Poetry and the Kenotic Word
Edited By Malgorzata Grzegorzewska, Jean Ward and Mark Burrows
“One feels its action moving in the blood”: Arrhythmia as the Art of Reality in Wallace Stevens’s “Esthétique du Mal”
If a poet aims to affirm the material body as the centre of man’s experience, is it still possible for his poem to illustrate man’s relationship with the divine? I propose that we might try to answer this question by focusing on the theme of “flesh made word” in Wallace Stevens’s poem “Esthétique du Mal”. Informed primarily by Nietzschean philosophy, Stevens’s poem certainly does not affirm the existence of a divine being. However, while Nietzsche’s philosophy would imply that divinity and reality are mutually exclusive, I believe that Stevens suggests one can escape these binaries of metaphysical and physical representation by endowing the poet’s words with the realities of the flesh. The primary goal of this discussion is to demonstrate how Stevens joins his subject’s inner desire for life everlasting with the transient rhythms of his corporal existence through his use of a literary technique that Homi Bhabha calls “the language metaphor” (Location of Culture 176–9). To begin, I shall try to establish the specific Nietzschean themes that Stevens addresses in the poem: most importantly, man’s resentment of his mortal nature, the precariousness of language, and the truthfulness of rhythm. Then, using these themes as the basis for my close reading, I shall show how Stevens uses the rhythm of the human heartbeat, not only to affirm the material world, but also to illustrate man’s persistent desire to find a life beyond this world.
According to Nietzsche, man’s aversion towards time begins with his...
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