WALLACE STEVEN'S HYPOTHESES—his ifs and ors— and his contradictions—his buts—play a visibly large role in his poetry. They represent speculation, on the one hand, and the obstruction of speculation, on the other. Speculation is a way to resist the inertial forward movement of the mind; hypothesis is a way to swerve away from present thinking, as is contradiction (see "Earthy Anecdote," Stevens's first manifesto of the need for change and the means to change). Although speculative and contradictory forms of thought are indispensable to Stevens through his middle period, in the later part of his career he begins to resist them. From youth to age, he seeks out truth in different ways. First, by dialectical means, he seeks philosophical "truth." Conceiving of it as an absolute, he relies on a contrastive either/or characterized by tentative hypotheses and frequent selfcontradictions. Next, adopting a Nietzschean multiplicity or a cubist variety of perspectives, he argues not for "the" truth but for "truths," and relies on endless elaboration (as in "The Man with the Blue Guitar") to present many "truths" at once. But in the later work he seeks "a" truth, always a provisional one, and approaches it asymptotically, suggesting various metaphors, each of which comes in some way close to the essence of his goal. ''It is not in the premise that reality / Is a solid'' (An Ordinary Evening in New Haven). From a wish to systematize the access of poetry to ''truth,'' or to register and name all available ''truths,'' Stevens arrives at the emotional and personal reality of many ''shades'' or ''forces'' that present themselves to us, one by one, over time, as ''a'' truth valid for one mood or one hour, but which always must anticipate their own ''decreation.''
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Helen Vendler; Wallace Stevens: Hypotheses and Contradictions. Representations 1 February 2003; 81 (1): 99–117. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2003.81.1.99
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