Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Journalism and Creative Writing, Faculty of Creative Arts


This thesis examines the poetry and critical writings of the US Modernist poet, Louis Zukofsky (1904-1978), focussing on his conflation of the ideas of Spinoza and Marx in his poetic practise. It surveys Zukofsky’s poetic and critical writings, but pays specific attention to the long poem, “A”, that spanned the majority of Zukofsky’s writing life. The contention of this thesis is that “A” develops a Marxist politics that derives from his reading of Marx through the critical lens of Spinoza. This thesis differs significantly from the current critical discourse surrounding Zukofsky’s work, which argues that while he is evidently and even dogmatically a Marxist in his early works, he is distinctly different in his later works. The consensus view is that Zukofsky began his writing life trying to develop a political, Marxist mode, but this was later replaced by a mode derived from Spinoza that was concerned with ethics, and not politics. Further, these two distinct philosophical paradigms are considered to correspond to two different poetic modes: the Modernist and Postmodern. It is widely believed that accompanying the turn away from politics and towards ethics as the foundation for his poetic practise, Zukofsky’s work increasingly displays characteristically Postmodern techniques: the lack of an authoritative lyrical subject; a widely connotative approach to meaning-making; privileging the subject of the reader. Again, this is closely identified with the progression of “A”. This thesis attempts to challenge these critical assumptions: rather than allow for distinctions between ‘early’ and ‘late’, Marxist and Spinozist, political and ethical, Modernist and Postmodern works, as though Zukofsky lived two lives as a poet, it proposes a model for conceiving his life’s work as a progression towards developing a scientific and subject-less Marxist discourse that was derived from conflating Spinoza and Marx. The work of political philosopher, Louis Althusser, is utilised in support of this approach: the example of Althusser illustrates a radical Marxist reading of Spinoza, and a Spinozan reading of Marx. This is particularly helpful because it defines an appropriate vocabulary and model by which to read Zukofsky’s work. This thesis contends that Althusser and Zukofsky offer similar understandings of Spinoza and Marx. It also argues that Zukofsky’s poetry is always politically Marxist, and poetically Modernist and scientific. The implication of a critical vocabulary that does not require the application of Postmodern theories to explain the poetry is as follows: rather than deferring to Postmodern ideas, it is possible to understand phenomena such as a residual lyrical ‘I’, and Zukofsky’s seeming infinitude of language, in relation to Spinoza and Marx alone. This represents a demonstrable shift from the existing critical discourse surrounding his writing.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.