The Abstract Imagination:
Decreating reality in “The Man with the Blue Guitar”
For Wallace Stevens, reality is an abstraction with many perspective possibilities. As a poet, Stevens struggles to create original perspectives of reality. Wallace Stevens creates a new, modern reality in his poetry. Actually, Stevens decreates reality in his poetry. In The Necessary Angel, Stevens paraphrases Simone Weil’s coinage of decreation as the change from created to uncreated or from created to nothingness. Stevens then defines modern reality as, “a reality of decreation, in which our revelations are not the revelations of belief, but the precious portents of our own powers”(750). Stevens relates, through poetry, a destruction of traditional reality leading to a realization that the meaning of a poem is not truth, always recognizing that the poem is the poets perception of reality. This perception of reality is based on experience, historical context, and poetic skill, among others. “The Man with the Blue Guitar” is a long poem that allows Stevens to change perspectives and create abstract realities. Parataxis in such a long poem allows for the decreation of reality and the relation of imagination.
In his book, The long poems of Wallace Stevens: An interpretive study, Rajeev S. Patke describes varied progression within “The Man with the Blue Guitar” as “an indefinite improvisatory series. In such a series the unitary sections lose their independent status as poems, and their masks and metaphors become stages in the continual play of metamorphosis which is the true life of Stevens’s poetry”(241). Imbedded in Patke’s description of “the true life of Stevens’s poetry”, is the parataxis that a sectioned poem provides. Each movement from section to section is both continuous and not continuous. Each section could be read separately, but that would ignore the overall theme of presenting the abstraction of reality. Stevens, himself, articulates the goal of poems (and paintings) to be, “sources of our present conception of reality, without asserting that they are the sole sources, and as supports of a kind of life, which it seems to be worth living, with their support, even if doing so is only a stage in the endless study of an existence, which is the heroic subject of all study”(751).
In “The Man with the Blue Guitar”, Stevens metaphorically provides the similarities and differences between musicians and poets. The guitar serves as an instrument for the musician to relate themes. “Things as they are/Are changed upon the blue guitar”, this line in first section of the poem conceptualizes the guitar as an instrument of perception. The guitar does not express reality, but instead creates or decreates a new reality as a perception. In Adagia, Stevens describes the relation of reality and imagination, “The imagination consumes and exhausts some element of reality.” The imagination is not reality, but they do share some qualities. The first section further articulates Stevens’ pressures to recreate reality as, “A tune beyond us, yet ourselves”, and “things exactly as they are”. Clearly, the listeners do not understand the duality of their own request, especially when Stevens felt that his instrument could only allow him to represent reality, not create reality. Amongst other things, this first section provides the metaphor for music and poetry, as well as expose the demands of realism on the musician/poet.
The next section Stevens clarifies the value of his instrument in revelation. The second section is presented as the musician speaking, only without the quotation marks. In typical Stevens fashion, the musician speaking allows for the distinction and realization of similarities and differences between poet and musician. The musician appeared as a shearsman in the first section, which changes slightly to a tailor like comparison, as the musician now must patch the world. The section starts with the struggle...
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