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Gardner Wallace Stevens EJP

Gardner Wallace Stevens EJP

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Feature Article Wallace Stevens and Metaphysics: The Plain Sense of Things

Sebastian Gardner
The aim of this paper is to consider a view of the relation of art to reality that is to be found in the poetry of Wallace Stevens, and to bring out the metaphysics with which this view is coupled. Stevens’ is the extreme, romantic view that art is, or may aspire to being, a fundamental ground of value in human life, perhaps the fundamental ground - a view that we come across in various contexts but do not often pause to consider seriously, even though the relation of art to value and reality is a properly philosophical subject, and visionary romanticism an important part of our cultural legacy. Stevens’ poetic realization of this view commands attention in the first place, of course, because of its extraordinary quality, but the reason for regarding it as having especial philosophical interest is that Stevens represents himself as making the case for the romantic view of art in terms that are self-consciously philosophical. Although the discussion that follows focuses exclusively on Stevens, its substance can be detached from Stevens himself and regarded as an exploration of one of the perennial ways in which we are disposed, or tempted, to think about art.’ Looking to literature for philosophy, or even just looking for the philosophy in literature, is a practice which violates a number of familiar strictures. The best critics writing on Stevens quite reasonably underline the dangers of confusing aesthetic and non-aesthetic concerns - Frank Kermode for instance complaining that the mountains of philosophically orientated criticism to which Stevens’ ’meta-metaphysical mutter’ has given rise, approach the poetry as if it were a set of fragmentary Gnostic texts that simply need to be taken apart and reassembled in a more perspicuous order.’ Other critics go to the opposite extreme: on their view Stevens’ achievement is to carry poetry, as one such anti-philosophical critic puts it, ‘as near a tonepoem, in the musical sense, as language can come’, in which only the ‘tone of truth’ is important, and the metaphysical rhetoric is without substance, serving only to create ’a surface equivalent to e m ~ t i o n ’Such aesthetic purism seems .~ excessive, for it is unnecessary, in order to avoid assimilating Stevens’ poetry to philosophy, to assimilate it instead to the pure poetry of Mallarm6 (a conception of poetry which Stevens himself rejects, describing it as ’poetry of the ivory tower’ that has ‘nothing to do with being a l i ~ e ’ ~ ) . There are in any case special reasons why it is permissible to look for the philosophy in Stevens’ poetry - and indeed necessary, for a complete grasp of its meaning - provided this is undertaken after the main job of criticism has been
European Iournal of Philosophy 2:3 ISSN 0 9 6 M 3 7 3 p p 322-344 IJF, UK, and 238 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02142 USA.

0 Basil Blackwell Ltd. 1994. 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4

Wallace Stevens and Metaphysics


done and accords with the considered judgement of the critical community. These reasons will emerge in due course, but the basic justification for adopting a philosophical perspective on Stevens is relatively straightforward. Philosophical concepts and propositions are the chief explicit subject-matter of Stevens’ poetry, the effectiveness of which depends upon mobilizing and grasping whole philosophical thoughts, which cannot be reduced to rhetorical effects: so that to regard Stevens’ ’meta-metaphysical mutter’ as merely rhetorical is as arbitrary as regarding, say, the treatment of Nature in romantic poetry as merely rhetorical and external to its meaning. And to this it may be added that, on the plausible assumption that metaphysics and poetry are both concerned with the fundamental contours of human experience, it seems reasonable to suppose that poetry, at least poetry of a certain kind, may embody patterns of thought that can be re-articulated in explicitly philosophical terms. My proposed line of interpretation of Stevens is fairly simple and intended to identify the overall vector of his poetic project, without beginning to do justice to its subtleties and extraordinary suggestiveness; the quotations that I have used are by and large the plainer statements found in Stevens‘ prose, rather than his poetry (which it would take too long to set out and interpret).

Poetry, philosophy, and religion
It is generally accepted, in writing on Stevens, that he may be regarded, like Yeats and Eliot, as a modernist inheritor of the romantic tradition, one whose poetry is in part a reflection on the nature and significance of romanticism. But Stevens differs from Yeats and Eliot - and from Pound and Auden, and perhaps any other poet in the English language - in reflecting on the nature of poetry in terms that are self-consciously philosophical. The aspect of art that is of overriding interest to Stevens is its capacity to play a revelatory, meaningsustaining role, and take up a position as a successor to religious belief. This massively ambitious, arguably extravagant conception of poetry and art claimed by, for example, Shelley in his Defence of Poetry, and by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy - has led to a great deal of writing in aesthetics which attempts to explain, in metaphysical terms, how art can be thought of as redemptive and a vehicle of truth. By way of illustration, one might cite Clive Bell’s bold and forthright ‘metaphysical hypothesis‘, to the effect that the significance of significant form in art consists in its power to deliver acquaintance with Reality, ‘that which lies behind the appearance of all things’, ’the thing in i t ~ e l f ‘ . ~ Much writing in this vein is doubtless highly unsatisfactory, but it is certainly not pointless, and it testifies to the way in which art disposes us to attempt to articulate a metaphysic that would account for and vindicate the strong claims that art is experienced as making. It is in this spirit that Stevens’ poetry takes metaphysical notions as his main poetic material and makes the metaphysics of art the principal subject of his poetry. By way of background, regarding Stevens’ actual sources of philosophical
@ Basil Blackwell Ltd. 1994

the biographical data concerning Stevens’ (qualified) attachment to the Lutheran church of his Dutch ancestors in Pennsylvania.324 Sebastian Gardner material. .6 Yet Stevens submitted a brief essay reflecting on the poetic nature of philosophical ideas to a philosophy j ~ u r n a l and his representative view is that the materials and aims .’ (Stevens seems to have found the difference between poetry and philosophy harder to formulate than their underlying identity. a connection between poetry and religious faith. of Heidegger and Wittgenstein . ‘may be its ~uperior’:~ poetry may prove better at integrating the ethical with the speculative ambitions of philosophy. he read and absorbed some or much of Emerson. . On one rare occasion. in the Platonic sense. is synonymous with God. at least second-hand.16 In this way ‘It is possible to establish aesthetics in the individual mind as immeasurably a greater thing than r e l i g i ~ n .) In the end. there is no doubt that in addition to knowing the great works of classical and modern philosophy. it is probably the purpose of each of us to write poetry to find the good which. including Kant.~ of his poetry are one with those of philosophy. asserting that his work has ‘no serious contact with philosophy’. Santayana. ” ~ To all of these statements testifying to Stevens’ conception of poetry as a renovation of religious faith one might add. that philosophy is ’the official view of being’ and poetry ’the unofficial view of being’. l5 He adds that it must do so on the condition which underlines the kind of objective validity that Stevens sought for poetry that the substitution of poetry for God should not occur just ’in the individual mind’. that poetry differs from philosophy only in so far as ’the probing of the philosopher is deliberate’ and ’the probing of the poet is fortuitous’. it would be a philosophical work. for Stevens poetry is ‘at least the equal of philosophy’ and. is the loss of belief in the sort of God in Whom we were all brought up to belie~e’. and that he had an interest in and knew something. Also to be stressed is Stevens’ explicit sense of.’~ find Stevens asserting that ‘the major poetic idea in the We world is and always has been the idea of God’ and that ’God and the imagination are one. and his conversion. Bergson. Stevens sternly disavows any philosophical pretensions. if he could write the great ‘poem of poems’. for what it is worth. even. to Catholicism.’l4 Stevens defines the following programme for poetry: ’The poetry that created the idea of God will either adapt it to our different intelligence. their difference lying at the level of approach. Regarding the relation of his poetry to philosophy. 1994 .’” In a letter Stevens confesses that his ’trouble. Nietzsche and Vaihinger. William James. poetry must ’take the place / Of empty heaven and its hymns’: ‘in an age of disbelief [. ’’ @ Basil Blackwell Ltd.] it is for the poet to supply the satisfactions of belief‘.amounting in all to a fair diversity of philosophical ideas and outlooks. on his deathbed. and the trouble of a great many people. Stevens has much to say. or make it unnecessary’.” Stevens describes poetry as ‘a compensation for what has been lost’ ’in an age in which disbelief is so profoundly prevalent’:” ‘While it can lie in the temperament of very few of us to write poetry in order to find God. There are statements to the effect that. or create a substitute for it. and intention to uphold.

personalized mythology on the old. wholly natural fact. Stevens.20 there are a plurality of seasonal worlds . and interconversion of ideas and images. Stevens’ poetry is richly laced with images. Each seasonal world is not just the differently coloured world of a different mood. Stevens would not have endorsed Eliot’s insistence on a division of labour: ’for a poet to be a philosopher he would have to be virtually two men [. Stevens‘ mundo I now want to sketch the poetic world which is set up by Stevens’ poetry.Wallace Stevens and Metaphysics 325 It is worth noting how Stevens differs from the other great modernist poets on the question of the relation of poetry to religion and belief. The seasonal worlds are interrelated in so far as each refers implicitly to the others. unlike Eliot. And Stevens. and remained in this respect a full-bloodedly romantic artist. or consist in. by contrast. The narrative in Stevens’ poetry consists in movements between the different seasonal worlds. For this reason the successive seasonal worlds in Stevens’ poetry exclude one another not just psychologically but also conceptually. It is when he philosophizes upon his own poetic insight that he is apt to go wrong. Within Stevens’ total poetic world. seeks to break cleanly with the past. and employs a different criterion of reality. regarded poetry as necessary to create belief. but he is distinguished from his admired Symbolist and Imagist precursors by his refusal to identify the consummation of his poems with an autonomous symbolic image:2’ his poetic symbols do not transcend the claims of the intellect but rather remain embedded in a discursive. and their temporal order symbolizes a conceptual order. unlike Yeats. in the sense that each individual poem is conceived as a contribution to his writing of one great poem. welcome. or attempt to model a new. representing it sometimes as a form of imprisonment. this temporal movement symbolizing changes in the subject’s sense of reality. the world of winter representing itself as a negation of the world of summer and vice versa. impersonal amplification of ideas. and does not either recycle old mythologies. as Eliot was not.through which the protagonist of his poetry moves in a cyclical fashion.] A poet may borrow a philosophy or he may do without one. what he calls his mundo. And towards the fact that we circulate between seasons. at other times as a p e n . .’” Stevens. Stevens conceived of his poetry as forming a whole. movements of thought: in a Stevens poem there is no drama or psychology apart from the meditative. autumn. reflective context.22) This is not to say that Stevens’ poetic 0 Basil Blackwell Ltd. but rather involves a different identification. of different conceptions of reality. 1994 . summer. was not able to find a faith and settle the question of belief independently of poetry. . The protagonist of Stevens’ poetry is a meditator.of spring. whose transitions between seasonal worlds result from. Stevens is ambivalent. (Stevens says that images should have a ’realistic explanation’ and that ’the poetry of thought should be the supreme poetry’. and winter .

the sense that we can touch and feel a solid reality which does not wholly dissolve itself into the conceptions of our own minds’. mythology and the residue of projection. So in a sense winter signifies our annihalation: the snow man sees ’nothing’ and is ‘nothing himself‘. a world characterized by ’the absence of i m a g i n a t i ~ n ’ .The winter world is not the everyday world. As it might also be put. the contracted world involves exchanging the world. exert a mournful power’. it induces consciousness of ’poverty’. The significances of each seasonal world for Stevens are roughly as follows. For Stevens. created through disposing of the clutter of ordinary beliefs. Because the winter world confronts the poetic subject as a reality that is complete and self-sufficient. in which the amical rooms and halls had taken on a look of hardness and emptiness’.27Accordingly. We arrive at the world of winter via an operation of subtraction on the ordinary world (Stevens calls it abstraction): the world of winter is a contraction of the ordinary world. anthropocentric features. and it exposes the features of the ordinary world that make it humanly habitable as illusion. ’objects.30The problem is that fulfilment of this need brings in its wake frustration of our most fundamental need for a habitable world. in the sense of something that a human subject can properly ‘be in‘. 1994 . Stevens writes: Basil Blackwell Ltd. Stevens describes it as ’a world that does not move for the weight of its own heaviness’: in ’this complete poverty’. stark reality Stevens regards as at once uninhabitable and beautiful. to know the world as it is in itself it meets our ‘need’ for ’contact with reality as it impinges upon us from outside. for mere reality: worldhood is subtracted from reality and we cease to inhabit a world. in a home that seemed deserted. though solid. habits and practices.326 Sebastiun Gardner protagonist is a bare thinker without desire: his desires are tied to his conceptions of reality and manifest themselves in his thought. freshness and absence of human disorder. like children without parents. rendering the human subject powerless to imagine into reality those features that are necessary to make it habitable. Stevens’ vision of the world of winter may be identified with reality as conceived in any metaphysic that aims to exclude.29 This is quite different from a sense of the world as tragic. a key term for Stevens: poverty is awareness of the indifference of reality to human concerns (‘fact in its total bleakness’28). and though static.as in Stevens’ much-anthologized poem ‘The snow man’ is the world that Stevens starts from. have no shadows. for everyone alive’. those features of reality which have a human face. ~ ~ This bare.25We have been ‘left feeling dispossessed and alone in a solitude. The world of winter .26This ‘pressure of reality’ is ’spiritually violent. by reduction or elimination. his primary season (it takes us back to ’an immaculate beginning’ and realizes what he calls ’the first idea’23). which would give it a human reference. It is rather a first attempt to fulfil our desire for reality. on account of its purity. it may be said. but the world stripped of all human. the movement from the everyday world to the contracted world is neither an accident nor the result of an arbitrary error.

~' And what art does in recasting the world amounts to more than merely redescribing it. has the power of transfiguration. but it falls under their shadows. the poem of poems. The transfigured world is furthermore identical with the world as Christianity has in the past been able to conceive it.31 327 The world of summer. is the world apprehended in the full blaze of what Stevens calls imagination.but it is clear that for Stevens art in general. abundant. 1994 . of which it is rather a transfiguration (a positive transfiguration. The ordinary world lies outside the compelling visions of winter and summer. valuable features of reality. it is unclear in the outlook of the ordinary world how the categories of reality and @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. where it represents the world as a fulfilment and incarnation of value. The object of artistic transfiguration is the real world of everyday experience. reflecting his conception of the ordinary world as a place of transition between the great antitheses of winter and summer. which pervades it and with which it is fused. the world of summer does not correspond to the ordinary world. Between the worlds of winter and summer hovers the ordinary world.35 Stevens seems to suggest that experience of transfiguration is available only at several removes. as failing to display the full. Art and religion are affiliated in that 'both have to mediate for us a reality not ourselves'. which would successfully transfigure the world. and because there is in the ordinary world an absolute conceptual distinction between what is real and what is unreal or fictional. grace and moral goodness. the world comes to be seen under a new aspect. This Stevens identifies with a sense of reality that is provisional and uncertain. the transfigured world of summer represents it as incomplete. under conditions of faith. especially music. Stevens even seems to suggest that his own poetry can do no more than show the possibility of a poem. but for Stevens. the mental power that pervades everyday human experience but realizes itself most fully in poetry and art. of a negative sort). So. since the contracted world may also be described as a transfiguration. archromanticism . or appending new features to it: in the versatile language of aspects. Again. because religious representations are defunct and have long since ceased to fulfil the desire for reality. Because it does so. rather than being self-ascribed by the artist. the poet 'seeks / God in the object itself'. Stevens' paradigms of transfiguration are the great poems of visionary. ) ~ ~ whereas the contracted world of winter represents implicitly the everyday world as illusory. this role has been passed on to art. (Poetry records 'fluctuation of the whole of a p p e a r a n ~ e ' .Wallace Stevens and Metaphysics How cold the vacancy When the phantoms are gone and the shaken realist First sees reality.Blake and Shelley are strongly present in Stevens' poetry . in that it is necessarily mediated by art and can exist only as objectified in the work of art. as containing appearances of things to which nothing in reality corresponds. by contrast. more than adequate for the purposes of human habitation. to which the work of art has referen~e.34 The transfigured world restores the character of worldhood to reality and intensifies its habitability.

but a reason for thinking that Stevens' intention must be philosophical in this strong sense is the absence of a satisfactory alternative: that is. determines a standard of hardness which things must henceforth meet in order to qualify as real . to the extent that the contracted sense of things is just a heightened expression of a sense of reality that is already in play in ordinary experience. First. Some interpretations stop at this point. Stevens means not just to represent our perplexity as subjects of the ordinary world exposed to varying and inconsistent senses of reality.how they apply both to the contracted and transfigured worlds. This may sound strange. 1994 . which makes it philosophical in a stronger sense. ~ " Steven says. the plain sense of things. and the special. it means that the reality of the contracted world is experienced as confirmed by the ordinary world. Second.328 Sebastian Gardner fiction apply . and needs to stand guard against itself. 'the plain sense of things'. hard sense of reality which characterizes the contracted world of winter. and symbolizes the moods which he takes to correspond to different senses of reality.The ~~ continuity and affinity between the ordinary and contracted worlds which the plain sense of things establishes has several important consequences. in which respect Stevens describes 'plain things' as having a ' ~ a v a g e r y ' .37 is a crucial expression of the uncertainty about reality that Stevens locates in the ordinary world. the incoherence of supposing that Stevens. once it has received full expression in the contracted world. The plain sense of things is therefore Janus-faced: on the one hand. making Stevens into a kind of (mere) phenomenologist of metaphysical thought. it is attached to the sense of things as unproblematically ready-to-hand in the ordinary world. it follows that Stevens' poetry is philosophical in the straightforward sense that it is concerned with what the world is like as a whole in the most fundamental respects: his poetic world charts metaphysical possibilities. Plainness alternates for Stevens between denoting the ordinary factuality of ordinary things. But there is a further aim to be detected in Stevens' poetry. then Stevens intends his poetry as an equivalent of philosophical enquiry. on the other.39 ('The mind is the most terrible force in the w ~ r l d ' . a poet who expresses the what-it-is-like corresponding to different metaphysical outlooks. If this is so. the sense of the unconditional independence of things experienced in the contracted world. and to the ordinary world itself.) Third.a point which will have importance later for how we are to understand the transfigurative power of art. The philosophical intention of Stevens' poetry From what has just been said.36 Stevens' phrase. due to its tendency to fasten onto whatever it finds most solid and draw us into a picture of the world from which we are excluded. whilst taking the fundamental concerns of poetry to be @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. it means that everyday experience suffers from instability. but also to participate in the attempt to identify reality and so to go some way towards transcending the cycle of seasons and resolving our met?physical perplexity. it signifies poverty.

that invite its readers to think of its constructions as truths. If Stevens’ poetry is philosophical in intention. this is the opposite of what is really going on in Stevens: for if Stevens’ poetry were as Kermode says premised on an equation of poetry with reality. If the concept of mimesis were not associated with the assumption that the object of imitation is known in advance of the art that aims to reproduce it. by virtue of which poetry may answer to something outside itself. even though these are not stated in the poetry and even though Stevens himself may not be able to tell us what they are. his poetic solutions must be intended to have philosophical analogues. from the inside. we find Stevens saying that he means to ’regard the imagination as metaphysics’. For Stevens. false premise that its world.’poetic truth is an agreement with reality’. he behaves as if poetry and the imagination are everything that is humanly important (and therefore everything that is at all important). the answer must be that poetry can impose on itself constraints that are simultaneously cognitive and aesthetic. the world of poetry. Stevens’ poetry talks at length of itself as a fiction. has only the circumscribed intention of representing those concerns. then it must aim at truth. but it may nevertheless leave hints. Poetry with this intention differs from other poetry in that it will seek to express and persuade us of its own agreement with reality. an idea that Stevens would reject. with nothing to prove and nothing to do. Consequently he felt himself to be dealing incessantly with the But if my interpretation is correct. Stripping Stevens’ poetry of the realist obligation to answer to something outside itself would leave it without coherent motivation. is the real world.Wallace Stevens and Metaphysics 329 metaphysical.41If it is asked how it is possible for poetry to carry out this intention. On my interpretation. but for Stevens fiction does not preclude truth. Stevens’ poetry might be described as ’metaphysically mimetic’. Thus. oblique indications. Kermode says: ’Stevens commits himself to the biggest of all as-ifs. By way of confirmation. fiction may correspond to reality. of converging on philosophy. that ’the imaginative projection’ of poetry raises ’question of rightness’ and ’touches the sense of reality’ . 1994 . There is a widespread interpretation of Stevens according to which his poetry sets out from the irremediably fictional. then it would in fact have assumed exactly what it means to establish. as a fiction. this is what Stevens’ poetry does. or the unacceptability of supposing that his poetry plays the trick of pretending to take questions of truth seriously. Similarly. that ’truth is the object of both’ poetry and philosophy. the fact that something is imaginary or owes itself to the work of human or poetic imagination does nothing to rule out a claim to its @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. and since the truth that Stevens aims at is metaphysical. when Stevens talks about the imagination he has in mind a power that is shared by poets and ordinary people and does not exclude acquaintance with reality (just as Coleridge identifies the faculty of poetic creation with Kant’s transcendental imagination). without actively responding to them. while having all along only the intention of creating beautiful poetic appearances (making his poetry a kind of aestheticism in bad faith). Such philosophically intended poetry can of course only refer to the world that it constructs.

Stevens does think of poetry as striving to identify reality. converting its impositions into discoveries. . and that poetry must culminate in ’The poem of pure reality / Untouched by trope or deviation’.330 Sebastian Gardner truth: what it means for something to be imaginary is just for it to resonate with the human mind and answer to a human purpose. ‘the lure of the real’. Here the protagonist has liberated himself from the deprivations of winter by having recourse to the resources of his own mind and imagination.46‘The poet is the intermediary between people and the world in which they live [. and to that extent does not belong to reality. it adds nothing. To be stripped of every fiction except one.45 True romanticism. the ’desire to enjoy reality’. which ’has to be something more than a conception of the mind’.’4s Stevens looks to poetry for ‘inherent order’. ’The imagination does not add to reality’. And so he reaches out to the thought that it must be possible To find the real. Stevens thinks of metaphysical desire. so that there is nothing in poetry that does not correspond to reality.’~’ target of art is belief ‘how easy it The is suddenly to believe in the poem as one has never believed in it before’. whatever it may be. purges itself of everything false and ‘increases the feeling for reality’. but in illuminating its object.44 Stevens’ intention to write visionary poetry that meets the condition of truth leads him to distance himself from what he considers false romanticism. we ’sit listening to music as in an imagination in which we believe’. he says that the world to which poetry refers must be ‘physical’.’43The imagination comes from outside the object. 1994 . except itself. but this cognitive description of its goal is for Stevens only one way of picking out a desire that is fundamentally both a desire simply to get hold of reality . .49 ‘The poet commits himself to reality.53as primordially an undivided @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. ’Like light. which ’belittles’ the imagination and engages in ‘minor wish-fulfillments’ and evades the pressure of reality. it reveals what is already there. which then becomes his inescapable and ever-present diffi~ulty. that would secure the truth of Stevens’ transfigured world. it must proceed ’Without evasion by a single metaphor’.] not between people and some other ‘The final poem will be the poem of fact in the language of fact. To attribute a philosophical intention to Stevens is not to say that the task of poetry is for him purely and dispassionately cognitive.to be presented with it . Thus the concept of imagination may be compared to light: the imagination stands in the same relation to reality as light to the visible world. it is ’an activity like seeing things’. The fiction of an absolute52 This absolute or supreme ‘fiction’ is the proposition.51 The intention to truth is expressed clearly towards the close of Stevens’ greatest poem. Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction. but he then confronts the impasse constituted by the fact that ‘to impose is not / To discover’.and to discover that reality is valuable or value-sustaining.

that is. Now this is an interpretation that one might in some circumstances want to make of a poet regarded perhaps as a last-ditch. which entails that it must converge with philosophy. This defines the task of imagination and poetry as that of undertaking a second attempt to know reality. 1994 . a ’purification’. in a form that would reintegrate it with value and remedy our poverty. philosophical level.is the central poetic problem (‘in any art. finding a reason to believe in transfiguration . and if what was said earlier is correct. the vindication of transfiguration . as fiction. This interpretation says that transfiguration is for Stevens simply an assertion of the will to believe over the reality of fact. the central problem is always the problem of reality”’). In this light. at which its redeeming picture of the world is to be validated. ‘a health’. and at a reflective. a desire for reality-as-value. in which reality is apprehended as valueless. that is. or a culpable failure to appreciate the value that is already available in the ordinary world. ’a kind of justice’. tragic gesture . and to do so on the condition of truth. contracted conception of reality. Hence the need for poetry to fight on two fronts: at the level of how the world is actually pictured. to summarize. in addition to knowing reality. then the question arises immediately (as soon as one steps outside the experience of transfiguration back into the ordinary world) of its claim to truth. then its poetic solution. is a surrender to a certain. Poetry does this by expressing a transfigured vision of the world and making good its claim for the reality of this vision. poetry must. For Stevens. by way of discovering reality to be humanly habitable. unassisted by poetry and the great works of imagination. So for Stevens. that it is true. Vindicating transfiguration: metaphysical strategies If transfiguration is an experience that represents itself as veridical but at the same time as breaking with ordinary experience of the world. but the pleasure that it is to give is not a mere pleasure but a ‘liberation’ and ’justification’. as does Stevens’ thought that what makes the world uninhabitable and is responsible for our ’poverty’ in the first place.54 So. ’give pleasure’ and ’contribute to man’s happiness’. must have a philosophical analogue. Presupposed in all this is Stevens’ sense of the insufficiency of ordinary experience of the world.but it makes no sense of @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. a world that is both in-itself and for-us. to protect itself against its tendency to poverty and uninhabitability. That would be to interpret Stevens as bluntly asserting of fiction. for Stevens the object of poetry is to make the world humanly habitable. if it has one.Wallace Stevens and Metaphysics 331 combination of cognitive and non-cognitive elements: it is. We may begin by ruling out one view which has been entertained of Stevens‘ metaphysical strategy. immolating himself on the contradiction that the unreal is real. Only after this primordially unified desire has led us into the contracted world of winter. the ambition that Stevens has for his poetry cannot be charged (as romanticism is often charged) with reflecting a mere greed for value. do its two aspects come apart and into conflict with one another. one might say.

unrationalized affirmation of the reality of fiction. deconstructionist interpretation of Stevens must also be incorrect. whose poetry aims to make desperate gestures unnecessary. Stevens’ must be interpreted as maintaining the distinction between fiction and reality. and so it may seem that rejecting realism is what is necessary to get out of it. Stevens’ poetic solution to the problem of belief in transfiguration lies in ’problematiz[ing] cognitive certainty in all its demolishing the gigantic myths of truth and metaphysical reality. as providing the path back from the scientistic to the manifest image. anti-realism has been widely regarded in philosophy in this century.59 It is natural to suppose that the solution to Stevens’ problem. on evasion and indifference to truth. at some level. which depends upon its capacity to answer a demand that is truth-orientated. for him. and the admission or readmission of value into the inventory of reality. again for the reason that. Also.~~ and technique that constitutes irony proceeds from a point set over and against ordinary. poetry is sustained simply by force of will. and for whom a paradoxical assertion of the reality of fiction would mean nothing more interesting than a surrender to the pleasure principle. a distinction which his poetry underscores at every point. it would have amounted to poetic failure. must lie in a partial retreat from realism . and evading any commitment to determinate meaning: in such a way that the world becomes an overt fiction. Stevens tells us however that the value of poetry lies in its contribution to ordinary consciousness. The kind of anti-realism that may seem to be required here is that which asserts a link between the repudiation of realism.that is. Embracing global irony cannot have recommended itself to Stevens. philosophically expressed. credulous consciousness. both analytic and Continental.% Poetic success cannot for Stevens consist in a brute.which has the virtue of taking Stevens’ philosophical intentions seriously . It rests essentially. in some sort of moderate. of course. This sort of interpretation . For similar reasons. The train of thought that leads one to suppose that anti-realism is necessary to @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. and the poet’s only commitment is to avoid being drawn out of textual idealism into the illusion that there is such a thing as truth.332 Sebastian Gardner Stevens.that led us into the contracted world in the first place. extra-ordinary reality . And it is not difficult to find material in Stevens’ poetry that can be interpreted as anti-realist (’man’s truth is the final resolution of everything. and facilitates moments of pseudo-liberation. the neo-Nietzschean. 1994 . This is in fact the line of interpretation pursued in nearly every extended commentary on Stevens. not least when it expresses the uncertainty of the ordinary world as to what is and is not real. non-Nietzschean anti-realism.61The view of Stevens as an anti-realist has of course in recent times been made to seem self-evidently correct.turns Stevens into a global i r ~ n i s tNow the mode of performance . On this account. Poets and painters alike make that assumption’: ’The notion of absolutes is relative’62).the desire for unconditional. since anti-realism became an orthodoxy in literary criticism and literary theory.60 Anti-realism may seem to be the right strategy to attribute to Stevens because it was realism .

could not have provided him with a satisfactory means oi escape from the contracted world or vindication of the transfigured world. although intriguing to Stevens and a metaphysical possibility which he certainly entertained. it will be said that the concepts of truth and reality have no genuine application outside some particular version of the world. that meet certain standards of rationality. and implied by. those of our social and epistemic practices.standards that are sufficiently undemanding as to allow value to count as part of the fabric of reality. subject only to whatever aesthetic conditions constrain poetic success . 1994 .Wallace Stevens and Metaphysics 333 get out of the contracted world goes something like this. it is the line adopted by most commentators on Stevens at some point or other .anti-realism. The world contracts when. Thus reality is to be recognized as plural. Despite all this . experientially given fact of the contracted world’s unconditional independence. The contracted world is characterized. This line of thought is of course open to a further development. for Stevens.and. where antirealism becomes relativistic. the following consideration. it follows that the world can be decontracted so long as reality is construed in a way that allows it to be tied to the human subject: so it is held that the real contents and features of the world may be identified with those that are grounded in. then counterposing to it the thought that reality is minddependent will necessarily be ineffective: since this thought will seem to be directly falsified by the brute. At the limit. habits of representation. and underlies its peculiar kind of beauty. If the contracted world has the compelling. as said earlier. which enjoys a degree of latitude in deciding what to make of reality. in the first place. .thereby allowing poetry to be regarded as making up true versions of reality. which some anti-realists pursue. and presses the idea of mind-indepenedence very hard . In view of this diagnosis of how we arrive at the contracted world. it is instead the thought of reality‘s minddependence that will give way. by a ‘savage’ sense of the world‘s independence: that is what gives it its force and convincingness.by. cognitively irresistible quality that Stevens represents it as having. aligning it with physical causal efficacy. just as Hume found his philosophical @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. convergence of judgement etc. then introducing the thought that the world is in the required sense dependent on the human subject cannot make enough of a difference. and only when. or with the property of being such to as to figure essentially in idealized scientific theory. but is at least in part constituted in a positive sense by the mind. a distinction between appearance and reality is introduced which makes independence from the mind the criterion for reality. So rather than the world‘s contraction being dispelled as a minimalist illusion. And at this point it may seem that one has arrived at a philosophical picture that maps neatly onto Stevens’ valorization of imagination and fiction: anti-realism pushed as far as pluralism or relativism seems to grant the poet the required freedom to create the world as imagination dictates. accepted forms of discourse and so on. There is. Now if this is what the experience of the contracted world is founded on. for instance. as not having any one correct description. This is to say that reality is not only mind-dependent.

or that it exists only in a plurality of versions. the desire to discover of reality that it includes value. dissolve ineffectually in the face of experience of the contracted world. 1994 . From the point of view of the contracted world. pluralist or relativist form of anti-realism also fails to provide Stevens with a solution. that reality includes value. one which fails to take into account the ordinary world’s tendency to contract and experience itself as illusory. otherwise put. What the subject needs in order to move out of the contracted world is a reason to reject or at least put in question the contracted world’s claim to exhaust reality. But what pluralist or relativist anti-realism cannot do is provide a cognitively sanctioned motive for moving out of the contracted world towards such a realization of freedom in the first place. what the anti-realist interpretation of Stevens registers is only one specific moment in his poetry. to which I will turn in a moment. a repeated attempt to fulfil the desire for reality. in which the whole sense of the question of reality temporarily seems to disappear. A truth-orientated subject will not be able to persuade itself out of its belief in the reality of the contracted world. but always as a pause or moment of suspension. then the anti-realist interpretation of Stevens fails to take seriously his view that poetry and imagination must come to terms with the pressure exerted by the hard sense of reality in the contracted world. @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. Of course. then the desire for reality. if there is (as Stevens assumes) a human desire to discover that value has reality or. I think these should be seen in the light of a different view of his underlying strategy. and a human tendency to experience value as unreal. unreal projection. once again. anti-realism may then attempt to persuade us that rationality and convergence of judgement (or whatever) are what really count.’63) But this antirealist moment is recorded in Stevens’ poetry not as a moment of resolution. If all of this is right. And we are then back to regarding value as mere. more habitable version of the world. to be succeeded by yet another burst of metaphysical activity. since once again it will seem to be directly contradicted and overturned by the experience of the contracted world as being the way it is without any contribution from the mind. The more extreme.334 Sebastian Gardner convictions evaporating on leaving his study. The point here is simply that. (‘Reality is a vacuum. from a point of view outside the contracted world. From an exegetical point of view. Consequently the thought that reality is open to being created by the mind will. The pluralist or relativist anti-realist interpretation is in this way no better off than that which regards Stevens‘ vindication of transfiguration as resting on a brute will to believe in fiction. but this would be another story altogether. that reality per se is ultimately unimportant or somehow not a genuine category. cannot do this. From the point of view of the contracted world. is one that anti-realism cannot fulfil. it may be possible to experience reality as if it were open to creation and so to will a different. The thought that reality is what the mind makes it. the thought that reality is ’open to creation’ can mean only that. With regard to the many places in Stevens’ poetry where he may seem to be an avowed anti-realist. requiring a revision of ordinary consciousness. anti-realism is equivalent to a mere reassertion of the ordinary world.

the fact that the sense of reality itself undergoes a transformation as a result of the contraction of the ordinary world: the criterion of reality. as much as the contents of the world. 1994 . the contracted world is inescapable. and not with respect to their veridicality. a poorer world. then. On this condition.Wallace Stevens and Metaphysics 335 The full reason why the anti-realist interpretation of Stevens fails to give him all that he needs is its failure to take account of. logically. we find that its implicit claim to have captured all of the content of the ordinary sense of reality. is either arbitrary or circular.come out as unreal. Nothing obliges us to identify reality with its most contracted form. The anti-realist urges us to regard the contents of the contracted world. or the contracted world would not be able to display the ordinary world as an illusion. and hence . like that of an empirical idealist who asks us to regard our experiences of perceiving external objects and our experiences of mental images as differing only with respect to their vivacity or some other phenomenal property. and this differential in the sense of reality is taken to validate the contracted criterion of reality. independently of us. is illegitimate. This however is to ask us to return to the (edenic) situation of the ordinary world before it had undergone contraction. the plain sense of things. just because the @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. so that it comes to seem that application of the concept of reality can be fixed in only one way. were experienced without differentiation as equally real. if what is required to get out of the contracted world is an experience of the world as having all of the hardness of the contracted world and yet as valuable. So. As it might be put. There is nothing in the ordinary world that determines us to think that a world with less in it. The assumption that reality may be identified with whatever picture of the world tends to crystallize out of ordinary experience in any one particular direction. undergoes contraction. when all things ready-to-hand. by scaling down our sense of reality and weakening our concept of what it is for something to be real. If we retrace the steps that lead to the contracted world. Now.by the contracted criterion of reality . things are experienced as having unequal degrees of reality. The anti-realist’s proposal clashes with this fact. and respond to. then this condition is impossible to meet: since any experience of the world as valuable necessarily makes it answer to a human purpose and so seem to lack the mind-indifference of the contracted world. But it is not true that an exit from the contracted world requires an experience of the world as simultaneously hard in the way of the contracted world and valuable. it may be supposed. as on a par and equally real. and those of the ordinary and transfigured worlds.@ It makes the antirealist demand. a richer world: the ordinary world gives no instructions one way or the other on that point. such as that of poverty. But after the experience of contraction. is any more likely to be the real world than a world with more in it. by the criterion of ’hardness’. There is no contradiction in thinking that the world has value by virtue of how it is in itself. on the basis of which the contents of the ordinary and transfigured worlds come out as unreal. the concept of reality becomes wedded to a particular way in which objects are given. There is another possibility. Reality as it is experienced in the ordinary world is richer than the contracted world: this must be so.

the asymmetry need not be read back into reality itself. other than those which precipitate us into the contracted world and become fixed in the contracted criterion of reality. its plain sense of things. but this. that experience of the contracted world exemplifies only one. the projection of reality beyond reality’ gives rise to ‘a degree of perception at which what is real and what is imagined are one’: ’much of the world of fact is the equivalent of the world of imagination’. To suppose so is to run the concept of reality together with the contracted criterion of reality.336 Sebas tian Gard ner contracted world gives intense expression to one component of our ordinary sense of reality does not mean that it captures everything that is contained in that sense of reality. the fact that the transfigured world is one whose reality we cannot experience in the same way that we experience the contracted world may be simply a fact about our relation to reality . He says that ‘poetic truth is a factual truth‘. This is our intimidating thesis. What is true of the experience of the contracted world . does not prevent them from being real. The crucial respect in which the 0 Basil Blackwell Ltd. and real in the very same sense as. first. All of this Stevens himself spells out. and how we experience them may come far apart .and this does make an irreversible difference to our sense of reality . which are just as real as.66 ‘The great poem is the disengaging of (a) reality.’68 This realist strategy is distinct from that of the anti-realist. once again. So long as we respect and draw on the realist’s sharp distinction between how things are and how we experience them. So the concept of reality. rather it is ’fact possibly beyond [normal] perception in the first instance and outside the normal range of ~ensibility’. to a point where it is thinkable that the transfigured world is the real world. that the particular experience of the rnindindependence of things which is characteristic of the contracted world is not that in which being real consists. In this way it becomes possible to ground the transfigured world on strands in the ordinary worlds sense of reality. even though they cannot be experienced in the same way. that there are other things in reality than those that show up in the contracted world.’67 ’Poetry seeks out the relation of men to facts’ and may ‘touch with the imagination in respect to reality’: ’absolute fact includes everything that the imagination includes. the contents of the contracted world. second. and thus with one paradigm of a real thing. bare fact‘. 1994 . That these uncontracted contents of reality cannot be experienced with the same quality of hardness means that they cannot be known to be real in the same way that the contents of the contracted world are known to be real. or make it harder to think.our conception of our possible modes of access to reality is enlarged. but not ’clear. is held constant: what happens is that -by exploiting the realist’s idea that how things are. What it says is. the conception of what it is to be real. of perhaps indefinitely many possible ways of coming into contact with the contents of unconditionally mind-independent reality.is that it presents us with a luminously clear apprehension of what it is for something to be real.~~ The ’extension of the mind beyond the range of the mind. But granting this does nothing to rule it out. and. because it does not say at any point that reality consists in anything less than unconditional mindindependence.

Transfiguration takes the value and habitability of the ordinary world and concentrates these features. In this way. an antidote to contraction. (This presumably is what underlies Bell's metaphysical hypothesis. ('The significance of the poetic act then is that it is e~idence. lead to the transfigured world. the air of being a metaphysical long-shot. but it nevertheless supplies. the ordinary world. its plain sense of things. How much does it establish? Well. as an antithesis to the thesis of the contracted world. cognitively sanctioned counterweight to the pull of the contracted world.'~~) Because the scales are now evenly weighted. by virtue of the distinguishing features of aesthetic experience. arguably. and in full accordance with Stevens' aspirations. (The mind. is the real world. what it clearly does not establish is that the transfigured world. that the transfigured world can evolve out of and is accessible to the ordinary world. contains within itself immanently the possibility of transfiguration as much as that of contraction. self-validating role may be claimed as for the hardness of the contracted world. But this is still to have established something. that lead to the contracted world. 'The @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. The security of the ordinary world This realist strategy has. It does not show this. art does what philosophy on its own cannot do: art presents the solution to the contracted world that philosophy is able only to think. yielding a world the experience of which is sufficient to match in intensity the antithetical experience of the contracted world. since all that has been shown is that there are strands in the ordinary sense of reality. shown by art. the question is. It is true that transfigurative experience does not have the hardness of the contracted world. and others that. is made secure. The transfigured world. for what is thereby secured is the equilibrium of the ordinary world.) The fact. as opposed to the contracted world. positioned between the antitheses of winter and summer. a kind of matching equivalent: it presents its objects in an aesthetically heightened light for which the same kind of cognitive. is also 'the only force that defends us against terror'. or vindicating visionary romanticism in general. provides the necessary. 'the most terrible force in the world'. but there is I think no satisfactory alternative as regards finding a philosophical analogue of Stevens' poetic project. via the medium of art. and this is enough for the purpose of making the world habitable. 'that can defend us against itself'. Supposing it hangs together. shows that the ordinary world.Wallace Stevens and Metaphysics 337 realist strategy differs from the anti-realist is that it accommodates and does not deny the differential in our sense of reality that results from exposure to the contracted world. 1994 . the plain sense of things. and that nothing in the ordinary world provides a non-arbitrary reason for identifying reality with the one world rather than the other. that in significant form we are acquainted with 'the thing in itself'.

Stevens’ poetry functions as a sort of map.73 Stevens’ resolution is not therefore equivalent to a Pyrrhonist state of skeptical abstention from belief. as a work of art. the transfigurative poem.in terms of the legitimate interest of the ordinary world in not allowing its plain sense of things to cause the world to contract. So the repetition of ’merely going round’ becomes.’ ‘Poetry is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right. since it does not require us to rise above our interest in truth and reality. The ensuing redescent into winter can however be regarded as what is necessary in order for there to be a further. (‘The purpose of poetry is to make life complete in itself. as said earlier.because it loses its freshness. This interpretation shows how Stevens’ references to fictionality are misunderstood when taken as a cue for a Nietzschean or anti-realist interpretation of his poetry. but rather a concern for the integrity of the ordinary world itself. and makes the existence of the metaphysical seasonal cycle as intelligible and acceptable as that of the cycle of natural seasons. It turns out that in Stevens’ hands the romantic’s concern for transfiguration. And what each summer proves. in order to be propelled into creating another summer. which incorporates a new security in the ordinary world.~’ this knowledge can be taken into winter. Every imaginative transfiguration of reality will eventually fade .338 Sebastian Gardner poet represents the mind in the act of defending us against itself. later transfiguration: one has to go back to winter. 1994 .and the plain sense of things will return. does not have the right to refer to itself from the inside as a truth rather than a fiction. which can easily appear extravagant and gratuitous.’70) So if this interpretation is correct. which we can conceive and occasionally @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. This giving of meaning to the fact of our metaphysical vacillation is what Stevens’ poetry aims to provide. The vindication of the transfigured world does not bring the cycle of seasonal experience to a halt.’71) Poetry can do this even though it does not arrive at a categorical identification of reality.] the power to be tran~formed’. such that from any one metaphysical perspective we may grasp concretely the order and vector of the whole. and because we ourselves change . back to the ’first idea’. is that everything possesses the ’power to transform itself and or else [. Stevens’ use of the term ‘fiction’ is qualified and elliptical. ‘a final good’. But it affords a new perspective on the cycle as a whole. since we remain prey to fluctuations in our sense of reality. What Stevens means is that. and that it cannot be known not to be a fiction. what we need is a representation of the vicissitudes of metaphysical belief that can be carried across from one metaphysical season to another. Stevens says. since we do not escape the cognitive hold of the metaphysical seasons. has a justification of a kind that is necessarily acceptable to an inhabitant of the ordinary world .74 In our circumstance of radical metaphysical instability. But this is compatible with there being another perspective. . Instead. his concern to vindicate the transfigured world of art. is not by any means a rejection or devaluation of the ordinary world or an aspiration to supplant it with an aestheticized reality. and constitutes an ‘amassing harmony’. . what is disclosed in the end as motivating Stevens’ romanticism. says Stevens. No more is it an ironic resolution.

or not just. to pull in opposite directions.this act of recognition being at the same time an oblique way of subsuming the perspective of the contracted world in that of the transfigured world. It encourages us to ask what structure the concept of reality has. indeed. I would like to conclude with some brief reflections on the metaphysical strategy employed by Stevens (as I have interpreted him). the point of this. ‘naturalizes’ the reader ‘in its own imagination’. ~ ~ Stevens’ intention.Wallace Stevens and Metaphysics 339 occupy. although realist in the sense that it @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. that allows it to behave in that way. and that it is inescapable. a fiction. fiction being to allow value to flow more freely from the transfigured world into the ordinary world. ‘like a natural object’: it ‘must move constantly in the direction of the credible’ and seeks to ‘press away from m y ~ t i c i s m ’ . and at a stretch capable of being projected from the plain sense of things to the visionary productions of art. What it would mean for the two dimensions to come apart is unclear. In answering this question we encounter difficulty. Note then that the route taken by Stevens. pure fiction. through a process of poetic acclimatization. This is Stevens’ attempt to build the fact that the ordinary world is open to transfiguration into the fabric of ordinary experience. which may help to give it interest and authority. Poetry. although never inhabit permanently. in that nothing issuing from the imagination has value if it cannot be regarded as falling under the category of reality. and may double as the transfigured world. from which transfiguration is nothing but a fiction . is to turn the fact that the ordinary world has access to. Presumably we would then be forced to deny that the concept of reality has the integrity which we ordinarily suppose. even though we do not understand truly how this can be. There is also of course a sense in which the transfigurative poem’s reference to itself as a fiction is a way of recognizing the perspective of the contracted world. into an ordinary fact about it. genuine. he says. eliminates the incredible and makes of itself a ‘credible thing’. from which the transfigurative poem is not. Suppose that Stevens is correct in thinking that the concept of reality is primordial. But one thing at least that seems to be shown is that there are two dimensions to the concept of reality: one which is connected with the independence of things from us. There is one strand in Stevens’ poetry that does I think amount to an attempt to introduce a genuine. This is already an interesting result. as if art and great acts of imagination were not necessary for transfiguration: a trick that he means to achieve by making us so at home in the artifice of poetry and imagination that we lose sight of the dependence of transfigurative experience on the work of art. These appear to be independent and. rather than allow the concept to disintegrate. for there seems to be no obvious way of saying what it is about the notion of reality that gives it its plasticity. or why reality should be a condition on value. But in any case we seem to find it impossible to abandon either dimension of the concept of reality and. and another which is connected with the significance of things for us. somehow remain able to think that both dimensions may be satisfied. I think. 1994 .

there is a legitimate. London @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. the metaphysical realist’s policy of allowing the reality of value to sustain itself leaves it hanging by a thread. For Kant.y . even when raised to Stevens’ level of poetic selfconsciousness. The question of which of transcendental idealism and metaphysical realism provides the best underpinning for Stevens’ metaphysical strategy therefore becomes the purely philosophical question of which metaphysic is more successful in accounting for the reality of value. and that in order to locate value it is necessary to go over the head of the empirical world. in whom there is no trace of Kant’s key notion of the necessary interests of reason. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Sebastian Gardner Birkbeck College. or any equivalent transcendental ground of value. which lacks any similar means of stretching the bounds of the ordinary world. Now for this line of thought . i.340 Sebastian Gardner refuses to dilute the concept of reality and enforces an absolute distinction between how things are and how they are represented (by means of which it can achieve what anti-realism. Stevens does not concern himself with explaining. Kant would concur with Stevens that we are prone to identify reality with a world that is metaphysically incapable of containing value. namely transcendental idealism. results in a philosophical picture that is remote from the plain realism of commonsense . Kant however attempts to say how value may be thought to have reality. The Kantian will observe that transcendental idealism provides what is required to tip the scales and give Stevens what he most wants. and will claim that. that he leaves the reality of value to explain itself? Certainly that is one possible interpretation. cannot) ends in an outlook quite remote from realism as usually understood. in view of the experiential preponderance of the world’s contraction over its transfiguration. once made explicit. Consequently the absence of a transcendental explanation of transfiguration in Stevens cannot be taken as evidence for interpreting him as a metaphysical realist. But the right thing to say. and how the two dimensions of the concept of reality may be reconciled. a categorical affirmation that the transfigured world is the real world. albeit highly complex sense in which reality is both how things are independently from our experience. is that it is simply beyond the scope of art as such. is transparent to itself and grasps its own place in the order of things. to express an explanation of its own possibility. There is furthermore some sort of formal similarity between the intelligible world that Kant posits on the basis of practical reason and Stevens’ supreme fiction of a transfigured world.to the effect that the concept of reality has a structure which.there is one outstanding philosophical model. as opposed to presenting. surely. the possibility of transfiguration.e. It was no doubt essential to Stevens’ identity as an artist that he would not have regarded the existence of a level of metaphysical reflection lying outside the bounds of art as qualifying the supreme importance of p 0 e t 1 . and necessarily congruent with our sense of significance or value. our ordinary consciousness of an outer world. Stevens is far from the idea that the plain sense of things. Anything of this sort is missing from Stevens. Does this mean that Stevens is not an implicit Kantian but a metaphysical realist. 1994 .

Kermode regards such criticism as bordering on the ridiculous and likely to lower Stevens' standing as a poet. Stevens never denies that our intellects are. OP. p. N A . CP. 1994 . lo See Jarraway (1993). 301 11. p. I' See Jarraway (1993). 192. pp. pp. p. pp. p. p. 332. 33-1. 26-7.58. 170-1. 80.Wallace Stevens and Metaphysics 341 NOTES My understanding of Stevens is indebted to. 40-1. p. 63. 24 CP. l9 Eliot (1970). 267-80. 260. ch. 98-9. pp. 21 In the sense defined by Kermode (1976). pp. l 2 OP. and Kermode (1989). 2o N A . 28 N A . Blackmur (1986). p. p. p. 'A collect of philosophy'. p. 95. That the world as a whole can fall within the scope of a work of art is a puzzling fact. 167. 'In-words'. l 3 S L . 96. p. It was not accepted for publication. OP = Opus Posthumous. 29 CP. 27 N A . 320. in particular. 503. pp. p. 26 OP. p. 192. 22 N A . l 6 OP. 277. OP. p. pp. Quoted in Kermode (1971). see the discussion of Stevens in McCormick (1993). p. 14 SL. 31 CP. N A . 270. pp. OP. 121-2. 10. 25 N A . 23 CP. 69-70. 127. pp. 380-2. discursive. CP. 32 In addition to whatever references it may have to fictional worlds. Bell (1914). N A . and in this paper draws on. 96. pp. l7 OP. p. See Kermode (1971). 259. l5 OP. 57-8. 168. xv-xviii. pp. pp. as Heidegger says. In quoting from Stevens the following abbreviations will be used: CP = The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. in Kant's sense. N A = The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination. 228. it has perhaps something to do with that power of ours to take the world as an object. 228. ' @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. N A . 40. p. which is similar to a Kantian intellectual intuition. 31. N A . Kermode (1989 and 1971) and Beckett (1977). OP. 7. which. 82 and 93. p. Introduction. pp. 378. 524. our capacity for mood reveals us to possess. p. S L = Selected Letters of Wallace Stevens. p. p.

54. CP. pp. 265. the rock taking the place of the winter world. 256. p. CP. 145.342 33 Sebastian Gardner OP. p. 199. But minimal reality. 58 Bloom (1980) describes Stevens at one point as ‘the supreme lyrist‘ of ’the pragmatic test’: ‘Stevens never stays philosophic for very long: he is himself only when most evasive. 46 OP. now symbolized by sunlit fruit and vegetation. pp. 54 CP. 56 This view differs from the Neo-Nietzschean. p. and transfiguration. 44 OP. 5o OP. 59 Stevens requires the sophisticated consciousness of poetry to agree with the naive consciousness of ordinary life. 138. 116. CP. 203. p. p. it should be noted. p. 258. 37 CP. according to which Stevens’ poetry replaces will to belief with will to power. 191. 49 CP. p. symbolized by bare rock. Stevens’ basic metaphor changes. 48 OP. OP. 78. The global ironist of deconstruction regards the latter as sunk irremediably in illusion. 325. 41 N A . 442. p. 57 See Jarraway (1993). pp. N A . 35 N A . 77. 398. 52 CP. 262. p. p. 42. Stevens does not mean to challenge reality by a bold gesture of invention. p. 6o This excludes. p. Nor therefore can Stevens be interpreted as a Romantic Ironist in the tradition of Friedrich Schlegel and Solger. so that what was an order expressed on one level . 190. 55 N A . which comprehends the living world as much as the rock that supports it (its ’barreness becomes a thousand things / And so exists no more’. ‘The essential fault of surrealism is that it invents without discovering’. p.is now recast as an order incorporating two different levels. p. p. 332. pp. OP. 150. p. 45 N A . p. transcendental idealism. p. 38 CP. 51 OP. 140. 34 @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. 503. 61. 372. 216-17). 189. 99. 47 OP.‘ (pp. 39 This is what Stevens means by ’the absence of imagination had /Itself to be imagined‘. N A . 50. 203. p. which for the moment may be bracketed out of the discussion. whose fabulous world of pure invention is set over and against reality: unlike the surrealist. The Rock. remains a discovery of full reality. 527). 194. 188. p. remains something that we can confront but not inhabit. 502. 475. 53 N A . symbolized by the underlying rock and the organic world growing on top of it. 40 OP. 42 Kermode (1971). 200. N A . of which a ‘cure’ is needed (we need to ’make meanings of the rock‘).the seasons . 1994 . 467. A state of perplexity that Stevens evokes in frequent semi-paradoxical formulations. pp. but I do not think this is so. p. suggestive of uncertainty regarding the point of separation of reality and fiction. OP. 114. p. deconstructionist view discussed below. It has been said that in Stevens’ last volume of poetry. p. 43 N A . 471. It also leads him to distance himself from surrealism. 403-4. his metaphysics change. p. 99.

199. The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism. R. 5940. OP. Art. 405. 1994 . Kermode. p. London: Chatto and Windus. C. in Modern Essays. 204. Bell. Selected Essays. NA.which alerts one to the fact that most critics. Wallace Stevens: The Poems of Our Climate. 71 OP. ’Not all images are equal. see little reason to care whether Stevens’ poetic successes are achieved on the basis of realism or anti-realism. 58. T. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. L. 185. Be this as it may. S. 192. although this is actually inconsistent with other things that Kermode says about Stevens . p. 26 February 1994. pp. other than deconstructionists. pp. 70 OP. The vice of imagism was that it did not recognize this‘. Bloom. 403. 66 NA. 256. 74 I owe this suggestion to Stephen Mulhall. D. H. London: Faber and Faber. ed. p. 73 CP. 69 OP. pp. 171. Romantic Image. 99). pp. pp. OP. (1993). 201. Wallace Stevens and the Question of Belief: Metaphysician in the Dark. 61 Lack of this sense of reality is in fact the nub of Stevens’ complaint against Imagism: . 187. NA. 72 CP. pp. OP. London: Fontana. 188. N A . Steeping himself in German idealism. (1976). New York: Echo Press. NA. p. 61. P. F. p. Eliot. F. p. p. 195.Wallace Stevens and Metaphysics 343 Even Kermode (1989) says at one point that Stevens’ vindication of transfiguration works ’because reality exists in the mind’ (p. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (1980). Eliot (1970) regards Coleridge’s double-consciousness-as did Coleridge himself on occasion-as having worked to his artistic detriment (p. 194. pp. ’Afterthoughts on Wallace Stevens’. whose unique value for aesthetic consciousness he grasped. 77 I am grateful to those who responded to this paper at the conference ’Philosophical Transfigurations of Everyday Life’ at the University of Essex. OP. 65 NA. @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. 195. OP. 205. for comments and suggestions. 50. David Donoghue. Jarraway. 76 A comparison with Coleridge is illuminating. Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press. Wallace Stevens. p. but wrong to think that it cannot incorporate any intrinsically philosophical intentions without prejudicing its artistic identity. p. 175. ‘* REFERENCES Beckett. p. 75 N A . p. my exploration of Stevens hopes to have shown that the line between poetry and philosophy does not fall where Eliot locates it: Eliot is right that poetry cannot match the full extent of philosophical reflection. OP. p. Kermode. (1914). 514. 101). Coleridge could not set aside the question of the philosophical explanation of art’s visionary potential. 116. (1986). 60-61. (1970). London: Fontana. (1977). (1971). 67 OP. 53. Blackmur.

Wallace Stevens. New York: Vintage. Bates. (1993). London: Faber and Faber. (1989). London: Faber and Faber. The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination. McCormick. F. and the Problems of Poetics. 1959. Opus Posthumous. @ Basil Blackwell Ltd. 1994 . London: Faber and Faber. 1959. Selected Letters of Wallace Stevens. Holly Stevens. M. Fictions. 1990. ed. New York: Knopf. Philosophies. 1966. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. J.344 Sebastian Gardner Kermode. WORKS BY WALLACE STEVENS: The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. ed. P.

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