Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 May 2007
Is it possible to believe in something that you know to be a fiction? Though most people admit to beliefs that cannot be validated logically or experimentally, they would balk at believing in something that is “made up.” Wallace Stevens thought it not only possible to believe in a fiction but also inevitable. As creatures that interpret experience mentally, we have no choice but to believe in the mind's made-up version of reality, whether the reality is material (tables and trees, for example) or spiritual (God, Goodness, Truth, Beauty). Some believers, perhaps the majority, distract themselves from the fictional nature of their belief-objects. Others acknowledge the epistemological quandary but are satisfied that their fictions are “true” in the sense that they correspond closely to a presumed reality. Belief, after all, entails a tolerance for mystery. Few people are prepared to take the final step with Stevens, to embrace what he called “the nicer knowledge of / Belief, that what it believes in is not true” (291).
To the ultimate object of this “nicer,” more discriminating belief Stevens gave the name “supreme fiction.” Though he wrote little about the supreme fiction until midway through his poetic career, he came to regard it as his central theme, the concept that unified his lesser themes. Consequently, in a retrospective note written for the Collected Poems in 1954, he said that his poetry explores “the possibility of a supreme fiction, recognized as a fiction, in which men could propose to themselves a fulfillment” (L 820). What kind of fiction deserves to be called supreme? What kind of fulfillment does it provide?
To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.
To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.
To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.