Wallace Stevens and Poetic Theory: Conceiving the Supreme Fiction

By B. J. Leggett | Go to book overview
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4

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF
PLEASURE
Charles Mauron and
Notes toward a Supreme Fiction

Of the works of critical theory that Stevens reviewed in preparation for "The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words," Charles Mauron's Aesthetics and Psychology1 perhaps exerted the deepest influence on his conception of poetry in the early forties. Stevens's copy preserves the evidence of his scrutiny. In addition to the great number of passages marked throughout, the volume includes notations on the front and back flyleaves and a running paraphrase of Mauron's discussion in the margins. 2 Noting the care with which Stevens followed the argument of Aesthetics and Psychology, it is not surprising to discover references to Mauron in "The Noble Rider" and in "The Irrational Element in Poetry," Stevens's first serious attempt at poetic theory. Mauron's force appears to have extended beyond the lectures; indeed, a large number of the poems written during the period in which Aesthetics and Psychology dominated Stevens's thinking on poetry may profitably be read in the light of Mauron's psychology. Several of the poems that best reveal Mauron's attractiveness for Stevens—those dealing with the two theorists' parallel notions of obscurity in poetry—will be discussed in Chapter Five. Here I want to concentrate on the manner in which Aesthetics and Psychology helped to shape Notes toward a Supreme Fiction, although some preliminary discussion of Mauron's conception of art is necessary before arriving at Stevens's most ambitious theoretical poem.

Mauron's initial attraction for Stevens may have owed something to both men's rather tentative attitude toward poetic theory. At a time when Stevens was being forced somewhat against his will into

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