Charles Altieri: On "Study of Two Pears"

"The title establishes the new space abstraction must explore, a site between art and perception, while also suggesting the basic problem that such exploration must face. I take it that the "study" refers to a painting, which in turn affords us an opportunity to study how we go about seeing in a vital way. Yet the very framework of the study may eventually prove as limiting and self-mocking as the Latin pedagogy that sets the scene. For as we become aware of how our attention becomes vital, we may feel trapped by the frames that reward its visual orientation. … Realization represents, but what is represented is not a world of ordinary objects and conventionalized vision, Indeed, once the process begins it soon exceeds the object eliciting it. So in the central stanzas we move from specific negations and sharpened attention to what must be taken as purposive aspects of appearance. We think of a modeling will. But then the will quickly leads to grounds beyond the subjective maker through Stevens" remarkably inventive use of the clichéd metaphor "flowering." As perception becomes active, and especially as it comes to recognize a dynamic principle at work in eliciting its activity, straightforward names must yield to metaphor if they are to be at all adequate to the situation. Stated this baldly, however, we find ourselves making an observation which would hold true of any intense situation. Stevens" specific metaphor complicates matters considerably. Up to this point the poem had relied on a presentational movement but had not sought an abstract situating – quite the contrary. Now the action shifts from seeing to reflecting upon one’s seeing. As the pear becomes most fully itself before the eye. It must become something else: the fruit must act as a flower does if the mind is to appreciate fully its appearance as a fruit. Then, as flowering seems to capture the particular act of emergence, we recognize that the term applies to a good deal more than the pear. The flowering is also a process of the mind’s own blossoming within a world formerly perceived as only from a distance. The painting brush, the writer’s recasting, and the observer’s attention all here flower, suggesting that when the mind too becomes fully itself it must at the same time become other, must take on an identity that no perception qua perception can register. Perception at its most intense requires our entering the order of metaphor, requires the intensification of art. This indeed is why we need a painting to learn how to see a pear.

From Charles Altieri, "Why Stevens Must be Abstract, or, What Poets Can Learn from Painting," in Wallace Stevens: The Poetics of Modernism, ed. Albert Gelpi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 97-98.


Title Charles Altieri: On "Study of Two Pears" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Charles Altieri Criticism Target Wallace Stevens
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 05 Dec 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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