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Who Needs Poetry? Baudelaire, Benjamin, and the Modernity of “Le Cygne”

Who Needs Poetry? Baudelaire, Benjamin, and the Modernity of “Le Cygne” Abstract This essay considers Baudelaire's “Le Cygne” in terms of the crucial place the poem should occupy in any theoretical reflection on literary and historical “modernity.” Despite the proliferation in recent years of references to Walter Benjamin in the reception of Baudelaire's poetry, there are still very few examples of the kind of interpretation that Benjamin's allegorical model of understanding would require in a sustained reading of a text like “Le Cygne.” The essay explores why Benjamin's thinking about allegory seems to be resisted by literary critics in their reading of Baudelaire's poetry. It suggests that Benjamin's conception of allegory cannot adequately be addressed without first registering the impact that the allegorical dimension of poetic language exerts upon fundamental philosophical concepts such as subjectivity, experience, and historicity itself. If Benjamin insists on associating allegory with modernity in Baudelaire's poetry, this is because history can be said to become modern only at the moment that the thinking subject's own experience sustains an irreversible alteration that might best be characterized as “allegorical,” for want of a better term. The resistance of literary critics to Benjamin's notion of allegory thus turns out to be a deeper philosophical resistance to the possibility that, after Benjamin's writings on Baudelaire, subjectivity, history, and poetry could never be understood in the same ways. The essay begins by noting how Benjamin's thinking about history is conditioned by his response to the poverty of experience in modernity. For Benjamin, recourse to the poetic language of allegory becomes a historical necessity; without it the experience of poverty is in danger of remaining inaccessible for knowledge. However, the kind of knowability that this poetry can grant may itself resist coherent theoretical formulation. The essay turns to “Le Cygne” in the wake of Benjamin's own consideration of that poem in an attempt to determine more specifically the allegorical principle that alone could enable the poverty of modern experience to become legible, both poetically and historically, in the text. CiteULike Complore Connotea Delicious Digg Facebook Google+ Reddit Technorati Twitter What's this? « Previous | Next Article » Table of Contents This Article doi: 10.1215/00104124-1335745 Comparative Literature 2011 Volume 63, Number 3: 269-290 » Abstract Full Text (PDF) References Classifications Article Services Email this article to a colleague Alert me when this article is cited Alert me if a correction is posted Similar articles in this journal Similar articles in Web of Science Download to citation manager Citing Articles Load citing article information Citing articles via Web of Science Google Scholar Articles by Newmark, K. Related Content Load related web page information Social Bookmarking CiteULike Complore Connotea Delicious Digg Facebook Google+ Reddit Technorati Twitter What's this? Current Issue Summer 2011, 63 (3) Alert me to new issues of Comparative Literature Duke University Press Journals ONLINE About the Journal Editorial Board Submission Guidelines Permissions Advertising Indexing / Abstracting Privacy Policy Subscriptions Library Resource Center Activation / Acct. Mgr. E-mail Alerts Help Feedback © 2011 by University of Oregon Print ISSN: 0010-4124 Online ISSN: 1945-8517 var gaJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." : "http://www."); document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost + "google-analytics.com/ga.js' type='text/javascript'%3E%3C/script%3E")); var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker("UA-5666725-1"); pageTracker._trackPageview(); http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Comparative Literature Duke University Press

Who Needs Poetry? Baudelaire, Benjamin, and the Modernity of “Le Cygne”

Comparative Literature , Volume 63 (3) – Jun 20, 2011

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Copyright © Duke Univ Press
ISSN
0010-4124
eISSN
1945-8517
DOI
10.1215/00104124-1335745
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Abstract

Abstract This essay considers Baudelaire's “Le Cygne” in terms of the crucial place the poem should occupy in any theoretical reflection on literary and historical “modernity.” Despite the proliferation in recent years of references to Walter Benjamin in the reception of Baudelaire's poetry, there are still very few examples of the kind of interpretation that Benjamin's allegorical model of understanding would require in a sustained reading of a text like “Le Cygne.” The essay explores why Benjamin's thinking about allegory seems to be resisted by literary critics in their reading of Baudelaire's poetry. It suggests that Benjamin's conception of allegory cannot adequately be addressed without first registering the impact that the allegorical dimension of poetic language exerts upon fundamental philosophical concepts such as subjectivity, experience, and historicity itself. If Benjamin insists on associating allegory with modernity in Baudelaire's poetry, this is because history can be said to become modern only at the moment that the thinking subject's own experience sustains an irreversible alteration that might best be characterized as “allegorical,” for want of a better term. The resistance of literary critics to Benjamin's notion of allegory thus turns out to be a deeper philosophical resistance to the possibility that, after Benjamin's writings on Baudelaire, subjectivity, history, and poetry could never be understood in the same ways. The essay begins by noting how Benjamin's thinking about history is conditioned by his response to the poverty of experience in modernity. For Benjamin, recourse to the poetic language of allegory becomes a historical necessity; without it the experience of poverty is in danger of remaining inaccessible for knowledge. However, the kind of knowability that this poetry can grant may itself resist coherent theoretical formulation. The essay turns to “Le Cygne” in the wake of Benjamin's own consideration of that poem in an attempt to determine more specifically the allegorical principle that alone could enable the poverty of modern experience to become legible, both poetically and historically, in the text. CiteULike Complore Connotea Delicious Digg Facebook Google+ Reddit Technorati Twitter What's this? « Previous | Next Article » Table of Contents This Article doi: 10.1215/00104124-1335745 Comparative Literature 2011 Volume 63, Number 3: 269-290 » Abstract Full Text (PDF) References Classifications Article Services Email this article to a colleague Alert me when this article is cited Alert me if a correction is posted Similar articles in this journal Similar articles in Web of Science Download to citation manager Citing Articles Load citing article information Citing articles via Web of Science Google Scholar Articles by Newmark, K. Related Content Load related web page information Social Bookmarking CiteULike Complore Connotea Delicious Digg Facebook Google+ Reddit Technorati Twitter What's this? Current Issue Summer 2011, 63 (3) Alert me to new issues of Comparative Literature Duke University Press Journals ONLINE About the Journal Editorial Board Submission Guidelines Permissions Advertising Indexing / Abstracting Privacy Policy Subscriptions Library Resource Center Activation / Acct. Mgr. E-mail Alerts Help Feedback © 2011 by University of Oregon Print ISSN: 0010-4124 Online ISSN: 1945-8517 var gaJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." : "http://www."); document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost + "google-analytics.com/ga.js' type='text/javascript'%3E%3C/script%3E")); var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker("UA-5666725-1"); pageTracker._trackPageview();

Journal

Comparative LiteratureDuke University Press

Published: Jun 20, 2011

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