This article responds to what the critic Daniel Kane has called “the scandalous paucity of attention” suffered by the twentieth-century poet, novelist, diarist, letter-writer and art critic James Schuyler as compared to the treatment of his fellow “New York School” writers, John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, and Kenneth Koch. More specifically, it challenges a widespread view that Schuyler was not a seriously political or social poet. My argument is that poetry by Schuyler which seems on the surface to consist of straightforwardly descriptive or lyrical evocations of American pastoral life or erotic passion is in fact highly expressive of tensions arising from the historically developing nature of labor, consumption, property and other forms of capital.
In my analysis of some of Schuyler’s love poetry, this work is read as the indirect confession of his own disquieting vulnerability toward aspects of capitalism that he shows to be embodied in his lover’s accelerated mode of being. Drawing on a conception of space-time from Marxist cultural geography, the article reveals the extent to which Schuyler anticipates this theoretical and empirical perspective through his erotic figuring of capitalism’s proleptic tendency to use up people and resources and to sprawl out in new untenable spatial forms to do so if necessary. This article is intended to supplement Christopher Nealon’s recent demonstration that “the workings of capitalism are a central subject matter of twentieth-century American poetry in English.” James Schuyler, I want to demonstrate, is a very significant—and an instructively troubled—writer of the experience of American capitalism.
KEYWORDS: James Schuyler, “New York School” poetry, space-time, Marxism, capitalism