Early Stevens

The Nietzschean Intertext

Early Stevens

Book Pages: 225 Illustrations: Published: March 1992

American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Poetry

In recent years Nietzsche has emerged as a presiding genius of our intellectual epoch. Although scholars have noted the influence of Nietzsche's thought on Wallace Stevens, the publication of Early Stevens establishes, for the first time, the extent to which Nietzsche pervades Steven's early work.
Concentrating on poems published between 1915 and 1935—but moving occasionally into later poems, as well as letters and essays—B. J. Leggett draws together texts of Stevens and Nietzsche to produce new and surprising readings of the poet's early work. This intertextual critique reveals previously undisclosed ideologies operating at the margins of Stevens's work, enabling Leggett to read aspects of the poetry that have until now been unreadable. Leggett's analysis demonstrates that the Nietzschean presence in Stevens brings with it certain assumptions that need to be made explicit if the form of the poetry is to be understood.
Though many critics have discussed the concept of intertextuality, few have attempted a truly intertextual reading of a particular poet. Early Stevens not only develops an exemplary model of such a reading; it also provides crucial insights into Stevens's notions of femininity, virility, and poetry and elucidates the notions of art, untruth, fiction, and interpretation in both Stevens and Nietzsche.


“Leggett’s complex book provides a successful ‘intertextual’ reading of Nietzsche’s philosophical writings and Stephens’s early poems . . . [and] opens up Stevens criticism to the possibility of a poetry of theory.” — Dean Rader, South Atlantic Review

“This study provides a practical definiton of intertextuality and then applies it fruitfully to Stevens’s early poems, using Nietzsche’s work as the intertext. . . . [Early Stevens] provides a new approach to Stevens, foregrounding different elements and throwing previously emphasized areas into shade.” — Janet McCann, South Central Review

"It is a delight to watch Leggett's lucid, sophisticated intelligence at work, whether he is discussing Stevens or Nietzsche or negotiating the body of commentary on the two writers. Specialists in Stevens and literary theorists will welcome his book because it generates fresh readings of some major poems, shows how one might go about reading literature intertextually, and reflects helpfully on the relations between intertextual and other kinds of readings." — Milton J. Bates, Marquette University

"This book contributes to a deeper, new understanding both of Stevens and of the current critical scene. Leggett brilliantly teaches how to 'play' a text, exhibiting his clarity of thought and language in critical `plain style.' His reading of Stevens through Nietzschean intertexts offers the most thorough analysis to date of the connections between the poet and the philosopher. He repeatedly transcends the limit of Stevens' criticism in presenting his Nietzschean perspectives to consider the shimmering relationship of language and perception, truth and its alternatives." — Joan Richardson, Graduate School, City University of New York


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B. J. Leggett, Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the University of Tennessee, is the author of a number of books, including The Poetic Art of A. E. Housman and Wallace Stevens and Poetic Theory.

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Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1201-7
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