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Reviewed by:
  • The New Wallace Stevens Studies ed. by Bart Eeckhout and Gül Bilge Han
  • Stephanie Burt
The New Wallace Stevens Studies.
Edited by Bart Eeckhout and Gül Bilge Han. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Wallace Stevens is one of those poets who (like Walt Whitman) seems to anticipate in his own verse most of the arguments we make about him, including the argument that arguments, propositions, logical inferences should not rule the day, even for intellective figures such as himself. And so it should be no surprise that a volume of essays about The New Wallace Stevens Studies, with academics of three generations (from the nearly retired to the newly minted), finds the form of its claims anticipated by Stevens. “A great disorder is an order,” he opined in “Connoisseur of Chaos,” and “opposite things partake of one” (CPP 194–95). Like Canon Aspirin, Stevens included “the things / That in each other are included,” even if (like night and day) they seem opposed (CPP 348). Most of these valuable chapters say something a lot like what Stevens says in those much-quoted poems: A and B, normally considered opposites or mutually exclusive, are—as Stevens shows, or in Stevens’s poetry—interdependent, inseparable, included in each other, part of a larger whole, or even, deep down, the same.

Thus, in Douglas Mao’s carefully speculative piece on Stevens and Karl Mannheim, Stevens’s utopian imagination depends on realism, even on realpolitik: both emerge from each other—dare we say, dialectically—in the twentieth century’s “ongoing history of ideas in conflict” (40). In Cary Wolfe’s version of Stevens’s “ecology,” perceiver and perceived, or self and world, depend on each other. The provincial and the “transnational” lean on each other in the Stevens of Gül Bilge Han. “[P]resen[ce] in the here and now and [the feeling of being] impossibly absent from it” coexist in the apprehension of art that Stevens exemplifies, according to G. Gabrielle Starr and the cognitive neuroscientists she cites (152). “[C]ommunity and audience” in Stevens require—and are required, in turn, by—“individuality” and “impersonality,” according to my extraordinarily perceptive former student Christopher Spaide (53). Past and present, or death and life, switch places in Stevens according to Tom Eyers, in an essay that might as well have been written by the ghost of Paul de Man. Outward social mores and intimate language use—supposedly separated by the boundary between self and other, individual and mass—come together, in Zachary Finch’s essay, under the extraordinarily flexible, two-sided, Jamesian banner of “manner.”

By and large (except for Eyers) these essays persuade (at least, they persuaded me). They will help readers who already care for Stevens see him in more, and in fresh, lights. And they will help you, if you are the sort of critic who regularly reads this journal, bring Stevens into present-day conversations that often proceed without him, conversations about urbanism (for example) [End Page 111] or about race and whiteness, about ecology and nature as they are more usually understood, about the transhistorical idea of lyric (or, if you prefer Virginia Jackson to Jonathan Culler, about “lyricization”). The somewhat shorter but more abundant essays in Wallace Stevens in Context (Cambridge UP, 2017) lent themselves to similar purposes: if you’re a Stevens regular you need both.

Sometimes the essays commissioned for this volume treat Stevens’s poems as exceptionally useful examples for claims about poetry or about cognition more generally. Starr and Johanna Skibsrud both treat Stevens’s lyric poems as test cases in this way, but the test cases work out well. Skibsrud finds that in Stevens and elsewhere “The space of the lyric . . . becomes . . . a space of encounter with what exists beyond, and therefore delineates, selfhood” (230). She finds support for that claim in the physicist Carlo Rovelli; others might go to Allen Grossman, as well as to Stevens himself, for whom poetic making involves “an apostrophe that was not spoken,” “so much that was real that was not real at all” (CPP 366).

These conversations are, not to put too fine a point on it, arguments, designed—as literary critics usually...


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pp. 111-115
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