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Stevens and the Interpersonal

Stevens and the Interpersonal

Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 204
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    Stevens and the Interpersonal
    Book Description:

    With Wallace Stevens emerging as a father figure for American poetry of the late twentieth century, Mark Halliday argues that it is time for this "poet of ideas" to undergo an ethical critique. In this bold, accessible reconsideration of Stevens' work, he insists on the importance of interpersonal relations in any account of human life in the modern world. Although Stevens outwardly denies aspects of life that center on such relations as those between friends, lovers, family members, and political constituents, Halliday uncovers in his poetry an anxious awareness of the importance of these relations. Here we see the difficulties Stevens made for himself in wanting to offer a thoroughly satisfying version of secular spiritual health in the modern world without facing up to the moral and psychological implications of his own interpersonal needs, problems, and responsibilities. The final chapter reveals, however, an unusually encouraging "avuncular" attitude toward the reader of the poetry, which may be felt to redeem Stevens from the alienation observed earlier. Halliday develops his views by way of comparisons between Stevens and other poets, especially Thomas Hardy, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and John Ashbery.

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6224-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. vii-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION (pp. 3-8)

    In this study I approach the poetry of Wallace Stevens from a perspective he would not endorse, asking questions which most of his critics would consider inappropriate. Today nearly everyone seems to agree that Stevens is a great poet, and I assume that my reader agrees or at least considers Stevens very important. But I believe there are omissions and distortions in his account of human life more drastic and pervasive than the omissions that can be cited in the work of other great poets, and that these omissions and distortions deserve attention they have not yet received. They are...


    Several kinds of unhappiness are audible in the poetry of Wallace Stevens. There is the only partly acknowledged unhappiness of the poet as an individual troubled by loss of love and loss of youth, and there is the extensively thematized unhappiness of humanity in the modern world, humanity adrift in a universe that lacks transcendent meaning and confers upon us no purpose. To focus on Stevens’ evocations of these two kinds of unhappiness is to find a basis for calling him a great poet of human suffering. And yet, stepping back from those evocations and remembering other writers’ poems about...

  6. Chapter Two STEVENS AND HETEROSEXUAL LOVE (pp. 43-65)

    At the end of “Le Monocle de Mon Oncle,” Stevens (or his avuncular spokesman) seems to dedicate himself to a career of studying love. Since the poem, notwithstanding its evasiveness, has focused on an unhappy relationship between a man and a woman, the kind of love announced as the subject of the poet’s ongoing inquiry seems to be heterosexual romantic love. The poet recalls the inadequacy of his intellectual effort in past years when he made a “lordly study” of mankind, and then turns to a more red-blooded endeavor:

    Like a rose rabbi, later, I pursued,

    And still pursue, the...

  7. Chapter Three STEVENS AND SOLITUDE (pp. 66-93)

    In chapters 1 and 2 we considered Stevens’ treatment of two special categories of interpersonal experience, and in both chapters we encountered the possibility that his evasions and denials were based—cogently or not—on a sweeping claim that ultimately there can be no true exchange of experience between any two human beings, regardless of sexual attraction or the pull of sympathy. The present chapter is intended to uncover and confront this premise more directly.

    References to solitude, and evocations of loneliness as emotional response to solitude, appear so chronically in Wallace Stevens’ poetry that the reader comes to expect...

  8. Chapter Four STEVENS AND THE READER (pp. 94-168)

    Each of the preceding chapters has mainly found—albeit with affecting qualifications and exceptions— an objectionable withdrawal in Stevens’ poetry from caring about (being interested in and being kindly disposed toward) individual other persons. Though I have tried to be more analytic than moralistic, certainly my project could be called a moral critique of Stevens, notwithstanding my attempts along the way to acknowledge my delight in much of his poetry. But all along I have been bothered by the sensation of ignoring a special defense of Stevens that might be offered, a defense in which the delight I have occasionally...

  9. NOTES (pp. 169-190)
  11. INDEX OF PERSONS (pp. 195-196)