Cultural Colonization in Poems by Wallace Stevens

Abstract

The reason for Wallace Stevens' skepticism regarding cultural colonies is clear. Most of the people in America are descendents of immigrants who bring with them their own cultural ideas to a colony. That is the reality of the American situation, and it is also Stevens' modest understanding of the reality of an America that was still in the process of trying to express its cultural relationship to the vast continent of North America.  Tacit in that choice, however, is a rejection of a political solution that would preserve out-of-date cultural ideals such as that contained in the example of General Andrew Jackson, a figure who appears several times in Stevens' poetry and prose and who was famous both for waging brutal wars against the Seminole Indians in Florida and for being a champion of a populist form of political democracy. Stevens' emphasis on failure and division in his poems about American colonization, then, can be understood as a way to defamiliarize a political understanding of who Americans are as a people in order to create a basis for a new modernist cultural understanding of an American place. Of the many characters and motifs that typify Stevens' imaginary colonists in exile, I will focus on Stevens' hidalgo figure as a unifying concept to cover all figures who fail at cultural colonization in Stevens' poems. The term hidalgo, meaning a Spanish country gentleman, only appears five times in the corpus of Stevens' poetry, but it can be deployed usefully to describe a colonist from a traditional as opposed to a modern culture. As the term is used here, hidalgo refers to the inhabitants of a place who have acquired "tenure in the land" through generations of habits and customs cultivated in tandem with the particulars of a homeland's culture, climate and landscape.



Author Information
Erik Thompson, The Catholic University of Korea, South Korea

Paper Information
Conference: LibrAsia2014
Stream: Literature

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