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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: June 2019

Chapter 3 - Community and Autonomy


Chapter 3 argues that Stevens’ imaginative compositions of collectivity and audience provide another vantage point from which to highlight the contextual dimensions of his poetics of autonomy. In his longest and most intricate poem, “Owl’s Clover,” Stevens explores both the potentials and limits of aesthetic separation and autonomy for imagining new forms of collective agency, including the working classes. This exploration unfolds in tension with the period’s political-artistic aspirations to the inclusive “rhetoric of the people.” Stevens’ search for an inclusive “common” or “civil fiction” leads to a complex questioning of the imagination’s potential to expand from a local to a global vision of collectivity. The chapter demonstrates how by acknowledging the ideological pressures (fascist war and colonialism) that impede the aesthetic creation of a globally inclusive model of communal presence, Stevens takes the further step of resisting them, to affirm the continual need of poetry for envisaging prospective forms of collective life.

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