Compromise Formations: Current Directions in Psychoanalytic Criticism

By Vera J. Camden | Go to book overview

"We have been a little insane
about the truth":
Poetics and Psychotic Experience

Nancy Blake

"A poem," writes Laura Riding in her preface to The Poems of Laura Riding, "is an uncovering of truth of so fundamental and general a kind that no other word besides poetry is adequate except truth. Knowledge implies specialized fields of exploration and discovery; it would be inexact to call poetry a kind of knowledge" (xviii). This opposition between poetry and rationality is also expressed by Wallace Stevens when he says: "The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully" (Collected Poems 350).

The focus of this paper will be the problematical relationship between truth, in its various guises, and anxiety as expressed in certain poetic contexts. Defining anxiety, however, is no easy matter; what we call anxiety is precisely a fear of the unnamable. Questioning the effect of the poetic as it intersects with anxiety necessitates an examination of the relationship between naming and poetry, and of the role of negativity, of saying without putting into "so many words." For the analyst, this fear without a name is, of course, a screen for the fear of death. The study of anxiety in poetry would eventually lead us to several hypotheses concerning the psychological structure of melancholia, but that would also be another paper.

In this essay, I want first to look at Wallace Steven's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." Is this poem a lesson—as so often in modernism—which leads the reader to abandon his passive position, forcing him to give form to the text, transforming words into fiction?

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