This essay takes up Adrienne Rich’s unexplained assertion that Wallace Stevens’s racial and racist language is a “key to the whole” of his poetry. Focusing mostly on Stevens’s 1941 diptych “The News and the Weather,” the essay begins an anthology of critical approaches to the racial Stevens, the language of which has been read as a device by which white protagonism defines itself in opposition to characteristics marked as “black,” as a “blackface” critique of white gentility, and as a melancholic attempt to locate the limits of the white imagination. Reviewing and critiquing such theses, the essay argues that Stevens’s speakers seek in blackness a figure for their own nonbeing and thus speak of blackness in language in which its own fullness of being is denied. This reading, then, interrogates how Stevens’s poetics rely not just on racial difference but on the dehumanization created by the language with which that difference is enforced.
Using the Rotted Names: Wallace Stevens’s Racial Ontology as Poetic Key
Mark Mayer is a doctoral candidate in English and literary arts at the University of Denver. His story collection Aerialists won the Michener-Copernicus prize and is now out from Bloomsbury, and his essay “Wilderness Stations: Narrative Paradox and the Temporality of Selfhood in Munro and Althusser” appeared in LIT.
Mark Mayer; Using the Rotted Names: Wallace Stevens’s Racial Ontology as Poetic Key. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2019; 65 (3): 217–236. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-7852064
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