On "Tea at the Palaz of Hoon"

Anthony Whiting

For Hoon, as for the Hegelian and Kierkegaardian ironists, the world is both created by and an aspect of his ego. "I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw / Or heard or felt came not but from myself" (CP 65). Nothing, as Bloom observes, is exterior to Hoon. "Seeing, hearing, and feeling find objects only from his own self, and nothing through which he moves is outside him." The sea sweeps through Hoon, but since he is the "compass" of the sea, its movement has direction only in relation to him. Whatever hymns he hears are hymns he creates. The sprinkling of ointment on his beard is a parody of the ceremony in which God's elect is anointed with oil or ointment. Hoon dissolves the distinction between anointer and anointed, elected and elector. "What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard? / . . . Out of my mind the golden ointment rained" (CP 65). There can be no distinction in Hoon' s world between himself and what he sees or hears or feels or between himself as anointer or anointed because, finally, everything is an aspect of his ego. Dressed in purple, the color of royalty, Hoon, like the romantic ironist portrayed by Hegel, is "lord and master of everything" (A 64).

Stevens describes Hoon in a later poem, "Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz," as

that mountain-minded Hoon,
For whom desire was never that of the waltz,

Who found all form and order in solitude,
For whom the shapes were never the figures of men. (CP 121)

For Hoon the shapes are never the figures of men because it is his will alone that is expressed in his world. Though Stevens describes Hoon as finding "all form and order in solitude," yet Hoon denies at the beginning of the poem that his solitude is a lonely one. "I descended / The western day through what you called / The loneliest air" (CP 65). "You" and not Hoon call the air "lonely." Part of the reason that his solitude is not lonely is suggested in Stevens' comment that for Hoon "desire was never that of the waltz." Desire, that is, has no social or interpersonal component. Though it is not directed outward toward another person or toward society at large, yet desire is not unfulfilled. Hoon finds the world as himself, and in doing so, desire is turned back to and finds satisfaction in the self. The air is not lonely to Hoon because the pleasure he takes in himself eliminates the need for anyone but himself. Hoon's enclosure and the sense of pleasure that he takes in discovering the world as the self recall Hegel' s description of romantic irony as a " concentration of the ego into itself, for which all bonds are snapped and which can live only in the bliss of self- enjoyment" (A 66).

Both the sense of creativity and the sense of pleasure expressed in "Tea at the Palaz of Hoon" differ from the kind of creativity and pleasure expressed in the irony of skeptical engagement. In the Ozymandias canto of "Notes toward a Supreme Fiction," for example, the mind marries the world through the fictions it creates. And because the process of creation is ongoing, the mind's experience of the world is seen as becoming richer and more diverse. To create in "Tea at the Palaz of Hoon" is to turn the world into the self and hence negate the world. This narcissism stands in opposition both to poems such as "The Man with the Blue Guitar," canto XXIV, where the self, through art, takes pleasure in reality, and to "The Snow Man," whose reduction of all fictions to "nothing," a reduction in which the self turns away from itself and beholds the universe at large, can be seen as Stevens' most severe criticism of the self-love expressed by Hoon.

from The Never-Resting Mind: Wallace Stevens' Romantic Irony. Copyright 1996 by the University of Michigan.

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