From the outset, Wallace Stevens’s reputation has proven a vexation for even supportive critics. While the New Critics wanted his work to look more high modernist than late Romantic, “Romantic-modernists,” resenting even the possibility that Romanticism was passé, argued that modernism itself was a reaction-formation to Romanticism and that modernism itself was “late,” if not passé. The New Critic complained that the work had no ethical interest in what was going on between the two major wars that framed its composition; the Romanticists countered with Friedrich Nietzsche’s claim that morality is, at bottom, a branch of aesthetics. Moderating the battle between these competing idiolects, Charles Altieri straddles these positions and finds that Stevens himself never entirely subscribed to either.

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