Ariel and the Police
Frank Lentricchia University of Wisconsin Press, 1989 Library of Congress PS3537.T4753Z6746 1988 | Dewey Decimal 811.52
In Ariel and the Police, Frank Lentricchia searches through the totalizing desires for power that have built and help to maintain tangible and intangible structures of confinement and purification within, and sometimes as, the house of modernism. And what he finds, in his lyrical effort to redeem the subject for history, is that someone lives there, slyly, sometimes even playfully defiant.
Different as they were as poets, Wallace Stevens, E. E. Cummings, Robert Frost, and Williams Carlos Williams grappled with the highly charged literary politics of the 1930s in comparable ways. As other writers moved sharply to the Left, and as leftist critics promulgated a proletarian aesthetics, these modernist poets keenly felt the pressure of the times and politicized literary scene. All four poets saw their reputations critically challenged in these years and felt compelled to respond to the new politics, literary and national, in distinct ways, ranging from rejection to involvement.
Beleaguered Poets and Leftist Critics closely examines the dynamics of these responses: what these four poets wrote—in letters, essays, lectures, fiction (for Williams), and most importantly, in their poems; what they believed politically and aesthetically; how critics, particularly leftist critics, reviewed their work; how these poets reacted to that criticism and to the broader milieu of leftism. Each poet’s response and its subsequent impact on his poetic output is a unique case study of the conflicting demands of art and politics in a time of great social change.
In recent years Nietzsche has emerged as a presiding genius of our intellectual epoch. Although scholars have noted the influence of Nietzsche's thought on Wallace Stevens, the publication of Early Stevens establishes, for the first time, the extent to which Nietzsche pervades Steven's early work. Concentrating on poems published between 1915 and 1935—but moving occasionally into later poems, as well as letters and essays—B. J. Leggett draws together texts of Stevens and Nietzsche to produce new and surprising readings of the poet's early work. This intertextual critique reveals previously undisclosed ideologies operating at the margins of Stevens's work, enabling Leggett to read aspects of the poetry that have until now been unreadable. Leggett's analysis demonstrates that the Nietzschean presence in Stevens brings with it certain assumptions that need to be made explicit if the form of the poetry is to be understood. Though many critics have discussed the concept of intertextuality, few have attempted a truly intertextual reading of a particular poet. Early Stevens not only develops an exemplary model of such a reading; it also provides crucial insights into Stevens's notions of femininity, virility, and poetry and elucidates the notions of art, untruth, fiction, and interpretation in both Stevens and Nietzsche.
The poems of Wallace Stevens teem with birds: grackles, warblers, doves, swans, nightingales, owls, peacocks, and one famous blackbird who summons thirteen ways of looking. What do Stevens’s evocations of birds, and his poems more generally, tell us about the relationship between human and nonhuman? In this book, the noted theorist of posthumanism Cary Wolfe argues for a philosophical and theoretical reinvention of ecological poetics, using Stevens as a test case.
Stevens, Wolfe argues, is an ecological poet in the sense that his places, worlds, and environments are co-created by the life forms that inhabit them. Wolfe argues for a “nonrepresentational” conception of ecopoetics, showing how Stevens’s poems reward study alongside theories of system, environment, and observation derived from a multitude of sources, from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Niklas Luhmann to Jacques Derrida and Stuart Kauffman. Ecological Poetics is an ambitious interdisciplinary undertaking involving literary criticism, contemporary philosophy, and theoretical biology.
HowtoLive,What to Do is an indispensable introduction to and guide through the work of a poet equal in power and sensibility to Shakespeare and Milton. Like them, Stevens shaped a new language, fashioning an instrument adequate to describing a completely changed environment of fact, extending perception through his poems to align what Emerson called our “axis of vision” with the universe as it came to be understood during his lifetime, 1879–1955, a span shared with Albert Einstein. Projecting his own imagination into spacetime as “a priest of the invisible,” persistently cultivating his cosmic consciousness through reading, keeping abreast of the latest discoveries of Einstein, Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Louis de Broglie, and others, Stevens pushed the boundaries of language into the exotic territories of relativity and quantum mechanics while at the same time honoring the continuing human need for belief in some larger order. His work records how to live, what to do in this strange new world of experience, seeing what was always seen but never seen before.
Joan Richardson, author of the standard two-volume critical biography of Stevens and coeditor with Frank Kermode of the Library of America edition of the Collected Poetry and Prose, offers concise, lucid captures of Stevens’s development and achievement. Over the ten years of researching her Stevens biography, Richardson read all that he read, as well as his complete correspondence, journals, and notebooks. She weaves the details drawn from this deep involvement into the background of American cultural history of the period. This fabric is further enlivened by her preparation in philosophy and the sciences, creating in these thirteen panels a contemporary version of a medieval tapestry sequence, with Stevens in the place of the unicorn, as it were, holding our attention and eliciting, as necessary angel, individual solutions to the riddles of our existence on this planet spinning and hissing around its cooling star at 18.5 miles per second.
Wallace Stevens dedicated his poetry to challenging traditional notions about reality, truth, knowledge, and the role of language as a means of representation. Rosu demonstrates that Stevens's experimentation with sound is not only essential to his poetics but also profoundly linked to the pragmatist ideas that informed his way of thinking about language. Her readings of Stevens's poems focus on revealing the dynamic through which meaning emerges in language patterns—a dynamic she calls "images of sound."
Rosu argues that the formal aspects of poetry are deeply ingrained in cultural realities and are, in fact, generated by their context. The sound pattern pervading Stevens's poems at once addresses and violates the reader's assumptions about the functioning of language and, along with them, ideas about reality, knowledge, and subjectivity. Sound is thus the starting point of an argument concerned with Stevens's epistemology and poetics—the way his poems insist on a movement past or through a normal poetic representation of the world to gesture toward a reality that lies outside or beyond systems of representation.
The relationship between sound and meaning isolated and analyzed in The Metaphysics of Sound in Wallace Stevens is firmly situated among critical debates concerning the poet's aesthetic and philosophical convictions. Rosu claims that Stevens's poetry is not ultimately about the powerlessness of language, nor is it a deconstructive enterprise of destabilizing culturally consecrated truths; rather it achieves meaning most frequently through patterns of sound. Sound helps Stevens make a deeply philosophical point in a language unavailable to philosophers.
Bevis addresses the most puzzling and least studied aspect of Wallace Stevens’ poetry: detachment. Stevens’ detachment, often associated by readers with asceticism, bareness, or withdrawal, is one of the distinguishing and pervasive characteristics of Stevens’ poetic work. Bevis agues that this detachment is meditative and therefore experiential in origin. Moreover, the meditative Stevens of spare syntax and clear image is in constant tension with the romantic, imaginative Stevens of dazzling metaphors and exuberant flight. Indeed, for Bevis, Stevens is a poet not of imagination and reality, but of imagination and reality, but of imagination and meditation in relation to reality.
In the summer of 1903, just before he turned twenty-four, Wallace Stevens joined a six-week hunting expedition to the wilderness of British Columbia. The adventure profoundly influenced his conceptions of language and silence, his symbolic geography, and his sensibilities toward wild nature as nonhuman “other.” The rugged western mountains came to represent that promontory of experience—“green's green apogee”—against which Stevens would measure the reality of all his later perceptions and conceptions and by which he would judge the purpose and value of works of the human imagination. Notations of the Wild views his poetry as a radical reimagining of the nature/culture dialectic and a reinstatement of its forgotten term—Nature.
Gyorgyi Voros focuses on three governing metaphors in Stevens' poems—Nature as house, Nature as body, and Nature as self. She argues that Stevens' youthful wilderness experience yielded his primary subject—the relationship between human beings and nonhuman nature—and that it spurred his shift from a romantic to a phenomenological understanding of nature. Most important, it prompted him to reject his culture's narrow humanism in favor of a singular vision that in today's terms would he deemed ecological.
Many feel that individualism, and the security it demands, define democracy and freedom. This belief is characteristic of the attitude that thinkers from John Dewey to Michel Foucault have criticized as "liberalist." In actuality, we share intimate associations with one another through contacts established by our bodies and even by language.
In Queering Cold War Poetry, Eric Keenaghan offers queer theory, queer studies, and literary theory a new political and conceptual language for reevaluating past and present high valuations of individualism and security. He examines four Cold War poets from Cuba and the United States—Wallace Stevens, José Lezama Lima, Robert Duncan, and Severo Sarduy. These writers, who lived in an era when homosexuals were regarded as outsiders or even security threats, offer critiques of nationalism and liberalism. In their struggles against state and cultural mandates that foreclosed positive estimations of vulnerability, Stevens, Lezama, Duncan, and Sarduy radically revised ethics and identity in their day. Their work exemplifies how much modernist poetry disseminates experiences of differences that challenge prevailing attitudes about individuals' relationships to one another and to their nations. Through studies of Cuban and U.S. lyric and poetics, Queering Cold War Poetry clears the way for imagining what it means to belong to a passionate and compassionate citizenry which celebrates vulnerability, searches for difference in itself and each of its constituent individuals, and identifies less with a nation than with a global community.
The letter from Jose Rodriguez Feo that prompted Stevens's poem was the third in a ten-year correspondence (1944-54) between the poet and the young Cuban, who quickly became Stevens's "most exciting correspondent." The two shared a Harvard education, both were anxious to see Stevens translated for a Cuban audience, and each had an enduring admiration for Santayana, whose awareness of the cultural tensions between the Northern and Southern hemispheres formed a basis for the protracted argument between Stevens as the practical, Protestant father and the passionate Rodriguez Feo. The Cuban's descriptions of his life at the Villa Olga, of his black-and-white cow Lucera and his mule Pompilio, delighted Stevens, as did his wide-ranging questions and pronouncements of literary matters. Unaware of the well-known Stevens reticence, Rodriguz Feo elicited a more informal, playful response than Stevens's other correspondents. Formal salutations soon gave way to "Dear Antillean," "Dear Wallachio."
Coyle and Filreis present the entire extant correspondence between the two men. The fifty-one Rodriguez Feo letters and ten of the numerous Stevens letters are printed here for the first time, and the exchange between the two is unusually complete. The work includes a critical introduction and complete annotation of the letters.
The poetry of Wallace Stevens has inspired generations of poets of every school. Here, for the first time, is assembled an astonishing variety of poems, by a full range of poets, inspired by Stevens’s life and work. In its own way, each poem exhibits the torque and feel of his poetry, yet each also is deeply personal and conveys how meaningful Stevens was and remains for poets and poetry.
Whether whimsical or serious, solemn or light, the poems in Dennis Barone and James Finnegan’s Visiting Wallace are sure to inspire delight and thought. Alan Filreis’s brilliant foreword asks us to consider whether there is another modern poet who means as much to contemporary verse as Stevens: “seventy-six poems giving us seventy-six distinct Stevenses to follow and succeed.”
Wallace Stevens and the Apocalyptic Mode focuses on Stevens’s doubled stance toward the apocalyptic past: his simultaneous use of and resistance to apocalyptic language, two contradictory forces that have generated two dominant and incompatible interpretations of his work. The book explores the often paradoxical roles of apocalyptic and antiapocalyptic rhetoric in modernist and postmodernist poetry and theory, particularly as these emerge in the poetry of Stevens and Jorie Graham.
This study begins with an examination of the textual and generic issues surrounding apocalypse, culminating in the idea of apocalyptic language as a form of “discursive mastery” over the mayhem of events. Woodland provides an informative religious/historical discussion of apocalypse and, engaging with such critics as Parker, Derrida, and Fowler, sets forth the paradoxes and complexities that eventually challenge any clear dualities between apocalyptic and antiapocalyptic thinking.
Woodland then examines some of Stevens’s wartime essays and poems and describes Stevens’s efforts to salvage a sense of self and poetic vitality in a time of war, as well as his resistance to the possibility of cultural collapse. Woodland discusses the major postwar poems “Credences of Summer” and “The Auroras of Autumn” in separate chapters, examining the interaction of (anti)apocalyptic modes with, respectively, pastoral and elegy.
The final chapter offers a perspective on Stevens’s place in literary history by examining the work of a contemporary poet, Jorie Graham, whose poetry quotes from Stevens’s oeuvre and shows other marks of his influence. Woodland focuses on Graham's 1997 collection The Errancy and shows that her antiapocalyptic poetry involves a very different attitude toward the possibility of a radical break with a particular cultural or aesthetic stance.
Wallace Stevens and the Apocalyptic Mode, offering a new understanding of Stevens’s position in literary history, will greatly interest literary scholars and students.
An overview of seventy years of Stevens criticism reveals a field marked by conflict and contradiction, both within and among critical works in their attempts to explicate and appropriate this major American poet. Stevens’ changing reception among the critical schools reveals much about the shifting nature of American literature and criticism in this century and illuminates the often polemical process of literary canon formation. Each chapter of this book examines a particular aspect of the 20th-century critical involvement with Wallace Stevens’ poetry, introduced by a discussion of the poet’s work as an arena for the convergence of modern critical tendencies and concerns.
First, the author examines the avant-garde milieu of early 20th-century modernism, which implicated Stevens in its melee of affiliations and enmities and which influenced critics’ ambivalent responses to his early work. She traces the critical controversies of the poet’s emergence before and during the 1920s, specifically the clash between New Humanism and aestheticism, and demonstrates how the quality of irony in Stevens’ work became a part of the critics’ general repertoire in their assessment of this poet.
The 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were decades during which Stevens criticism became dominated by the New Critical ideology. The turn toward deconstruction in Stevens criticism stands in part as a response to the New Critical dilemma, seen in the manner in which such critics as J. Hillis Miller and Joseph Riddel appropriated the concept of “decreation” to explain the sense of rupture in Stevens’ late poetry yet brought that concept to its logical end in a deconstructive paradigm.
Finally, Schaum identifies four major theoretical approaches to Stevens in the past two decades that continue to inform and direct the field of critical dissent and exploration in the 1980s. Such theories as Bloomian misprision, versions of hermeneutic criticism, redefinitions of the deconstructive enterprise, and the contemporary call for a new historicism continue the battle to appropriate Stevens as the “hard prize” of critical aims and investigations.
Often considered America’s greatest twentieth-century poet, Wallace Stevens is without a doubt the Anglo-modernist poet whose work has been most scrutinized from a philosophical perspective. Wallace Stevens and the Limits of Reading and Writing both synthesizes and extends the critical understanding of Stevens’s poetry in this respect. Arguing that a concern with the establishment and transgression of limits goes to the heart of this poet’s work, Bart Eeckhout traces both the limits of Stevens’s poetry and the limits of writing as they are explored by that poetry.
Stevens’s work has been interpreted so variously and contradictorily that critics must first address the question of limits to the poetry’s signifying potential before they can attempt to deepen our appreciation of it. In the first half of this book, the limits of appropriating and contextualizing Stevens’s “The Snow Man,” in particular, are investigated. Eeckhout does not undertake this reading with the negative purpose of disputing earlier interpretations but with the more positive intention of identifying the intrinsic qualities of the poetry that have been responsible for the remarkable amount of critical attention it has received.
Having identified the major sources of Stevens’s polysemy and of the seeming free-for-all of his critical afterlife, Eeckhout then deals with ten of the poet’s shorter works, including “The Idea of Order at Key West,” and proceeds to analyze some of the important limits of writing explored by the poetry. These limits all revolve around the nexus of perception, thought, and language that constitutes the core dynamic out of which Stevens’s poetry is generated and to which it continually returns.
Stevens’s work presents one of the most poignant opportunities for letting the reader feel the ever-problematic relationship between specificity and generality that is at the heart of all literary writing. By negotiating between the particularity of poetic detail and the universality of philosophical ideas, Wallace Stevens and the Limits of Reading and Writing seeks to contribute both to the study of Stevens and to the fields of literary theory and philosophy.