Dr. Brian Nowlin is an English professor, a private tutor, and a freelance writer/editor.
Areas of Specialization: American Literature (especially Wallace Stevens), Poetics, Literary Theory, Depth Psychology.
Areas of Competence: Rhetoric and Composition, the Classical Tradition, Mythology.
I am an Adjunct Professor of English at the University of Dallas, where I also have served as Director of the Writing Center. I specialize in twentieth-century American literature with a research focus on modernist poetry. Although my intellectual passions and pedagogical concerns are varied, I am particularly occupied with the ways that metaphor — as a general term for processes of figuration — opens up a simultaneously personal and cultural space for imaginative exploration with intersecting philosophical, ethical, and spiritual dimensions. I conceive of “lyric” as a discrete mode of poetic imagination operative from the beginnings of recorded literature up to the present day. Although lyric has been criticized as escapist, it is a genre with profound social and political implications precisely because it radically discloses the pre-rational complexity of human subjectivity while resisting poses of intellectual mastery necessary for the kind of univocal social and political pronouncements that are a bit too sure of themselves. In both my teaching and my research, I construe lyric to be a foundational, non-mimetic compositional mode — presentational rather than representational — that allows for the manifestation of linguistic, imaginative energies both arising from and moving toward visionary, oneiric, and transitive dimensions of human experience. The bardic foundations of lyric elude direct articulation but are intimately implicated in forms of attentiveness and responsiveness essential for an ethical engagement with particularity.
My scholarly publications and presentations reflect not only the above focus, but also a variety of interdisciplinary contexts and concerns, including work on such diverse figures as Whitman, Homer, Dante, Henry James, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Gorgias, and the mythological figure of the Trickster. Far from taking away from my specialized knowledge of twentieth-century American literature, the broad range of my scholarly output has helped deepen my ability to identify and articulate the most crucial philosophical, poetic, and cultural issues that make twentieth-century literature so fascinating. Further, engaging the Western intellectual tradition as a coherent, albeit a constantly transforming, tradition has prompted me to recognize that part of what is most traditional about the literary tradition is its seemingly anti-traditional insistence that the serious play with words that constitutes literary art forms is a fundamentally radical and open-ended endeavor allowing for novel understandings of self, other, and world.
My most significant scholarly work to date is a book-length study of the late poetry of Wallace Stevens: Traversing the Figurative Ground of Wallace Stevens’s Rock: Late Stevens and the Reality of the Imagination. The point of departure for this study is that the tradition of academic philosophy is inadequate when attempting to understand the strange, radical conception of imagination inscribed into Stevens’s work. Specifically, I trace the move in Stevens’s late poetry toward the notion of a fundamentally real imagination that transcends human subjectivity as understood in a dualistic context, and I claim that contemporary critical assumptions about the nature of the “real” preclude glimpsing the full implications of this Stevensian fiction of the reality of the imagination. To supplement the dominant first principles of current scholarly practice, namely a faith in discourse and ideology as the ultimate ground of reality, my study develops an ancient, and at the same time contemporary, notion of the soul as a way to think through what is construed as the reality of metaphor in Stevens’s final poems. In particular, the thought of depth psychologist James Hillman enables me to elucidate a sense of soul as an inherently imaginative first principle operative in all attempts to establish first principles. Hillman locates human subjectivity in a more-than-human context, one in which mind and world, or imagination and reality, intertwine within the intrinsically poetic reality of “the body of the world,” to use a Stevensian phrase. The preeminent assumption of late Stevens is that “God and the imagination are one,” and my hermeneutical lens of the soul situates Stevens’s God-like imagination between humanistic idealism and conventional theology. Many critics have read Stevens in the context of the Romantic imagination, but few have located the roots of Stevens’s Romanticism in a mystically inflected tradition of thought that predates and prefigures European, post-enlightenment Romanticism.
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