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In this chapter on “Constructive Disorderings,” Eyers argues that Wallace Stevens subtly eludes our most common ways of treating literature. Where many scholars today reflexively adopt a historicist-contextualist approach to literature, Stevens, Eyers argues, instead produces a rather more uncanny, and more powerful, approach to historical time. Focusing in particular on “Of Mere Being” and “The Idea of Order at Key West,” Eyers locates in this verse repeated scenes of historical-temporal “afterwardsness,” whereby what would seem to have come first in fact came later, and where what one would have expected to follow on is instead shown to have been there all along. Far from resulting in mere disorder, however, such instances, when read closely and associatively, bring into being a singular poetic logic of historical time and, further, a radical rerouting of our expectations about modernism.
Drawing upon Carl Schmitt’s idea of the katechon - a theological figure of the ‘restrainer’ - it is argued that two different accounts of ‘restraint’ operate within contemporary historiography. In one, the USA and the Soviet Union assume the role of the katechon during the Cold War, holding at bay an earthly apocalypse, securing stability through their mutual enmity. In the other, liberal account, it is the Cold War itself that acts as the restrainer, holding back the promises of Kant’s enlightenment project of world government, and of the securing of global peace through law. Each of these accounts has problematic effects: either by operating as an apology for the power of the guarantors of order, or by denying/deferring responsibility for the present state of affairs. We are therefore asked to think, instead, about international law and its history through the lens of Walter Benjamin’s conception of ‘weak messianic power’.
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