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Wallace Stevens among Others: Diva-Dames, Deleuze, and American Culture.
By David R. Jarraway. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015.

David Jarraway’s book undertakes a “collection of readings largely inspired by the work of Wallace Stevens” (13). More specifically, it argues that Stevens’ poetry provides a model for understanding “the dissident American subject” (5)—a “human subjectivity” constructed around “a constitutive space, at once dark, mysterious, [and] unspeakable” (16)—that enables a productive engagement with a wide range of texts and artifacts. Among much else, it discusses the poetry of Mark Doty, Barbara Guest, and James Schuyler; the films Adam’s Rib (1949), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and Woman of the Year (1942); and the novels A Home at the End of the World (1990) by Michael Cunningham, No Country for Old Men (2005) by Cormac McCarthy, Missing Mom (2005) by Joyce Carol Oates, Zuckerman Unbound (1981) by Philip Roth, and Rabbit Is Rich (1981) by John Updike.

Some of these featured figures, such as Doty and Guest, are logical, even predictable choices for a study of this kind. They are deeply read in Stevens and forthrightly acknowledge his influence. Other individuals, though, such as Cunningham and Updike, are only tenuously connected to the poet, in this case via their novels’ epigraphs, which serve as pretexts for, and means of, interpretive ingress. The remainder of the analyses, especially of Hollywood cinema, represent “occasional forays into contexts where the impact of Stevens is obviously less than direct” (11), the purpose of which, we are told, is to illustrate his writings’ usefulness for coming to grips with a “robust and resonant cultural moment,” the post-World War II era (5).

What unites these forays into disparate texts? Jarraway seeks a version of masculinity that is progressive and liberatory instead of hierarchical and heteronormative. He contends that many of the women in Stevens’ lyric poetry—such as the “diva-dame” that appears in “Adult Epigram” (CPP 308)—are figures for an unassimilable otherness that exceeds and escapes the “masculinist coherence of representation” that undergirds and perpetuates our current patriarchal political order (Jarraway 15). Moreover, Stevens illustrates that pursuing a diva-dame requires a man to contemplate a range of behavior and rhetoric that have heretofore been off limits to him, that is, marked as unmanly. This process does not rob him of his masculinity; rather, “masculinity presents itself” anew, “as an emergent occasion for reassessment and reconfiguration in . . . womanist terms” (26; emphasis in orig.).

In many of the works that Jarraway examines, he finds that a Stevensian effort to reinvent masculinity proves inseparable from an attempt to rethink the relationship between gender, home, and domesticity. What makes it possible for interpersonal ties to turn houses into homes? How might movement into and out of buildings depend on or allegorize normative gender roles? When do intimacy and enclosure protect toxic masculinity, and when do they offer a refuge from it? This line of argument proves especially enlightening when applied to novels critical of American suburbia by the likes of Oates, Roth, and Updike. [End Page 96]

It also allows the book to assert points of contact between Stevens’ poetics and “contemporary queer discourse,” above all the “viability of the traditions of home and family for all manner of sexual partnerships and kinship relationships” (52). This last point is crucial for Jarraway. He insists that the revamped masculinity that he describes is available to all men, no matter what their preferred object choices may be. At base it is also “androgynous,” open to “relaxations of the known” such as the transgressions of a “drag queen” (64–65). And he believes that the inclusiveness, malleability, and indeterminacy of Stevensian masculinity explain how “an ostensibly heterosexual male canonical American writer” has come “to have so extraordinary an impact on a legion of contemporary gay authors,” among them John Ashbery, Robert Duncan, Richard Howard, and Frank O’Hara (59).

The thread of Jarraway’s argument can be difficult to follow. Wallace Stevens among Others openly presents itself as a sequel to his previous books, Wallace Stevens and the Question of Belief: Metaphysician in the Dark (1993) and Going the Distance: Dissident Subjectivity in Modernist American Literature (2003), and one can at times feel plunged into the middle of a conversation already well underway. His particular approach to Stevens—via a Gilles Deleuze-inflected reading of American pragmatism—is more a donnée here than something patiently introduced step-by-step. The alacrity with which the book moves from idea to intertext to interlocutor is, however, energizing, and Jarraway is successful in his Deleuzian ambition to pursue deterritorializing “lines of flight” across and beyond many of the categories and divides that all too often limit academic literary-critical inquiry (medium, genre, period, prose/verse, fiction/nonfiction).

More important, the book shows what is possible when, as Stevens himself put it in “The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet,” someone has “day after day” read a body of poetry to the point that it “naturalizes him [sic] in its own imagination” (CPP 673). Jarraway is full to his fingertips with lines and phrases drawn from the whole of Stevens’ oeuvre, and one can sense whole worlds of prior reflection and affect when he introduces them into his text. Stevens, in other words, has taught him to read and to think. That impress and impetus remain on view even when he goes leaping far afield, as he does in his final chapter, when he seizes on the one mention of Freud in the author’s Collected Poems—in “Mountains Covered with Cats” (CPP 319)—and then runs rapidly and gloriously through Jacques Derrida on psychoanalysis, Elizabeth Bishop on Canada, and Frank Gehry’s deconstructive design for a house in Santa Monica, California.

One comes away from Wallace Stevens among Others with an enlivened sense of the importance of certain aspects of Stevens’ career, such as his admiration for George Santayana and his correspondence with José Rodríguez Feo. One gains new insights, too, into lyrics such as “Jumbo,” “The Poem That Took the Place of a Mountain,” “To an Old Philosopher in Rome,” “Bouquet of Belle Scavoir,” and “Things of August.” The true payoff, though, lies elsewhere. Instead of concentrating on teaching us more about what Stevens says, Jarraway shows us what sustained devotion to Stevens enables one, as a critic, to see and do. [End Page 97]

Brian Reed
University of Washington, Seattle