Imagination is that activity or, better, power in the sense of the German Einbildungskraft, of forming concepts beyond those derived from external objects. Understood in 23 this way, the imagination is a power over external objects, or the transformation of the external into the internal through the work of subjective creation, a creation that is given sensuous form and is therefore rendered external in the work of art, the poem.
I take it that this is what Hegel means when he speaks of art being born of the spirit and then reborn in being aesthetically regarded. So, no poetry, no reality: that is, our experience of the real is dependent upon the work of the poetic imagination.
For Stevens, the poet must not lead us away from the real, where the solitary work of the imagination would result in fantasy or fancy. So, the real is the base, it is the basis from which poetry begins, what Stevens calls the materia poetica, the matter of poetry, but it is only the base. That is, he begins from a perceived failure of Kantianism, from what might be called a dejected transcendental idealism. Coleridge famously writes, Though I should gaze for ever On that green light that lingers in the west: I may not hope from outward forms to win The passion and the life; whose fountains are within.
It is not for us and is simply indifferent to our existence. Thus, if transcendental idealism is true, it is only so faute de mieux and inspires dejection in us. The myth of the given might, after all, be a nice myth to believe in. Bloom understands the concept of order in entirely solipsistic terms as the Schopenhauerian reduction of the world to an idea and the latter to consciousness.
Poetry is here reduced to the effusions of a will that projects an illusory world of its own confection. For Bloom, like Riddel, the poem is entirely an act of the mind without reference to reality, a view that he ingeniously, but somewhat obsessively, traces back to Emerson, Whitman and the tradition of American transcendentalism.
The attempt to interpret him in this way reduces the work of the imagination to the frictionless spinning of fancy.
However, to say that Stevens is not an anti-realist does not entail that he is what we might call a transcendental realist. For the latter, all human activity is epiphenomenal to a subject-independent material realm explicable by the natural sciences. Such would be the contracted world, free from the cognitive, aesthetic and moral values that give colour and texture to the world we inhabit. Simply stated, his conviction is that a poeticized, imaginatively transformed reality is both preferable to an inhuman, contracted and oppressive sense of reality and gives a truer picture of the relation humans entertain with the world.
What is phenomenology? Phenomenological descriptions, if felicitous, foreground things as they are experienced in the everyday world we inhabit, the real world in which we move and have our being, the world which fascinates and benumbs us. If we place in question these two presuppositions, then it might lead us to abandon the entire epistemological construal of the relation of thought to things and mind to world. This shows the whole epistemological construal of knowledge to be mistaken. Can poetry be philosophized?
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A question I would like to keep in mind as we proceed is: why is this? What is it about the particular meditative poetic form that he developed that is able to carry genuine philosophical weight and yet which is impossible to translate into prose?
More troublingly, though, is it good for poetry to address philosophical problems so explicitly, even when it might be said to recast them or even cast them away? In my view it is, at least in the case of Stevens, but let me insert a cautionary note here with an anecdote. Some years ago, I took part in a workshop on Stevens where the other speaker was Frank Kermode. Now, I think Kermode is wrong in his judgement of the quality of the later poems, in particular the long poems and the late lyrics, though I take his point that perhaps it is better for poetry not to wear its philosophy so close to the surface, and to try to submerge those preoccupations into the particular grain of the poems.
In relation to all of this, perhaps the following pages are only going to make matters worse. We shall see. Then the theatre was changed To something else.
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Its past was a souvenir. It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.
‘Without human meaning’: Stevens, Heidegger and the Foreignness of Poetry | SpringerLink
It has to face the men of the time and to meet 33 The women of the time. It has To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage And, like an insatiable actor slowly and With meditation, speak words that in the ear, In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat, Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound Of which, an invisible audience listens, Not to the play, but to itself, expressed In an emotion as of two people, as of two Emotions becoming one.
The actor is A metaphysician in the dark, twanging An instrument, twanging a wiry string that gives Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses, wholly Containing the mind, below which it cannot descend, Beyond which it has no will to rise. The poem of the act of the mind. This is why we are metaphysicians in the dark. The only light with which we might view objects has to be kindled by us, by our activity.
The poem of the act of the mind has to be living, it has to speak the language of this place and be attuned to our climate. If the actor is a metaphysician in the dark, then he is only such for a living audience, otherwise the theatre would be truly dark. As such, the pre-modern poet could simply read from the script, and tell the stories of gods and heroes. Many modern works are fragments as soon as they are written. Quickly, The wind beat in the roof and half the walls.
The ruin stood still in an external world. The people sat in the theatre, in the ruin, As if nothing had happened. That is, if Kant decisively shows that the issues of the nature of God and soul are simply beyond our ken and are thus cognitively meaningless, then that does not exclude the possibility of a philosophy that sudden rightnesses would investigate into the conditions of possibility for what we actually do know.
Such is the transcendental turn in philosophy. So conceived, the question of the relation of thought to things or mind to world can no longer be conceived in terms of some myth of the given, whether material or immaterial substance, but rather has to be conceived as radically subject-dependent, i.
After building his own stage, the actor has to speak words that repeat exactly what he wants to hear, but which are listened to by an invisible audience, an audience, moreover, that does not listen to a play, but to itself, where audience and actor fuse together in an emotion.
So what does a metaphysician in the dark do there in the dark? Does he grope for a light switch? No, he twangs. Stevens describes the metaphysical actor as, The poet has to say things as they are, exactly as they are, as they are recognized by the men and women of the time. And yet, those things are changed and turned around upon the blue guitar, becoming beyond us, yet ourselves. But what does this mean?
What might rightness mean here? Four things come to mind: 1. The dark metaphysical activity of the poet is described in musical terms, where rightness would be a kind of harmony between mind and world. Metaphysics in the dark is a kind of music, where rightness means sounding right. Stevens seems to be proposing that dark metaphysical talk is only successful insofar as the sounds passing achieve sudden rightnesses, which is an arresting expression. In short, such rightness possesses the transience of music.
Things Merely are Philosophy in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens by Critchley Simon
It is something of a truism of Stevensiana — that is nonetheless true — to say that his poetry has the quality of music. Lurking behind this notion of sudden rightness is a deeper observation, I think: namely, that if one accepts that metaphysics as scientia divina is impossible, then it seems to me that metaphysical talk can only live on in the dark, in the form of certain remarks which light up and render suddenly perspicuous certain perplexities we might have.
In this sense, the dark metaphysical talk of the poet can momentarily focus the bewilderment to which most of us are wedded, and which passes for our inner life. We will come back to this thought. At its worst, it does not. In the poem of that name, Stevens writes, But how does one feel? One grows used to the weather, The landscape and that; And the sublime comes down To the spirit itself, The Spirit and space, The empty spirit In vacant space.
What bread does one eat? What exactly would constitute the meaning of the sacred and the sacramental in America? PM The appeal of Connecticut for Stevens is the slightness of its beauty and the hardness, thrift and frugality that this unforgiving landscape imposed on its colonists OP —4.
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Poetic acts are acts of the mind, which describe recognizable things, but which vary the appearance of those things, changing the aspect under which they are seen. As such, poetry is an elevation, an enlargement of life. The problem is that it is not at all clear who I am. We might ponder the meaning of war in Stevens and this will be at the centre of my discussion of Malick.
For Stevens, in the violent reality of war, consciousness takes the place of the imagination. In a time of war, imagination appears impotent and we are overwhelmed with the desire for fact. But perhaps it never changes, perhaps our experience of the present is always dominated by this feeling of pressure.
Unless it should be forgotten, ours is a time of war. This is organized around the theme of nobility. For him, and this is rather controversial, the possibility of nobility goes together with the refusal of the attempt to reduce the function of poetry to social and political concerns. Stevens persistently defended the idea of pure poetry, as for example in the jacket statement to the collection Ideas of Order, where in the depths of the great depression he sought to separate the idea of poetic order from questions of economic, 47 social and political order OP This is not quite as reactionary as it sounds.
It is the violence of the imagination bringing about felt variations in the appearances of things through what we called above dark metaphysical talk.