- Paperback: 356 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 31, 1991)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195070224
- ISBN-13: 978-0195070224
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #949,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things 1st Edition
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"Longenbach has crafted a strong personal interpretation of Stevens' poetry that deserves a place among the half-dozen major studies of Stevens on our shelves."--Wallace Stevens Journal
"An intelligent in-depth study."--Ken Norris, University of Maine
"Deftly mixes biography and criticism....Longenbach himself writes a plain, clear prose, which keeps his arguments refreshingly clear."--Washington Post Book World
"In convincingly linking Stevens' work with world events and movements, Longenbach may succeed in stripping some of the otherworldly aura from Stevens' work and encourage even non-academics to listen more closely to the blue guitar."--Hartford Courant
"Closely reasoned, clearly recited, Mr. Longenbach's purposes are severe and designed: he would read Stevens with the undistracted assumption that, as the poet said at the end, 'there is a conflict, there is a resistance involved.' This comes to no less, and no worse, than proposing against the three famous stipulations for a Supreme Fiction (pleasure, change, abstraction), three ulterior demands for responses to pain, sameness, plain sense. Ransacking (and often overruling) a whole library of critics and biographers, though always with amenity, Longenbach tenably proposes a Stevens on the wrong side of Paradise, and reminds us as he proceeds that we now read our greatest (twentieth-century American) poet as we have learned to read Dante, against the grain of his ideas and his time, treasuring, at last, the contingencies we once thought it was such a glory to transcend. Per astra ad ardua.--Richard Howard
From the Back Cover
'This distinguished book sets forth the Stevens that we will be reading for at least the next three decades: a Stevens in close touch with political and social conditions, a Stevens whose poetry arises from the texture of his times.'-Louis Martz
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Like R P Blackmur, Longenbach recognizes too that the very act of selectively explaining the details of a work of art must limit and thereby to an extent falsify the work: ''No feature of a body of poetry can be as important as it seems in discussion.''
There are "critics" of Wallace Stevens like Beverley Maeder, and I guess Frank Lentricchia who, writing about Stevens, are more difficult to follow than Stevens himself. With friends like this, and without Hansel, leading us to the sugared house in the woods, who needs wicked witches?
I say I "guess" Frank Lentricchia; because why would I want to read Lentricchia? Longenbach (Page 163) gives an example of his expatiation: "fluidity, or undecidability, of the symbol is not ...the sign of its social and political elusiveness but the ground of its historicity and of its flexible but also specific political significance and force." This passage, in the context of the quotation, means that "specific", when it also means "non-specific", is fluid; or in brief "fluid means fluid". Why should we trouble ourselves with such attacks on our time and our sanity? I imagine, it is these people (without myself, thankfully, having read too much of Beckett) who Samuel Beckett was insulting when he swore using the word "Critic!"
Both dead and undead, Maeder and Lentricchia, read and unread, have made out of themselves gingerbread houses, egotistical sublimes, whose roof-tiles we break off and eat, because faced with the dark forest of Wallace Stevens himself, we are hungry. What dark force lives inside such fair-faced dwellings?
John Serio's free online concordance of the works of Wallace Stevens is the greatest asset to anyone interested in finding his way into the dark wood and out of Eliot's grimpen. A way is marked for boys like me, or Hansel, to walk in the dark holding the hand of a young girl. Serio is serious gold, where all other works of criticism associated with the name of Wallace Stevens, though serviceable at times, are base metal.
James Longenbach, runs away with himself as I do myself, and on the Liverpool Care Pathway the crumbs run out; as they did for Helen Vendler and have done for dear old Harold Bloom; both as I write, I guess not long for this life; but James is worth reading. If for nothing else: when talking about "Ideas of Order at Key West" he states categorically, and very helpfully, that Ramon Fernandez himself was a real live critic. Understanding James Longenbach we can read the famous line as: "Ramon Fernandez, tell me if [as you say] you know ...."
But what does "Ideas of Order at Key West" really mean?
Try this and see if it helps. One poet to another.
The word "SHE" appears sixteen times in this short (for Stevens) poem. The word SEA appears seven times. When reading the poem substitute the word "she" every time with the sound that even Socrates heard walking by The Aegean; that "Shhh" sound repeating; the essence of Arnold's Dover Beach.
This sound is what the poem is "about". The sound repeated endlessly sounds like a word. If it is a word, what then does it mean? The meaning of the word is "she", a feminine presence, and you can sense this in the poem with the particular iteration in the poem of the almost invisible word "her". First comes the sound, then the meaning. This is an idea of order. After that there is the effect of the meaning; an effect follows the faint understanding of the imagination. This effect is the third thing. One Two Three. An idea of order. A B C, sea... See?
The comedienne as the letter C. So the poem begins :
"Shhh sang beyond the genius of the sea."
THE SONG AND WATER WERE NOT MEDLEYED SOUND
They were not separate songs, abbreviated and presented one after the other, in a medley. They were the same thing.
"And for what, except for you, do I feel love?" The recently outdated "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM4-TR)" describes the psychiatric condition "Asperger's Syndrome"; the two words coined by its compilers, with an arrogance bordering on the condition itself. No empathy is the hallmark of Asperger's Syndrome. Stevens' austere sense of self-worth to the detriment of all other humanity is the hallmark of the condition. It is a derangement of the most brilliant minds. Stevens felt "love" only for his own supreme fiction. He rarely stooped in any of his dealings with his fellow man, particularly if they were black, and to have offered clarification on his purposefully obscure texts would have been lowering himself. If we feel pity for the man that is because, unlike him, we are normal.