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Exceeding Determinacy in the Language of Personhood

‘Citizens United’, Corporations, and the Poetry of Timothy Donnelly and Thomas Sayers Ellis

Stefanie Mueller

Pages 301 - 322


By a fiction of the law, corporations are legal persons in the United States, and in 2010, the
U.S. Supreme Court ruled in ‘Citizens United v. FEC’ that they have a right to free speech, as
protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. In two poems published the same year
—Timothy Donnelly’s “The Cloud Corporation” and Thomas Sayers Ellis’s “Skin, Inc.”—the
corporation is used as a metaphor to explore the self. For Donnelly, the corporate person’s intangibility
as well as its inherent collectivity is a trope for the self in a consumer society, while
Ellis uses the corporate metaphor to criticize the position of the black poet in the contemporary
literary field. By drawing on the ruling in ‘Citizens United’, this article concludes that both poems
criticize the infiltration of economic categories into the language of personhood.


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