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

Chapter 1 - The Politics of Aesthetic Separation


Chapter 1 examines how Stevens’ poetry tackles the problem of autonomy by simultaneously registering the contradictory impulses of aesthetic separation and social engagement. It argues that a spatial dialectic between distance and intimacy, between solitude and community, forms a constitutive part in Stevens’ understanding of the relationship between poetic and social realms. The chapter links this aspect of Stevens’ poetics to Rancière’s discussion of art’s autonomy and heteronomy. It focuses on “Secret Man” and “Re-Statement of Romance” to show how the problem of autonomy, which seems at first to be centered on the isolation of the individual poet, signals a historically rooted crisis of verse sparked by the Depression. The trope of autonomy not only responds to the period’s prominent disputes over the social immediacy or the separate status of art. It also enables the poet to model alternative forms of lyric subjectivity that exceed the confines of a self-meditative horizon.

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