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KRZYSZTOF ZIAREK Poetics of Disclosure in Stevens' Late Poetry In American literature, the poetry ofWallace Stevens is perhaps that which most explicitly and repeatedly addresses the origin and function of poetic language. Many of Stevens' poems, especially his later ones, discuss and illustrate not only his own poetics but also its possible alternatives. In those discussions, they open a new perspective on poetry, which identifies the "theory" of poetry with the "life" of poetry.1 Such a fusion of theory and life characterizes in particular the poems that come after "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction," poems that reflect an increasing interest in the problem of Being. At the same time, these texts move beyond the apparent post-Romantic poetics of the earlier poems and indicate a place in language which resists incorporation into any traditional poetics ot explanation in familiar critical terms. I wish to focus here on the question ofthis non-spatial, linguistic place in the context of the whole of Stevens' work and the complex interrelation of its various poetics. Since this aspect of Stevens' poetic language, what we might call its "poetics of disclosure," finds its exemplary expression in "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction," I will deal in detail with parts of this long "manifesto," as well as with several poems written at about the same time. In order to bring this poetics into view, we must explore the ambiguity of disclosing, or in Stevens' own term, "discovering," in his poetry. The difficulty involved in the disclosing function of language in Stevens' poetry comes from the fact that exploring the limits of the familiar interplay of the mind and the world, it suggests a poem beyond, "a poem that never reaches words" (CP 396). Stevens' poems often refer Arizona Quarterly Volume 46 Number 1, Spring 1990 Copyright © 1990 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 004-1610 52Krzysztof Ziarek to this othet, unnameable poem, for which they themselves are merely preliminary "notes." This recurring theme of a poem which eludes words, a "non-poem" withholding itself from writing, designates what remains other with respect to the poem itself. This otherness is never obttusive—on the contrary, it often disappears behind spectaculat word and sound play, behind elaborate rhythmic, rhyming, and stanzaic patterns . What is then the status of this other "poem," this other of the poem, and how can this otherness, which makes "place" for poetry, be indicated in critical discourse? The otherness which Stevens' late poems "discover" has generated different approaches to his poetics. The difficulty of this "discovering" announces itself already in opposed critical interpretations of Stevens, which, in most cases, either stress the novelty of his "post-Cartesian" language ot relegate him, by criticism or by praise, to the rank of an epigone, however excellent, of Romanticism. What decides about this "critical divide" is the reading of the poem that does not reach words, and which in other places bears the name of the "central" and "grand" poem, or simply "the poem" (CP 440). Most critical discoutse on Stevens hinges upon the reading of the otherness in his work, and upon indicating how it informs his poetics. Stevens' poetry makes immediately clear the multiformity of otherness which arranges its language and makes explicit various poetics informing it. It is then difficult to privilege one of those poetics, and only theit entire spectrum offers an appreciation of Stevens' complexity . Thus, on the one hand, critics like Bloom and Vendler inscribe Stevens into the Romantic tradition,2 stressing the "central poem" as an invocation to the centrality of the self and poetic imagination. Marjorie Perloff, a critic of the echoes of Romanticism and Symbolism in the twentieth-century lyric, and a proponent of the "Pound era" in American poetry, reads Stevens within the Romantic paradigm of subjectivity .3 Other critics read, or have read, this otherness in the context of the teleological scheme, self-expression, the notion of unity or the ambiguous relation to the other.4 Indeed Stevens' poetry often involves an interplay or a dialogue between various, sometimes even opposed, theories of poetic language. This multiplicity of discourses, noted by many ctitics, has received a most interesting treatment in J. Hillis Miller's recent book...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 51-75
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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