Textual Superimposition and Illegibility in the Poetic Text


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This practice-led thesis examines the use of textual superimposition and illegibility in innovative poetic texts. The introductory pages provide a taxonomy
of the use of textual superimposition in both the literary and visual arts from
1909. The thesis then moves in Chapter One to an analysis of the book
Condensations by Nathan Walker to provide a systematised method for reading
texts that feature overprinted and illegible areas. Drawing from structuralist and
formalist modes of literary criticism, particularly that of Veronica Forrest-Thomson in Poetic Artifice, the thesis provides a schematic by which the reader
can attempt to negotiate and naturalise the textually superimposed text via
normative reading modes.
Following this, Chapter Two contains a discussion on textual
superimposition and illegibility as a graduated process by which the legible text
is made illegible and analyses the consequences for the text of such processes.
The discussion focuses on Rosmarie Waldrop’s Camp Printing and considers the
overprinted text as an object produced incrementally. The chapter ends with an
argument focussed on the shift of the text from ‘textual’ to ‘figural’ space.
The final chapter, Chapter Three, shifts theoretical focus in an analysis of the use of illegibility in the collagic poems of Susan Howe in the book Debths. The discussion draws on Derridean notions of the archival mark to consider the
collage as a mode of resistance to the traditional formation and stewardship of
the archive. This chapter also considers collage in the context of what Lyotard
terms the ‘developmental human’ and reflects on textual superimposition as a subversive act designed to resist the suppression of the individual by an overarching capitalist superstructure.
The thesis also contains a statement of poetics and a number of creative works that have been produced as part of the practice-led methodology. These
works constitute a central body of evidence and sit alongside the exegesis as a
fundamental method of investigation. Their varied forms make explicit the
consequences for the word of textual superimposition and evidence the function
of the illegible in innovative poetic texts.
Date of Award7 Nov 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorJAMES BYRNE (Director of Studies) & ZAYNEB ALLAK (Supervisor)


  • illegibility
  • textual
  • superimposition
  • innovative
  • poetry
  • writing
  • process
  • printing
  • poetics
  • collage

Cite this