonsense is often relegated to the nursery. I suggest that much can be gained from considering the genre of nonsense (called "Nonsense" herein) and linguistic "nonsense" as challenges to sense which do not result in a continual deferral of stable meaning. Such a view of Nonsense facilitates the reading of avant-garde and experimental poetry.;Chapter one provides a taxonomy of Nonsense criticism, and attempts to sort out the various, often conflicting, critical "definitions" of literary nonsense. Chapter two adapts and extends Julia Kristeva's theory of poetic language to make possible a substantially different reading of nonsense language, and provides sample readings of both poetry and Nonsense.;My third chapter tackles the relationship, rarely considered in criticism, between Nonsense and the body; it responds to Gilles Deleuze's suggestion that Nonsense has no direct link to the body. I note the distinction between a nonsense of the senses (perception), as in the writings of Zukofsky and Olson, and the metaphorical writing of the body of ecriture feminine, and consider how Nonsense relates to notions of a primal, phonic body imagined by writers like Ted Hughes.;Chapter four examines the reliance of Nonsense upon sound. After a brief consideration of Derrida's grammatological re-writing of language, I discuss how, by playing with sound, Nonsense demonstrates the musicalization of language, and argue that Nonsense is characterized by its imposition of another (in this case musical) way of making meaning within a verbal system. A range of poets and poetics are considered here, including Sitwell, Zukofsky and Sound Poetry.;My final chapter attempts to apply some of the principles of Nonsense to works and ideas of the "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E" poetry movement. Their approaches to materiality and reference are compared, and Nonsense's re-configuration of the sign into a palimpsest is posited.;Six practical applications of the principles elaborated in each chapter are given in "inter-chapters" which come between the theoretical chapters. These demonstrate the usefulness of Nonsense's balancing of reference and materiality, meaning and "meaninglessness," in reading many types of poetry.



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