Wallace Stevens and Poetic Theory: Conceiving the Supreme Fiction

By B. J. Leggett | Go to book overview

5

RESISTING THE
INTELLIGENCE
Stevens, Mauron,
and a Theory of Obscurity

Assumptions about poetry's necessary inaccessibility to the intellect begin to emerge conspicuously as theme or figure in Stevens's verse at about the point when his own style becomes most disruptive—with Parts of a World and Notes toward a Supreme Fiction in 1942. Although he had already gained a reputation for obscurity with his earlier volumes, the sixty-three poems in Parts of a World introduce into the Stevens canon the first sustained indecipherability, which continues through Transport to Summer (1947) and The Auroras of Autumn (1950) before disappearing into the clear and barren style of his last poems in The Rock. In the manner in which Eliot noted the adjustment of the canon necessitated by the appearance of the really new work, the opacity of the poems published between 1942 and 1950 makes Stevens's earlier volumes appear suddenly lucid. It is usually with Parts of a World that the casual reader of Stevens's poetry surrenders in dismay, returning with some degree of confidence only with the verse of The Rock. I am concerned here with two aspects of Stevens's obscurity—the theoretical basis for the disjunctive nature of his verse, especially as this relates to his reading of Mauron's Aesthetics and Psychology, and the manner in which the theory informs the theme, figuration, and style of the later poems.

"The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully": so Stevens begins one of his characteristic poems about poems, an exercise in theorizing with the unlikely title "Man Carrying Thing" (CP, 350). The aim of the poem is ostensibly to illustrate its opening pronouncement through a two-part analogy: first, a con

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