Wallace Stevens and the Demands of Modernity

Wallace Stevens and the Demands of Modernity

Toward a Phenomenology of Value

Charles Altieri, one of our foremost analysts of modernism, has in his recent work argued for the importance of the affects, which philosophy has too long subordinated to cognition and ethics. In Wallace Stevens and the Demands of Modernity, Altieri focuses his attention on modernist poetry, especially that of Wallace Stevens. He argues that critics have failed to appreciate the degree to which modernist poetry, like modernist art, breaks from the epistemology that arose from cultures of empiricism. If we recognize the limits of that authority we can also recognize the close positive affinities between how we feel and how we value.

Nineteenth-century writing wanted to build values out of ways of looking at what could be established as fact. Early modernist poetry, particularly that of Stevens and Pound, labors to adapt Nietzschean attitudes toward poetry. Then Stevens embarked on an imaginative journey to find in linguistic activity itself a sufficient model for how we compose values. In both stages of his career facts must be respected, but they will not bear values simply by virtue of their connectedness to the world. We have to understand the constructive power taking place on intimate levels as we pursue that connectedness. Stevens matters, Altieri argues, because of the range and depth and intelligence by which he explores what such connectedness might involve. Stevens offers elaborate and moving experiments exploring how imaginative writing can help human beings grapple with questions about values that are at the very heart of our common experience.

Charles Altieri

Charles Altieri is Stageberg Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of many books, including The Particulars of Rapture: An Aesthetics of the Affects, also from Cornell, and Postmodernism Now: Essays on Contemporaneity in the Arts.

Reckoning with the Imagination
Wittgenstein and the Aesthetics of Literary Experience
Charles Altieri
Charles Altieri argues for a reconsideration of the Kantian tradition of Idealist ethics, which he believes can restore much of the power of the arguments for the role of aesthetics in...

The Particulars of Rapture
An Aesthetics of the Affects
Charles Altieri
This brilliant, penetrating, and ambitious book by a well-known literary theorist studies the complex relationship between the emotions on the one side and literary works and paintings on the other. A central aim of Charles Altieri's is to rescue our...

Also of interest

Postmodern Sublime
Technology and American Writing from Mailer to Cyberpunk
Joseph Tabbi


Literature : Literary Theory and Criticism
Literature : Literature / U.S. and Canada
Philosophy : Philosophy / General

Connect with us