Modernisms: A Literary Guide by Peter Nicholls

By Peter Nicholls

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And where the symbolic medium of language should reaffirm a primordial bonding of word and meaning, writers like Baudelaire are increasingly aware of the inaccessibility of truth and the consequences of that for fantasies of harmony between mind and nature. Metaphysics now comes to denote the remoteness of truth, and we find in Baudelaire's poems that the modern is constantly experienced as loss and aporia. In 'The Swan', for example, the absence of stable meaning in the contemporary world is linked to the poet's recollection of 'the Paris of old', which turns the modern scene into a complex of signs pointing to things now disappeared: 'Paris is changing, but naught in my melancholy jHas moved.

What Rimbaud calls his 'alchemy of the word' (RP, 326) has the power to transrnute ordinary occasions into special events, a technique learned in part from Baudelaire's cultivation of flowers from Breaking the Rules: Symbolism in France 29 evil and sometimes leading to a deliberately coarsened subjectmatter (as, for example, in Rimbaud's 'Venus Anadyomene'). This knowingly scandalous expansion of the poetic register is typical of the energy and confidence of Rimbaud's verse. Where, for the allegorist, the lack of coincidence between seH and world had stemmed from a loss of social coherence, for Rimbaud, society is to be forged anew through the medium of poetic language.

As writers abandoned the communicative spaces of the public sphere, so they were increasingly haunted by the spectre of the double the other, we might say, was now 'inside', as we see from Poe's 'William Wilson' (1839) and Dostoyevsky's The Double (1846). This inward turn set language at odds with normal dis course, pressuring it to articulate an ever more intense self-consciousness (here, in germ, was the cultivation of linguistic difficulty which would become a trademark of the later modernism).

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