Goodbye to the Jar

I think that Assignment #4 is the last one that deals with Wallace Stevens’ “Anecdote of the Jar,” so I’d like to share some of the ideas I came up with for interpreting this poem.  Most of them are a bit weird, but I came up with them late Monday night so I had something to work with in class.  They’re also dealing with chains of association for psychoanalysis, so they are based off of wordplay, metonymy and metaphor.  Some of these ideas were brought up in class by other people, so sorry if there is overlap.  Most of them I didn’t think through all the way, so they’re rather unfinished. 

1. The food idea.  I thought the jar could be metonymy for a kitchen, or some other place where you get food (such as a pantry or a grocery store).  The wilderness could then be like the ingredients, being assembled into a coherent whole.  I guess the jar could also be a recipe in this interpretation.  The hill could be a table or a mixing bowl.  The one problem I identified with this interpretation was: “The jar was gray and bare” (10).  This line does not fit with a recipe, or with the ingredients being assembled (unless the recipe is a burnt failure).

2. Jar as car.  This idea was based off of very obvious wordplay.  Cars pollute, so this explains lines 10 and 11 of the poem.  I tried to take this idea a bit further, looking at the jar as a ship.  Ships can also pollute, especially when they have smokestacks (and this helps to explain line 8 – “And tall and of a port in air”).  With the jar as a ship, the wilderness could then be the water the ship is sailing on.  Of course, this runs into problems when you get to line 9 (“It took dominion everywhere”); how does a ship take dominion over all the water?  I guess it could sail everywhere, and so take dominion that way.  Nonetheless, this was a bit weak. 

The jar could also be an actual port between water and an island (which I guess would be the hill).  Again, not that strong, but I thought it accounted for the latter part of line 8 nicely.

3. Of course, there are the original ideas I had for the first two assignments that dealt with this poem: the jar as culture/urbanization/pollution, and the wilderness as nature/the natural world.  I didn’t bother thinking this through for this assignment because it felt like I would be restating what I argued in the other ones.  But basically, the jar is taking over the natural world, functioning as a city, dividing the wilderness and taming it.  The wilderness was whole, but became divided into three: the jar world, the tamed wilderness directly surrounding the hill (the suburbs of the jar world) and the still wild wilderness. 

4. Assignment #4 calls for a Lacanian interpretation, so I thought of the wilderness as the ideal self of the jar.  The jar tries to be like the wilderness, but it can’t, as per lines 10 and 11 (“The jar was gray and bare./It did not give of bird or bush”).  This is one of the ideas that I expanded on for my assignment, so I am not going to go into more detail here.

5. I thought the jar and the wilderness could be people.  The jar could be a man.  The jar lacks eggs, which are symbolic of fertility.  The wilderness, as a producer, is linked with fertility, and so it is a woman.  The jar is “gray and bare” without the wilderness.  You need both to successfully produce, but the jar has tamed the wilderness too much and so the world around them has become stagnant.  I thought this idea could be expanded on to critique patriarchy, but this was as far as I went with it.

6. I again went back to Lacan for my final idea.  This time, I looked at the wilderness as a child in the realm of the Real.  The jar is introduced, becoming the ideal self of the child wilderness (and also bringing the child into the realm of the Imaginary).  And when the wilderness is tamed at the end of the poem, it has successfully entered the adult realm of the Symbolic.  This ended up my main focus for my paper, but I also incorporated idea #4 as a play element that destabilizes the whole system.

So those were the 6 ideas I came up with Monday night for my psychoanalytic reading of “Anecdote of the Jar.”  It was fun letting my mind make all kinds of wild connections (my favourite was the food idea).  With that, I now bid Stevens’ poem adieu.  It was a lot of fun to work with, especially because it was so ambiguous.  But I found it a bit hard to keep switching frameworks for the same poem with only a couple of weeks between assignments.  I’m excited to be looking at new things for the remaining papers.


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