Ashbery’s Soonest Mended: Talking Things Out and the Qualifications Therein that Lead Us to Truth

In Soonest Mended, through a humbling out of self by means of a sequence of self-referential questions and answers, through a process of bringing forth by rejecting and flipping answers and questions around, through a discourse that levels itself out by qualification as it proceeds, John Ashbery achieves a beautiful and stunning sublimation of self through the mere act of talking, thereby discovering, almost as if by accident, the nature of the poetic truth he had, apparently, been aiming for all along.

I posit that Ashbery hones a reductionist, almost mathematical, technique for approaching the truth. His speakers engage in a series of approximations to the “truth” using argumentative qualifications. It is precisely these qualifications that allow the speakers to wend their way to truth by discovering, recovering, and discarding the many “truths” — these weaker version of themselves — that argumentatively lie along the path of such self-referential discourse. This is a key technique used within almost all of Ashbery’s poetry: talk that uncovers truth by qualifying itself at every turn.

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