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Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: New from Tartary to Frank O'connor

a long poem by Wallace Stevens, first published in an edition of forty-six pages in 1942. Its three parts, ‘It Must Be Abstract’, ‘It Must Change’, and ‘It Must Give Pleasure’, contain some of his richest and most lyrically fluid poetry. Like much of Stevens's most impressive earlier work, the poem meditates on the creative imagination's interpretations of reality in an era faced with the obsolescence of traditional religious belief; poetry must conceive of and realize a ‘supreme fiction’, a focus for human aspirations and understanding equivalent to that formerly offered by religion. The first part reviews the fundamentals of man's imaginative capacities and considers images of the human condition; the second part celebrates change, variousness, and renewal through unions of opposites as essentials of the human and natural orders; the final section emphasizes inclusiveness and balance as attributes of the ‘supreme fiction’ before concluding with praise of the world's lovely ordinariness. A coda beginning ‘Soldier, there is a war …’ intensifies the poem's underlying moral urgency by relating it to its contemporary background of warfare. Mindful of the work's tentative and fragmentary character as ‘notes’, Stevens stated that ‘in projecting a supreme fiction, I cannot imagine anything more fatal than to state it definitely and incautiously’.

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