Coming to terms with the disenchantment of the world: the extent and limit of immanent numinosity in the poetry of Wallace Stevens. (2016)
AuthorsRowe, Tam Johnshow all
The following thesis does not pretend to arrive at a definitive conception of what literary modernism was, or for that matter is, in the rigorous sense required of a taxonomist. Attempts to define or classify modernism have been fraught with contradictions and counter-examples too numerous to be resolved within the limited scope of the present thesis. Suffice it to say, I am in agreement with Peter Nicholls, who insists that it is more sensible to speak pluralistically of ‘modernisms’.1 I would, indeed, prefer to avoid using the term altogether, were it not for the fact that the inspiration for this thesis stems, as will be shortly seen, from Gabriel Josipovici’s endearingly eccentric study Whatever Happened to Modernism?. My preference is for the term ‘modern’, which, as solid an arbitration as any, I would align with the period concurrent with the establishment of what we commonly refer to as the language of ‘modern English’, taking in as it does the rise of Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment, historical developments that are integral to the position my thesis wishes to advance. Nonetheless, I will seek recourse to the use of the term ‘modernist’, simply to distinguish, as per convention, a period in literary history spanning the close of the nineteenth century through to the mid-twentieth, while reserving the right to bracket out what does not immediately concern my thesis, namely a descriptive account of what exactly modernism qua modernism entails. Instead, the provenance of this thesis issues from the implications of Josipovici’s suggestion that modernism, which he dates from approximately 1850 to the mid-twentieth century, might be revealingly considered ‘a response…to that ‘disenchantment of the world’ to which cultural historians have long been drawing our attention’ (Josipovici, 2010, 11). This thesis will explore the implications of Josipovici’s suggestion specifically in relation to the work of the so-called ‘major’ modernist poet Wallace Stevens.