Reality Is Not a Solid. Poetic Transfigurations of Stevens’ Fluid Concept of Reality

In Kacper Bartczak & Jakub Mácha (eds.), Wallace Stevens: Poetry, Philosophy, and Figurative Language. Berlin: Peter Lang. pp. 61-92 (2018)
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The main aim of this essay is to show that, for Stevens, the concept of reality is very fluctuating. The essay begins with addressing the relationship between poetry and philosophy. I argue, contra Critchley, that Stevens’ poetic work can elucidate, or at least help us to understand better, the ideas of philosophers that are usually considered obscure. The main “obscure” philosophical work introduced in and discussed throughout the essay is Schelling’s System of Transcendental Idealism. Both a (shellingian) philosopher and a (stevensian) poet search for reality. In order to understand Stevens’ poetry better, I distingush several concepts of reality: initial reality (the external world of the common sense), imagined reality (a fiction, a product of one’s mind), final reality (the object of a philosopher’s and a poet’s search) and total reality (the sum of all realities, Being). These determinations are fixed by reason (in the present essay), whereas in Stevens’ poetic works, they are made fluid by the imagination. This fluidity leads the concept of reality from its initial stage through the imagined stage to its final stage. Throughout this process, imagined reality must be distinguished from both a mere fancy and its products. Final reality is, however, nothing transcendent. It is rather a general transpersonal order of reality created by poetry/the imagination. The main peculiarity of final reality is that it is a dynamic order. It is provisional at each moment. Stevens (and Schelling too) characterizes this order as that of a work of art which is a finite object, but has an infinite meaning. Stevens calls this order “the central poem” or the “endlessly elaborating poem”. If ultimate reality is a poem created by the imagination, one may ask who is the imagining subject. I argue that this agent is best to be thought as total reality, that is, as Being. Stevens, however, maintains that if there were such an agency, it would be an inhuman agency, “an inhuman meditation”. The essay concludes, in a Derridian manner, with the claim that this agency cannot have any name; it is the “unnamed creator of an unknown sphere, / Unknown as yet, unknowable, / Uncertain certainty” (OP: 127). It is best thought as an X, as an unknown variable. Being has no name.
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