Friday, March 17, 2006

Explication de Texte 3: emotion

J. A. Cuddon's Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory tells us that the word "strophe" is sometimes synonymous with "stanza" (especially in an ode) and sometimes (which I think is roughly the same thing in another form) "the unit or verse paragraph in free verse". That is also how I use it, making it homologous with the philosophical "remark". It is a group of words that achieves a specifiable poetic (or philosophical) effect.

In that sense, Kasey Mohammad's "Wallace Stevens" consists of four strophes (and Part I of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations consists of 693 remarks.) The first and last address the form of perception: intuition, in the Kantian sense. "Imagine" in the first becomes "look" in the fourth. "Evil" in the first becomes "numb" in the fourth. The second and third strophe present two simple images (emotional-conceptual complexes): an inner-city tragedy (the cliché of such a tragedy) and (in what may be the most interesting single impression in the poem) a guy standing beside the speaker, fuming like Cyndi Lauper, Björk and small, young Japanese women that write for people on drugs (and/or in high places). (I had a different interpretation of the fuming earlier; I like this one better.)

We are here being given a glimpse into the imagination of the Wallace Stevens of evil (some would argue that Wallace Stevens is the Wallace Stevens of evil, of course) and the corresponding numb eye that is already surveying the present as "the total past" (i.e., the present as the total expression of everything that has gone before). The emotion of a poem is always that with which we become contemporary, however. That which joins us to time.

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