Wallace Stevens and Pre-Socratic Philosophy: Metaphysics and the Play of Violence, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Wallace Stevens and Pre-Socratic Philosophy

Metaphysics and the Play of Violence, 1st Edition

By Daniel Tompsett


262 pages

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This book studies Wallace Stevens and pre-Socratic philosophy, showing how concepts that animate Stevens’ poetry parallel concepts and techniques found in the poetic works of Parmenides, Empedocles, and Xenophanes, and in the fragments of Heraclitus. Tompsett traces the transition of pre-Socratic ideas into poetry and philosophy of the post-Kantian period, assessing the impact that the mythologies associated with pre-Socratism have had on structures of metaphysical thought that are still found in poetry and philosophy today. This transition is treated as becoming increasingly important as poetic and philosophic forms have progressively taken on the existential burden of our post-theological age. Tompsett argues that Stevens’ poetry attempts to ‘play’ its audience into an ontological ground in an effort to show that his ‘reduction of metaphysics’ is not dry philosophical imposition, but is enacted by our encounter with the poems themselves. Through an analysis of the language and form of Stevens’ poems, Tompsett uncovers the mythology his poetry shares with certain pre-Socratics and with Greek tragedy. This shows how such mythic rhythms are apparent within the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer, and how these rhythms release a poetic understanding of the violence of a ‘reduction of metaphysics.’


"philosophically orientated Stevensians will learn a lot from the concerted attention to pre-Socratic thinking offered by Tompsett's intelligent and sophisticated book. His is a study whose unexpected emphasis is not just refreshing—it is something of a revelation."

"an exciting contribution that makes a strong, extended case for the relevance of pre-Socratic ontological thinking to Stevens' modernist brand of poetic philosophy."

- Bart Eeckhout, Editor, Wallace Stevens Journal

Table of Contents

Introduction Part I: Wallace Stevens, Pre-Socratic Philosophy and Ontological Literature 1. Approaching the Poetics of Being 2. The Ontological Experience of the Work of Art Part II: Wallace Stevens (1923 – 1942), Pre-Socratic Philosophy, and Immanuel Kant 3. After Kant: The Attempt to Experience the ‘Thing-In-Itself’ through the Pre-Socratic Element in the Philosophy of Art 4. Polemos and the Violent Nature of the ‘Thing-in-Itself’ Part III: Wallace Stevens (1947-1955) , Pre-Socratic Philosophy, and Immanuel Kant 5. A Pre-Socratic Sense of Being as the Universal ‘Thing-in-Itself’ 6. Death and Rebirth in the Universal ‘Thing-in-Itself’ Part IV: Wallace Stevens, Pre-Socratic Philosophy, and Religion 7. Poetry and Religion: ‘Major Man’ as Poetic Saviour 8. The ‘Supreme Fiction’ as the Transvaluation of Religion with Poetry Part V: Wallace Stevens, Pre-Socratic Philosophy, Violence, and Mythology 9. The Violence of a Reduction of Metaphysics in Wallace Stevens’ Poetry 10. Stevens’ Goddess and the Mythological Nature of Being as a ‘Oneness’ Conclusion

About the Author

Daniel Tompsett earned his PhD in English Literature at Queen Mary, University of London and is a Business Analysis Manager at a UK Law Firm.

About the Series

Routledge Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Literature

This series is our home for cutting-edge, upper-level scholarly studies and edited collections. Taking an interdisciplinary approach to literary studies, it engages with topics such as philosophy, science, race, gender, film, music, and ecology. Titles are characterized by dynamic interventions into established subjects and innovative studies on emerging topics.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / American / General