Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things

Overview

Wallace Stevens the poet and Wallace Stevens the insurance executive: for more than one critical generation it has seemed as if these two men were unacquainted—that Stevens was a poet who existed only in the rarefied world of language. However, the idea that Stevens lived a double life, the author maintains, is misleading. This compelling book uncovers what Stevens liked to think of as his "ordinary" life, a life in which the demands of politics, economics, poetry, and everyday distractions coexisted, sometimes ...

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Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things

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Overview

Wallace Stevens the poet and Wallace Stevens the insurance executive: for more than one critical generation it has seemed as if these two men were unacquainted—that Stevens was a poet who existed only in the rarefied world of language. However, the idea that Stevens lived a double life, the author maintains, is misleading. This compelling book uncovers what Stevens liked to think of as his "ordinary" life, a life in which the demands of politics, economics, poetry, and everyday distractions coexisted, sometimes peacefully and sometimes not. Examining the full scope of Stevens's career (from the student-poet of the nineteenth century to the award-winning poet of the Cold War years), Longenbach reveals that Stevens was not only aware of events taking place around him, but often inspired by those events. The major achievements of Stevens's career are shown to coalesce around the major historical events of his lifetime (the Great Depression and two World Wars); but Longenbach also dwells on Stevens's two extended periods of poetic silence, exploring the crucial aspects of Steven's life that were not exclusively poetic. Longenbach demonstrates that through Stevens's work in surety law he was far more intimately acquainted with legal and economic concerns than most poets, and he consequently thought deeply about the strengths—and, equally important, the limitations—of poetry as a social product and force.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195070224
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/28/1991
  • Pages: 356
  • Lexile: 1360L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

University of Rochester
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Table of Contents

I The First Silence
1 Pecksniff and Politics 3
2 The Literary Profession 14
3 Populism and Imperialism 24
II Thinking About War
4 The Great War and Post-Romantic Ambition 41
5 Writing War Poetry 53
6 The Fellowship of Men that Perish 65
7 Postwar Comedian 83
III The Second Silence
8 Surety and Fidelity Claims 105
9 Paris and the Florida Land Boom 120
IV Poetry and Social Change
10 Lefts and Lefts 135
11 Ideas of Ambiguity 148
12 The Politics of Despair 176
V Rethinking War
13 Violence Within, Violence Without 199
14 It Must Be Masculine 222
15 The Heart of the Debacle 237
16 It Must Be Humdrum 249
VI The Affluent Mundo
17 The Ultimate Politician 277
18 A New Knowledge of Reality 293
Notes 307
Index of Works 331
General Index 334
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