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March 2007
240 pages  

6 x 9
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A Sun within a Sun
The Power and Elegance of Poetry
Lyu, Claire Chi-ah
A sustained reflection on the enterprise of poetry, on what poetry is and might be, that sees poetry as way of life at it most genuine.

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Claire Chi-ah Lyu is associate professor of French language and literature at the University of Virginia.
“The project of this engaging book is the rehabilitation of the terms 'beauty' and 'meaning' in a poststructuralist age. Lyu is well acquainted with theory, and she makes abundant use of Gilles Deleuze, Walter Benjamin, and Maurice Blanchot. Her real inspiration, however, comes from French poets like Baudelaire and Mallarmé. She makes fascinating use of Baudelaire's writings on hashish and Mallarmé's bizarre attempt to edit a fashion magazine . . . this book will prove to be a stimulating resource for those interested in French literature or aesthetics.”--Choice

“Lyu's project ultimately-and here is the place I find it to be truly daring-has to do with inventing a new way of reading: to retain the analytic rigor of the deconstructive tradition along with the possibility of an emotional literary responsiveness, and to keep the two engaged in a fine equilibrium, a tension in which each interrogates the other, keeps the other honest, as it were. This is of course to take great--though also necessary--risks in our post-deconstructive era. Claire Lyu's text invokes my whole reading self in a manner that little contemporary scholarship does.”--Janet Beizer, Harvard University

“A lyrical celebration of the savoir-vivre of lyricism, Claire Lyu's beautifully written study is a joyous affirmation of the centrality of poetry. Blended with insights borrowed from the sciences and grounded in contemporary theory, her passion for the poetic invites the reader to rediscover some of the most powerful of all poetic voices, and thus to awaken to present experience.”--Rosemary Lloyd, Indiana University

“A graceful and resolute examination of a concept many critics have abandoned--Beauty. Lyu takes 'the beautiful' seriously. She speaks of beauty's risks, and makes its drama compelling. Her readings are remarkable for their ingenuity and their penetration.”--Richard Terdiman, University of California, Santa Cruz

”If Baudelaire had the popular reach of Dr. Phil, this book would be an instant bestseller, so inspirational is its message, so articulate its conclusions. In evocative prose and far-reaching scholarship, Lyu attempts to distill the astounding, impulsive power of poetry--its spiritual value, its serious frivolity--and succeeds beautifully. The book’s lucid, engaging style, its impulse to seek beauty in everyday living, and its sheer emotional appeal to the sould all make ‘A Sun within a Sun’ a rare and worthwhile enterprise.”--Wade Edwards, Virginia Quarterly Review, July 23, 2006

”Both erudite and creative, insightful and challenging, ‘A Sun within a Sun’ is a model of the ‘living scholarship’ that its author believes all good poetry inspires.”—Steven Winspur, Dalhousie French Studies, Summer 2007

“Gracefully written . . . The beauty of her work is in the details, in the wide range of unexpected references, in the freshness of her approach.”—Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Spring-Summer 2009

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Table of Contents
Poetry Read a selection from this book

A Sun within a Sun is a sustained poetic reflection on the enterprise of poetry, on what poetry is and might be, not only for poet and theorist but also for reader, critic, teacher, and student. It sees poetry as life at its most genuine. Using Baudelaire and Mallarmé as principal examples, but drawing on a wide range of poets and thinkers, from Greek mythology to Poe, Rimbaud, Rilke, and Blake; from Nietzsche, Gilles Deleuze, and Italo Calvino to William James and Henry Miller, Claire Chi-ah Lyu challenges contemporary poetic theory, using precise and acute deconstruction of poetic imagery to reconstruct language so that it celebrates both meaning and beauty. A Sun within a Sun explores the notions of lightness and weight, discipline and indulgence, freedom and loss of will that are inherent in the poetic enterprise. It poses that lightness, discipline, freedom, and risk are essential for an approach to the enigma of beauty through an elegant shaping of form that holds true not only in poetry but also in pure science and even fashion. Poetry is a language within a language, a heightened and intense awareness of what words mean and what they can do, at its best creating an intensity of a sun within a sun. The poet and reader of poetry must take the risk Icarus took of approaching the sun, for without the risk there is no fulfillment. A Sun within a Sun seeks a shaping of form and content that discovers poetry as power, as a practice of life that honors and makes possible both thought and feeling.


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