The Nothing That Is : The Structure of Consciousness in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: This is a study of the poetry of the American writer Wallace Stevens (1879-1955). Stevens’ poetry is often concerned with the relation between consciousness and world, the perceiver and the perceived. This dissertation takes the investigation of the very “structure” or “pattern” of consciousness as its main purpose. Influenced by the theoretical implications of thematic criticism, this dissertation regards Stevens’ collected works as a unified whole or as an imaginary universe in which the manifestation of consciousness and world is connected to the poetic utterance itself. In short, Stevens’ oeuvre provides a poetic world in which a cogito is inscribed, a cogito which offers itself to be manifested through the interpretative act as an independent ontological category. This cogito is upheld and ordered by a specific thematic structure which permeates Stevens’ entire imaginary universe. It is the fundamental aim of this dissertation to convey this thematic pattern, a pattern that is divided in three distinct yet closely interrelated aesthetic categories: the descent, nothingness, and the ascent. Supported by phenomenology and existentialism in general, and the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre in particular, this study offers “thematic close readings” of representative poems which all are argued to convey this thematic pattern in their own individual way.Chapter I offers a survey of Stevens criticism and it ends with a discussion of the theoretical and methodological perspective of the present investigation. Chapter II, III, and IV correspond respectively to the three thematic divisions, and the study is brought to a closure in a Postscript that is framed by the poem “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction.” Each chapter is in large chronologically arranged and attempts to show how each individual theme is manifested throughout Stevens’ oeuvre, and also in what way the different parts of the general thematic pattern interrelate.

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