Tải bản đầy đủ - 0trang
1 Taming ‘the guerrilla I’: the early poems of parts of a world (1942)
Man with the Blue Guitar’. Far from preaching the ‘slogan’ ‘Away from
Nature!’, Picasso told Zervos that ‘abstract art’ was impossible because
the painter ‘always start[s] with something’. Even if the artist ‘remove[s]
all traces of reality’ the ‘idea of the object will have left an indelible mark’
on his creation.4 For Picasso, objects and inspiration derive from Nature.
They are not created by intellectual abstraction. As he recalled: ‘I go for
a walk in the forest of Fontainebleau. I get “green” indigestion. I must
get rid of this sensation into a picture. Green rules it.’ 5 Stevens himself
echoed Picasso’s observation in ‘The Greenest Continent’: ‘The voice / In
the jungle is a voice in Fontainebleau.’ 6
Admittedly, Furst acknowledges that from Picasso’s ‘abstract form’ the
‘grim significance of human emotions’ appears. But the portrayal Stevens
favours renders Picasso ‘an over-intellectual designer’, one who ‘moves
one to thought, but not to feeling’. Stevens endorses Furst’s desire to have
it both ways. Picasso’s abstract art confines him to a realm of ideas, but it
is through ‘abstract form’ that the artist discloses ‘human emotions’. On
the one hand, Picasso possesses, like Wordsworth’s Coleridge, the ‘selfcreated sustenance of a mind / Debarred from Nature’s living images’
(‘Away from Nature! was his slogan’).7 On the other, Picasso conveys emotion through ‘abstract form’. On closer inspection his paintings are, Furst
suggests, not ‘as “mad” as they looked’.8
My point in highlighting how Stevens revised his view of Picasso is
to demonstrate how the poet was, by 1938, devising an abstract aesthetic
of his own.9 As Chapter 3 argued, this involved forging a modern idealism, affirming the phenomenon of a creative subject, an active ‘I’. In ‘Blue
Guitar’ this ‘I’ occupies an abstract locale, frustrating any attempt to
describe its position in dualistic terms. In fact, the ‘I’ must be ‘un-locatable’, must be continually mobile if it is to convey the fluid meditation
Hegel also discovers in his phenomenology.
Significantly, the poems Stevens wrote immediately after ‘Blue Guitar’
feature idealism and the textually invasive ‘I’ who dominates much of
the 1938–45 verse. Even more than ‘Blue Guitar’, these 1938 poems render
Stevens’ ‘I’ idealist. In 1937 Picasso’s troubling ‘image’ for ‘our society’
haunts Stevens’ speaker:
Ashton, Picasso on Art, 9.
Ibid., 10. 6 CPP, 162.
Wordsworth, The Prelude Book Sixth, lines 312–13: 202.
Stevens, Sur Plusieurs Beaux Sujects, 63.
Stevens showed increasing frustration with derivative Modernism, complaining: ‘There is no
painting because the only painting permitted is painting derived from Picasso and Matisse’, L,
622. See Chapter 7.
Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction
Things as they are have been destroyed.
Have I? Am I a man that is dead
At a table on which the food is cold?
Is my thought a memory, not alive?
Is the spot on the floor, there, wine or blood
And whichever it may be, is it mine?
By 1938, however, Stevens surmounted both Picasso and abstraction as
‘destabilizing’ influences. Simultaneously, Stevens’ first person experiences
a less traumatic textual life, becoming both theme and poetic choreographer. Although the poet overlooked his debt to Picasso in confronting
abstraction, Stevens’ 1938 poems foreground the idealist speaker born of
the poet’s own struggle with an abstract aesthetic.
The ‘Canonica’ series comprising the first twelve poems of Parts of
a World marks this transition.10 In ‘The Poems of Our Climate’ (1938)
Stevens emphasizes the unavoidable reality of the creative self. As Brogan
argues, he critiques an Objectivist poetic – especially Williams – both in
his wry title and the poem’s bare imagery:
Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
Pink and white carnations. The light
In the room more like a snowy air,
Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
At the end of winter when afternoons return.
Pink and white carnations – one desires
So much more than that.
‘Pink and white carnations’ remain insufficient because Stevens cannot evade the desirous mind that lends his carnations colour. The poem
allows an unmediated ‘objective’ view articulation only to query its validity. Imagining a scene where the ‘snowy scents’ and unruly, perceiving ‘I’
are purged of ‘evilly compounded’ subjectivity, the poem wryly re-affirms
the existence of the ‘I’ that creates the scene.
Stevens imagines the impossibility of a world where carnations and
their perceiving ‘I’ are merely objects. But even if such a world is imagined, a desirous ‘I’ returns to haunt the scene:
Say even that this complete simplicity
Stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed
Wallace Stevens, ‘Canonica’ The Southern Review 4.2 (1938): 382–95.
See Jacqueline Brogan, ‘Wallace Stevens: Poems Against His Climate’ WSJ 11.2 (1987): 75–93.
The evilly compounded, vital I
And made it fresh in a world of white,
A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.
Even if, then, a re-created ‘vital I’ could become ‘fresh in a world of white’ (a
totally abstracted environment) one cannot avoid subjective desire: ‘Still one
would want more, one would need more’. As the poem insists: ‘There would
still remain the never-resting mind’. Significantly, Stevens cannot accept a
Mallarméan ‘pure poetry’, despite his obvious inheritance of Mallarméan
themes and ideas.12 His ‘vital I’ evades neutralization just as, for Brogan, the
poem resists the illusion of an Objectivist poetic in which ‘pink and white
carnations’ stand for themselves unmediated by a perceiving mind.
‘The Poems of Our Climate’ implies, therefore, that every environment
has a creator, even ‘unmediated’ aesthetics:
There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.
This is a major crossroads for Stevens. The turn to ‘what had been so
long composed’ and the insistence that the ‘imperfect is our paradise’
anticipate ‘Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction’, especially the view that
the world requires perpetual stripping of its veneers before imaginative re-composition. Stevens’ poem does not, however, prefer a purely
abstract space stripped of veneers, as, for the idealist, unmediated environments do not exist. Instead, as Focillon observes: ‘technique must
extract from matter forces that are still vital and not vitrified beneath a
flawless varnish’.13 This positive abstract quality, as Longenbach notes,
would attract Robert Motherwell to this very poem in his 1944 essay
For example, Stevens inherits Mallarmé’s drive to transcend ‘the poet’s own personal and passionate control of [the] verse’ (‘Crisis in Poetry’, 1561).
See L, 427; Focillon, The Life of Forms in Art, 106.
‘Stevens’s poem bolstered his [Motherwell’s] assertion that […] a purely abstract painting,
divorced from the historical world, would be undesirable – even if it were possible’ (Longenbach,
Wallace Stevens, 254).
Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction
Stevens’ idealist ‘mind’, however, can only re-invigorate a created
world if, as for Wordsworth, brute ‘reality’ – a necessarily ‘imperfect’
paradise – is its starting point. Our climate is already ‘composed’ and
cannot be whitewashed. It is necessarily imperfect because the ‘neverresting mind’ cannot rest content with perfection (an inhuman ‘world
of white’). Stevens also engages ‘sound’ here, a persistent preoccupation
of the 1938–45 verse, as ‘stubborn sounds’ inform the mind’s ‘delight’.15
Stevens’ abstract poetic is undeniably preoccupied with sound, as is
its idealist speaker; as if it is only through sound(s) that the senses of
poetry and world unite. But it will take a fuller study of ‘sound’ in
Stevens to chart the poet’s changing uses of this word; and to assess
how the sonorous qualities of his verse relate, or otherwise, to abstraction (‘sound’ is addressed here in discussion of ‘The Noble Rider’,
Stevens’ ‘vital I’ has not yet become an active poetic agent. It remains a
theme. His concern with the transformative mind and, implicitly, the ‘I’
who speaks in his verse is hypothetical, just as in ‘Notes’ Stevens advertises ‘the abstract’ before creating his mature post-1942 aesthetic; one
where ‘abstraction’ is no longer a required term, even if Stevens cannot
help but refer occasionally to his primary aesthetic transformation in significant instances.16
‘Prelude to Objects’ (1938) also features the ‘self ’ as theme. But this
poem does anticipate the potential of Stevens’ ‘I’, by lauding a ‘self ’ who,
through beholding himself, perceives the world more intimately:
If he will be heaven after death,
If, while he lives, he hears himself
Sounded in music, if the sun,
Stormer, is the color of a self
As certainly as night is the color
Of a self, if, without sentiment,
He is what he hears and sees and if,
Without pathos, he feels what he hears
And sees, being nothing otherwise,
Having nothing otherwise, he has not
To go to the Louvre to behold himself.
See Anca Rosu, The Metaphysics of Sound in Wallace Stevens (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of
Alabama Press, 1995), 138–58.
For ‘abstraction’, ‘abstract’ and ‘the abstract’, see John N. Serio and Greg Foster, Online
Concordance to Wallace Stevens’ Poetry (www.wallacestevens.com/concordance/WSdb.cgi).
Stevens affirms here his favourite painter Cézanne’s dictum that ‘Nature
is on the inside’ (a comment Merleau-Ponty also cites approvingly).17
Like the speaker in ‘Blue Guitar’ who asserts ‘I am, I speak and move /
And things are as I think they are’ the poem celebrates a ‘self’ who both
‘feels what he hears / And sees’ and ‘is what he hears and sees’ (note Stevens
inverts these phrases because feeling confirms perception of self rather
than signalling fleeting emotion).18 For all the Cézannes in ‘the Louvre’,
Stevens’ ‘self’ needs neither to commune with art nor travel the world to
achieve his nature: very much the Stevensian stance epitomized by Hardy’s
injunction in ‘Shut Out That Moon’ to ‘[s]tay in’.19 Like ‘The Poems of
Our Climate’, ‘Prelude to Objects’ also identifies sound as a source of selfrealization, lauding the self who ‘hears himself / Sounded in music’.
But if Stevens apparently swings free from his ‘actual world’ – particularly in stating ‘he has not / To go to the Louvre’ – he is ironically
accentuating Émile Bernard’s recollections of Cézanne’s conversation and
aphorisms. Stevens paints a ‘self’ who is not solipsistic but an aesthetic
creator, in the model Cézanne proposes. Bernard published his description of Cézanne and the painter’s aphorisms in L’Occident in 1904. But
Stevens could have read Cézanne’s views in any number of texts (the aphorisms profoundly influencing Picasso, Braque and the Cubists, as well as
Matisse).20 Bernard writes:
[H]e [Cézanne] made himself a new optics, for his own had been obliterated,
swept away by a boundless passion for too many images, print, paintings. He
wanted to see too much; his insatiable desire for beauty made him examine the
multiform tome of Art too much; henceforth […] if he now goes to the Louvre
[…] it is in view of stripping down appearances[.]21
Thus, although Cézanne still ‘goes to the Louvre’, it is to strip down
‘appearances’; an aim Stevens obviously shares with the painter in ‘Notes’
(and, of course, in ‘The Poems of Our Climate’).
But Cézanne was actually keener on communing with Nature than
visiting the Louvre. As he wrote to Bernard:
The Louvre is the book in which we learn to read. We should not, however,
content ourselves with retaining the beautiful formulas of our illustrious
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, ‘Eye and Mind’ in The Primacy of Perception and Other Essays on
Phenomenological Psychology, the Philosophy of Art, History and Politics ed. James M. Edie
(Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 164.
See Chapter 2.
See Franỗoise Cachin et al., Cộzanne (New York:Harry N. Abrams, 1996), 36.
Émile Bernard, ‘Paul Cézanne’ L’Occident (1904) in Cachin et al., Cézanne, 37.
Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction
predecessors. Let’s take leave of them to study beautiful nature, let’s understand
to disengage our minds from them, let’s seek to express ourselves in accordance
with our personal temperaments.22
Cézanne’s insistence on personal temperament undoubtedly appealed
to Stevens. Of the twenty aphorisms Bernard recorded, several illustrate Cézanne’s conviction that ‘[p]ainting after nature is not copying
the objective, it’s realizing our sensations’.23 This does not mean the artist
‘occupies’ his work, however, as Bernard quickly observed:
[T]he more the artist works […] the more he distances himself from the opacity
of the model serving as his point of departure, the more he enters into a painting
without adornment whose sole aim is itself. The more he abstracts his painting,
the more he gives it a simplified amplitude[.]24
The artist’s painting thus reveals ‘personality’ but not personal individuality. As Cézanne wrote to Bernard: ‘The thesis to develop […] is to give
the image of what we see, forgetting everything that appears in front of
us. Which, I think, should permit the artist to give all of his personality,
large or small’.25
Both Cézanne and Stevens imagine ‘personalities’ who do not need to
go to the Louvre to behold themselves. Anchored in nature, such idealist figures reveal their perception of the world through the ‘personality’
of their art. They forget ‘everything that appears in front’ of them not
because the world is bereft of physical reality but because in a world of
appearances perception matters. As Proust’s Marcel observes: ‘The only
real journey […] would be to travel not towards new landscapes, but with
new eyes.’ 26 Cézanne’s ‘new optics’ conveys precisely the ‘personality’
embodying novel vision. Likewise, in the late 1930s, Stevens creates an ‘I’
who has definite ‘personality’ but is not a cipher for individual gripes or
In 1937 Stevens copied extracts from Graham Bell on Cézanne into his
commonplace book. Citing Bell’s observation that ‘Cézanne’s peculiar
determination [is] to pin down his sensation’, Stevens added:
I note the above both for itself and because it adds to subject and manner the
thing that is incessantly overlooked: the artist, the presence of the determining
personality. Without that reality no amount of other things matters much.27
Cited in Cachin et al., Cézanne, 18. 23 Bernard, ‘Paul Cézanne’, 37.
Cachin et al., Cézanne, 37. 25 Cited in ibid., 17–18.
Marcel Proust, The Prisoner and The Fugitive trans. Carol Clark and Peter Collier
(London: Penguin, 2003), 237.
Stevens, Sur Plusieurs Beaux Sujects, 53, 55.
In ‘The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet’ (where Cézanne’s letters are
quoted successively) Stevens’ ‘personality’ follows Cézanne’s term closely,
indicating the refracted traces of perception the artist communicates and
the ‘personality’ the artwork seemingly attains for itself.28 Stevens read
similar observations in Focillon, also a prominent element within his
1943 lecture: ‘the life of forms is undoubtedly more or less affected by the
temperament’.29 If Picasso ended up, for Stevens, at the abstract remove
Wordsworth detects in Coleridge, then Cézanne is exemplary because he
exudes personality without falling into solipsism or imaginative indulgence: ‘It was of the temperament of the artist that Cézanne spoke so frequently in his letters’. This ‘temperament’ engages what Stevens calls the
‘whole personality’ shaping works of art.30
Cézanne also epitomizes the idealist strain outlined in Chapter 3.
For Stevens, the painter becomes the exemplar of an abstract aesthetic
the poet realizes in the late 1930s. Stevens would have recognized how
the term ‘abstraction’ accompanied Cézanne. In 1945 Lionello Venturi
applauded the painter’s abstract style:
[He] could so abstract his style […] from any given experience of nature and yet
convey through his abstractions so profound an interpretation of the nature of
things, that every artist and also many laymen have in the last forty years seen
nature with the eyes of Cézanne himself.31
Venturi marvels at Cézanne’s ‘new optics’, enabling one to see through
‘the eyes of Cézanne himself’ but without the intrusion of the painter’s
individual struggle to create. For Stevens this variety of vision derives
from a ‘determining personality’. Such an abstract artist is also the idealist
creator Hegel favours in Phenomenology of Spirit. Stevens’ ‘self’ does not
need to visit the Louvre because – as with Cézanne’s view that ‘Nature is
on the inside’ – his palette already comprises himself interacting with the
‘Prelude to Objects’ focuses a self untroubled by epistemological doubt,
where self-knowledge and knowledge of the world are coterminous in
poem and person alike (Stevens will later elide poet and poem directly).32
He also applies a kind of verbal paintbrush. Another reason the self does
See CPP, 671–2.
Focillon, The Life of Forms in Art, 125.
Lionello Venturi, Painting and Painters: How to Look at a Picture, from Giotto to Chagall (New
York: Scribner’s, 1945), 179.
See L, 346, 354. Stevens does not articulate a final position, but does affirm ‘the thing and its
double always go together’, L, 354.
Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction
not need to ‘go to the Louvre’ is not because it rejects what Bernard calls
the ‘tome of Art’; rather, ‘reality’ is conditioned by ‘the eyes of Cézanne
himself’. Our vision is influenced by art and the personalities who determine that vision. As Stevens insisted in 1938: ‘Cézanne has been the source
of all painting of any interest during the last 20 years’.33
Accordingly, even if one visits the Louvre, one sees more than pictures
on the wall. The world itself is revealed through artistic creation, a revelation that for Stevens equals self-revelation:
Granted each picture is a glass,
That the walls are mirrors multiplied,
That the marbles are gluey pastiches, the stairs
The sweep of an impossible elegance,
And the notorious views from the windows
Wax wasted, monarchies beyond
The S.S. Normandie, granted
One is always seeing and feeling oneself,
That’s not by chance.
This idealist confection of painting (‘each picture’), reflection (‘glass’,
‘mirrors multiplied’) and metamorphosis (the ‘marbles’ turned ‘gluey pastiches’, the world beyond the Louvre a ‘wax’ work) marks the inescapable fact that one ‘is always seeing and feeling oneself’. Even the S.S.
Normandie, whose regular route could have conveyed Stevens from New
York to Le Havre – whence he could proceed to the Louvre – lacks aesthetic allure. There is no prelude to objects. The ‘prelude’ is certainly not
the ‘self’ who views a world of objects. Stevens’ title is playful because
radical idealism privileges neither the self who manipulates objects nor
the objects themselves because it denies a subject–object dualism. In the
absence of that distinction there can be no prelude privileging either perceiver or perceived.
But Stevens’ poem does offer a ‘determining personality’ of its own: ‘It
comes to this: / That the guerilla I should be booked / And bound’.34 This
‘guerilla I’ is an assailant operating outside conventional practices: a first
person specializing in ‘irregular fighting’ (OED). Stevens battles with this
speaker in ‘Blue Guitar’, but by 1938 can joke about the need, in marked
legal language, to bring his ‘guerilla I’ to book because he had already,
bibliographically speaking, booked and bound that speaker in The Man
Stevens to Wilson E. Taylor, 31 March 1938, WAS, 3853.
with the Blue Guitar & Other Poems. The ‘nigger mystics’ of this ‘I’ – an
alarming caricature of ‘voodoo’ spell-binding? – are also ironized; paradoxically, because the poem insists they be transformed from ‘foolscap’ to
‘wigs’. ‘Foolscap’ is a size of paper, but obviously elides ‘fool’s cap’, denoting the jester with his cap and bells. Stevens quips his ‘I’ is both a serious
textual phenomenon – bound in paper – but also an object of mirth, lacking a serious audience (the ‘I’ desires the solemnity of a legal ‘wig’ rather
than a fool’s cap). The poem implies, however, that ‘wigs’ can be taken no
more seriously than any other definitive headgear (Stevens’ tone is similar to the apostrophe to the ‘beards’ of ‘Extracts from Addresses to the
Academy of Fine Ideas’).35 However, if the ‘guerilla I’ is not as dangerous
as Stevens maintains, his idealist ‘I’ does invade the early 1940s poetry.
‘Prelude to Objects’ signals that the poet (and a poetic ‘I’) need not fear
solipsism or perverse abstraction. The poem’s last section addresses the
‘Poet’ himself, insisting that, just as Cézanne shapes our vision of everything, the poet creates our sense of self-image: ‘We are conceived in your
conceits’. Stevens could joke about a ‘guerilla I’ because he had already
wrest control of that assailant in ‘Blue Guitar’. Realizing an ‘I’ and affirming an abstract imagination are, in fact, one and the same manoeuvre
in Stevens’ late 1930s work. But before demonstrating how his idealist ‘I’
choreographs the early 1940s poetry, I want to turn to ‘The Noble Rider
and the Sound of Words’ and ‘The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet’,
re-interpreting these lectures through their interest in speakers and what
Stevens calls the ‘process of the personality of the poet’.36 The chapter then
demonstrates how Stevens presents his idealist ‘I’, among other abstract
figures, in milieux distinguished by food, wine and aesthetic meditation,
concluding with a short reading of ‘Landscape with Boat’. This is preliminary to Chapter 5’s exploration of ‘Certain Phenomena of Sound’
and Stevens’ most abstract ‘gastronomic’ poem ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ as
we move into further uncharted critical territory: namely, the relations
between gastronomy, desire and abstraction in Stevens’ mature writing.
4 .2 F rom ‘robus t poe t ’ to i de a l is t ‘I’: ‘Th e Nobl e
R i de r a n d t h e Sou n d of Wor ds’ (194 2) a n d ‘Th e
F igu r e of t h e You t h a s V i r i l e Poe t ’ (1943)
‘The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words’ provides a rare instance of
Stevens critically reading another author’s work, namely Plato’s Phaedrus.
Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction
This reading illustrates Stevens’ growing awareness of how textual speakers influence readers. Although Stevens borrows Plato’s ‘charioteer’ primarily as an example of a figure of lost imaginative resonance (as a waning
symbol of ‘nobility’), what is often overlooked in this lecture is Stevens’
relish for Plato’s speaker. In fact ‘The Noble Rider’ initially foregrounds
Plato’s words rather than Stevens’:
In the Phaedrus, Plato speaks of the soul in a figure. He says:
Let our figure be of a composite nature – a pair of winged horses and a charioteer.
Now the winged horses and the charioteer of the gods are all of them noble […] while
ours are mixed; and we have a charioteer who drives them in a pair, and one of
them is noble and of noble origin, and the other is ignoble and of ignoble origin […]
I will endeavor to explain to you in what way the mortal differs from the immortal
creature. The soul or animate being has the care of the inanimate, and traverses the
whole heaven in divers forms appearing; – when perfect and fully winged she soars
upward, and is the ruler of the universe; while the imperfect soul loses her feathers,
and drooping in her flight at last settles on the solid ground.37
Stevens knows it is not Plato who speaks here but Socrates. The lecture
postpones reading the text as a dialogue – each speaker possessing his
own rhetorical agenda – because Stevens wants to influence his audience’s
response(s) to Plato.
Stevens is, in fact, peremptory, as he aims to delimit our understanding
of Plato’s figure:
We recognize at once, in this figure, Plato’s pure poetry; and […] we recognize
what Coleridge called Plato’s dear, gorgeous nonsense. The truth is that we have
scarcely read the passage before we have identified ourselves with the charioteer,
have, in fact, taken his place […] [S]uddenly we remember, it may be, that the
soul no longer exists and we droop in our flight and at last settle on the solid
ground. The figure has become antiquated and rustic.38
But whilst Plato’s passage might constitute ‘pure poetry’ – what Stevens
labels ‘all imagination’ – the reader/listener does not necessarily identify
‘with the charioteer’ or take his place as Stevens prescribes.39 ‘The truth is
that we have scarcely read’ forms a rhetorical ploy through which Stevens
delimits the interpretation with which he can account for Plato’s figure
having become ‘antiquated and rustic’. For if we ‘identify ourselves with
the charioteer’, we automatically participate in the experience of this figure’s downfall. Indeed, if we agree the figure falls for its unreality then
Stevens’ reading gives credence both to our nominally fine reading skills