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“Distantly a part”: Wallace Stevens and the Poetics of Modernist Autonomy
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English.
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This dissertation explores the social and political dimensions of aesthetic autonomy as it is given formal expression in Wallace Stevens’s poetry of the 1930s and the early 1940s. Whereas modernist claims to autonomy are often said to rest upon an ideological assertion of art’s detachment from socio-historical concerns, I argue that, in Stevens’s work, autonomy is conceived in relational terms, which gives rise to new lines of interconnection between his poetry and its cultural situation. Written over a period when the political efficacy of literature became a staple of discussion among a myriad of writers and critics, Stevens’s poetry offers an understanding of autonomy not as an escape from, but as a productive condition for imagining alternative forms of engagement with the historical crisis with which it has to reckon. In taking into account the cultural context from which Stevens’s poetics of autonomy emerged, my study aims to highlight the significance of the concept to the poet’s exploration of the tension between aesthetic and social domains, to his imaginative formations of collective agency, and to the vexed relationship between poetic and philosophical modes of thinking. By transposing the theoretical discussion of autonomy into the register of historical scrutiny, I hope to pave the way for a rethinking of autonomy and its relevance to the period’s radical and modernist writing, literary debates, and cultural politics. For this purpose, I draw on recent theories, such as those offered by Jacques Rancière and Alain Badiou, on poetry, politics, and (in)aesthetics, which serve to complicate the working definitions of modernist autonomy as literature’s immunity from the world, and to indicate an alternative path for analyzing its critical and contextual implications.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Department of English, Stockholm University , 2015.
Keyword [en]
Wallace Stevens, aesthetic autonomy, modernism, poetry, social engagement, politics of aesthetics, collectivity, inaesthetics, philosophy
National Category
Languages and Literature
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-119700ISBN: 978-91-7649-210-9OAI: diva2:847880
Public defence
2015-09-26, Hörsal 9, hus D, Universitetsvägen 10 D, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Available from: 2015-09-03 Created: 2015-08-21 Last updated: 2016-02-16Bibliographically approved

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Han, Gül Bilge
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