“Experience and Experimental Writing“ by Paul Grimstad


Grimstad, Paul. Experience and Experimental Writing. New York: Oxford UP, 2013.

Book Review, by Eric Earnhardt

Paul Grimstad’s Experience and Experimental Writing (Oxford 2013) treats works by Emerson, Poe, Melville, and Henry James as compositional experiments, responses to and constitutive of the ongoing “loop of perception, action, [and] consequences” that William James and John Dewey defined as “experience” against the “correspondence model” of squaring subjective inner images with objective outer things. Grimstad employs historical, biographical, and philosophical/aesthetic criticism to account for experiences of writers that bred experiments that created linguistic conditions for particular literary experiences: “the wording of the world into something shareable and meaningful.” The slipperiness of experience, the abrupt abstraction of concluding terms from each chapter, and the imprecise (sometimes anachronistic) relation of pragmatism to the chosen authors (especially Melville), suggests that this first book could have better refined its own bravely experimental method. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy for its discussion of Poe’s “The Raven” and for its effort to extend the worthwhile project of Richard Poirier and others of developing rigorous, pragmatic approaches to literary texts.