Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Lecture TWELVE summary

Earlier we examined one major precursor of Symbolism, Caspar David Friedrich. Yet Friedrich began to be forgotten already in the 1830s, during his own lifetime. The affinity with the Symbolists was discovered only much later.

Not so Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828). While the great majority of his almost 700 oil paintings have remained in Spain, his prints enjoyed wide circulation. Restrikes were even made after the artist’s death, and copies appeared in periodicals. Goya’s skill in this field was generally admired during the great mid-century revival of French printmaking. Preeminent among them are the 80 in his Caprichos, widely esteemed (and sometimes denounced) by 19th-century French connoisseurs. Their replicability and portability were of course major advantages. (The term capriccio is originally Italian, and serves to designate a genre in which the artist is free to allow his fantasy to roam.)

Modern scholarship has determined that Goya was in close contact with Spanish intellectuals who were influenced by the French Enlightenment. Many of his works, especially the Caprichos, have veiled political meanings.

The signature piece, “El sueño de la razón produce monstruos,” lends itself to this reading. The key idea seems to be that if we allow our reason to be lulled into slumber, it will cease to be vigilant against all the chimeras that trouble mankind. However, the word sueño means both “sleep” and “dream.” In fact, the connotation “fantasy, illusion” has a history going back to 17th-century Spanish literature. In this sense the print could be read in a different way, as suggesting that, from time to time, the faculty of reason must suspend itself so as to allow room for the imagination. The imagination may take us into uncharted waters, but that is its nature.

At all events 19th-century perceptions of Goya differed from those held nowadays

The first thing to consider is the image of the Spanish national character, almost entirely created by foreigners. A prominent example is Prosper Mérimée’s Carmen, and the opera Georges Bizet derived from it. A different twist appears in Washington Irving’s Tales from the Alhambra. Note also Rimsky-Korsakov, Capriccio Espagnol. Manet executed several paintings on Spanish themes.

During the 19th century Spain was viewed as land apart, firmly separated from the true Europe by the Pyrenees. There is a grain of truth in this stereotype, in that Spain had separated itself, first by the expulsion of the Jews and Moors, which suppressed diversity, and secondly by the combined repression of throne and altar under the Counterref0rmation. Faulty economic policies, relying on the gold and silver from the Americas, prevented the formation of native industry. The result was that Spain was (in contemporary terms a third-world country, a picturesque place to visit but also an object of pity. (Needless to say, these stereotypes have nothing to do with the Spain of today, which is one of the most prosperous and progressive countries on earth. It even has gay marriage!)

In this light foreigners were likely to emphasize the exotic character of the Spanish people, who ostensibly retained quaint customs that had vanished in the rest of Europe. These foreign stereotypes had one point of contact with Spanish literature in the 19th century, and that was the costumbrismo trend. The costumbrista writers paid close attention to regional pecularities of the various parts of Spain, seeking to record them as carefully as possible. An example is Serafín Estebánez Calderón, whose Escenas andaluces (1846) captures the distinctive qualities of southern Spain.

Some confusion stems from overattention to the gypsy element. However, the gypsies (or Roma) have probably made more contributions to Spain than to any other country. This is seen in flamenco performances and, above all, in the paralanguage known as Caló.

Examination of individual caprichos reveals considerable complexity. “Watch Out for the Bogeyman” shows an ambiguous relation between the mother and the mysterious stranger. “Where is Mamma Going?” presents an obese witch and her associates who attempt aerial flight.

Like the costumbristas Goya drew upon a large store of folklore and custom. However, he felt no need to record and present this material objectively. Instead, he freely mixed the themes with his own fantasy. In later terms, he was drawing upon his own subconscious. Mérimée did not think much of the Caprichos, claiming that he was half-mad when he did them. This goes too far, but it does point to the subjective, imaginative element in these enigmatic works. In this way they are pointers to Symbolism, because they acknowledge that in any deep perception there are things we understand and things we do not.

A brief examination of works by Félicien Rops, a minor Belgian Symbolist, suggests one path that understanding (or misunderstanding) of Goya could take. His “Atheist’s Repast” resonates with Huysmans’ quest to understand diabolism in Là-bas, but in an unsubtle way that approximates to soft porn. Rops’ version of “The Temptation of St. Anthony” is particularly lurid, combining misogyny with blasphemy.

As a first approach to the matter of Symbolist themes, we return briefly to the matter of decadence. The primary reference point was the later phase of the Roman Empire, or (as it is now termed) late antiquity. Academic paintings, as by Couture and Gérôme, illustrate the prevailing concept (and were picked up by Hollywood). Yet they show no comprehension of the kind of art produced in late antiquity. Most observes thought that the question was meaningless, as the era in fact produced no art worthy of the name.

Yet connoisseurs and adventurous travelers were to prove this assertion mistaken. A case in point is the wall frieze of the Virgins from Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (ca. 549). This impressive composition shows two types of stylization. One stems from the staccato rhythm of the figures, whose swaying bodies are similar, but not identical. The other pattern is produced by the thousands of tiny cubes in glass and metal (tesserae), which produce a grid-like effect, not unlike the Divisionism of some neo-Impressionists. Another example is the bust of the Emperor Licinius, where the artist employs distortion in order to convey the charisma of the sitter. The effect anticipates Expressionism.

Even more unexpected was the abstract jewelry of the Migration peoples. The splendid technique fibula we examined shows an affinity with art nouveau jewelry. One of the byproducts of the rediscovery of late antique art was a reinforcement of the new standing of the so-called applied arts. The theory of this stylized and abstract art was first expounded in a monograph of 1901 by the Austrian art historian Alois Riegl.

As the last in this group we examined a small reliquary of St. Demetrius, an exquisite example of Byzantine cloisonné enamel.

The last piece stems from the world of Eastern Orthodoxy. The new science of comparative religion fostered analysis of difference within religions (though this is still neglected today, as some claim to be the sole representatives of the true version of their religion.

Traditionally, the imagery of religion and mythology was limited to two great repertoires, the classical and the Biblical (or Judeo-Christian). However, the new approaches added Indian, Germanic, and Celtic mythology. Odilon Redon paid homage to the last in his “Druidess,” whom he may have perceived as an avatar of “roots” in the sense of “nos ancêtres les Gaulois.”

Circles and spheres

Research has shown that a particular gesture may have one meaning in one culture, while it possesses a different, perhaps opposite meaning in another culture. In Italy for example the gesture corresponding to the Anglo-American one signifying “come here” (that is, one hand placed in the air with the fingers retreating back to the body) in fact means “good-bye.”

The meaning of gestures may even vary within cultures. Take for example the circle formed by the thumb and forefinger of one hand. This may either mean something like “A-OK,” that isn’t all is well, or it may be a goose egg, an indicator of nullity. Thus when a student emerges after an examination flashing this gesture, the student’s friends can only interpret it by the supplementary information supplied by the examinee's face. Accompanied by a big smile, it means, “I aced it.” Accompanied by a frown, it indicates failure.

During Greek classical times the circle was associated with perfection, as seen in the circular plan of the ideal capital of Plato’s Atlantis. Because of practical problems, cities are rarely laid out this way. Historically, however, a number of Islamic cities, including Baghdad at the time of its founding by al-Mansur, had a circular layout.

While there are a few square haloes, generally for living people, the Western convention is for the halos of saints to be round.

That our associations with the circle are not universal is shown by the Japanese ensō, the product of the stylization of the image of Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect. The ensō is generally slightly irregular, showing the join where the brush began and where it ended, thus preserving a human touch.

During the Renaissance the circle generally connoted ideal perfection. A Renaissance tondo, such as the one comprising Raphael’s "Madonna della Sedia," seems to complement the holiness of the figures. The domes of central plan buildings, as in San Pietro in Montorio in Rome, have a similar effect. For centuries, as assumed in the Robert Fludd diagram, it was assumed that the planets must move in circular orbits. It was only Johannes Kepler in the seventeenth century who proved that their orbits are parabolic ellipses. (Fludd’s illustrator may be claimed as the first to produce an all-black image, in the first of his Creation series.)

We turn now to the sphere. During the Middle Ages a special sphere, the orb, was an item of imperial regalia, signifying universal domination.

An early enigmatic version of the sphere appears in Dürer’s “Melancholia I“ of 1514 (not shown in class). The image of Lust by Pieter Brueghel the Elder shows a negative image of a circular building. In Jacques De Gheyn’s “Vanitas” (Lucie-Smith, Symbolist Art, pl. 11), the bubbles rising on the left signify transience. Jean-Baptiste Chardin’s bubbles provide a more playful version.

Ambiguity inheres in the circles and spheres found in Symbolist paintings. In the work of Odilon Redon circles appear in various guises: a well, the sun, a bull’s eye window. Circles, some elongated into ovals, sometimes constitute a kind of simulated opening in the surface out of which enigmatic heads project or peer out. Redon’s spheres are generally mysterious. In some instances he qualifies them to produce eyeballs or balloons. Elongated they form egg-like shapes, and these can be modified with human features so as to produce severed heads.

Two prominent circles, both truncated, dominate the background of the signature work of Fernand Khnopff, “I Lock My Door Upon Myself.”

Turning to abstract work circles, either complete or segments of them, are major features of the Orphic work of Robert Delaunay. A connection with scientific theory is implied by the use of circles in paintings by Kupka.

The art glass from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Coonley Playhouse features a number of circles, as do some paintings in the later, hardedge oeuvre of Vassily Kandinsky. .

The window theme

Windows constitute an essential feature of dwellings and public buildings. Or at least they should. It is to be hoped that the depressing practice of erecting school buildings without windows, common some years ago, has been abandoned. By contrast some modern buildings are sheathed completely in glass, and thus “all windows.” In these structures the glass is usually transparent on the inside and opaque to the outside. Few of us would like to live in a building in which our windows were always open to the prying eyes of others. That, interestingly enough, is the premise of Evgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian novel We (1919), where the dictator requires that the activities of all the residents of his ideal city be seen at windows at all times (except for brief periods when sexual activity is permitted).

In our culture the idea of the window has taken on significant metaphorical functions. Thus we may speak of the eyes as “windows of the soul” and a “window into the mind of Shakespeare.” The window represents liminality, a passage from one realm to another. We may think of this window as either transparent or opaque.

Roman wall paintings from Pompeii and Boscoreale show an interesting series of variations on the fictive windows. It may be also that the simulated easel paintings in that context were regarded as having a window-like quality.

Caspar David Friedrich used windows in several different contexts.

In actual buildings the stained-glass windows of medieval cathedrals are spectacular examples. They host a variety of fascinating colored lights, while barring any detailed access to the outside. They are translucent not transparent, so that only the light tells us that there is something beyond the glassy surface. Instead of views, we get images of Christ, the Virgin, the Apocalypse and the saints. The stained-glass windows thus present immediate renderings of things that spiritually they “open out to.”

This medieval concept of the window has appealed to a number of modern artists. Odilon Redon produced a number of pastels exploiting the rich colorism of the windows, while veiling the subject matter. Together with other followers of William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones produced an important series of designs for actual stained-glass windows. The abstract artist František Kupka derived some interesting paintings from his inspection of the stained-glass windows of the Cathedral of Chartres.

Some background will be useful. As noted above, the illusionistic frescoes of Pompeii, whether large architectural vistas or simulated easel paintings, presuppose a notion of the transparency of the wall, which becomes a membrane through which one views figures and landscapes. Unaware of this precedent but knowledgeable about similar practices in his own time, Leon Battista Alberti formulated the equation of the picture with the window in his De pictura of 1435. During the baroque period this idea was expanded to devote whole ceilings to heavenly vistas (as in the church of Il Gesu in Rome).

Some artists of the nineteenth century challenged this concept of the smooth, “invisible” membrane by deliberately enlivening the picture plane with visible brushwork and rough surfaces. In this way they blocked the illusionistic effect. An interesting device, common in the late nineteenth century and continued in the early abstract work of Kandinsky, is to paint the frame. In this way the dichotomy between frame and the illusion it surrounds is elided.

An early poem by Mallarmé is “The Windows” of 1863. This Symbolist writer occasionally evokes them in other works.

During the early ‘teens of the twentieth century one of the major themes of the Orphist Robert Delaunay was the view from his window in Paris. Some show the Eiffel Tower, to which he devoted a number of independent works.

Particularly striking are two examples of windows by Henri Matisse done during his summer vacations at Collioure in the South of France. In the first, from 1905, the large French windows open to reveal a pleasant jangle of Fauve colors. In 1914 he returned to the theme. Now, however, the view from the window is a great block of black pigment. Perhaps significantly, this work was created at the very end of the Belle Epoque, the year of the outbreak of World War I.

Marcel Duchamp created a “real” French door.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Lecture ELEVEN summary


As an adolescent, he learned English in order to read Poe, traveling to London to improve his knowledge. This background qualified him for his profession as an English teacher. In his early years there was not enough money, requiring him to supplement his income with publishing tasks. In addition to his standing as the supreme French Symbolist poet, Mallarmé exercised influence through his salons, gatherings of intellectuals on Tuesday evenings. For many years, those in the know regarded the sessions in his apartment on the rue de Rome as the heart of Paris intellectual life, with W.B. Yeats, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Valéry, Stefan George, Paul Verlaine, and many more in attendance. In this main room, filled with ciagar smoke, Mallarmé held court as judge, jester, and king.

His earlier work owes much to the example by Charles Baudelaire. Yet Mallarmé’s mature style anticipates many of the fusions between poetry and the other arts that were to blossom in the Dadaist, Surrealist, and Futurist movements, where the tension between the words themselves and the way they were displayed on the page was explored. But whereas much of this latter work was concerned principally with form, Mallarmé's work engaged the interplay of style and content. This is particularly evident in the highly innovative “Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard” (A roll of the dice will never abolish chance) of 1897, his last major poem. This work, which opened the way for concrete poetry, displays a kind of figure/ground interplay, in which the blank spaces seem as important as the text.

Unlike Baudelaire, Zola, and Huysmans, Mallarmé declined to write formal Salon critiques, though he was closely engaged with contemporary painting. He and Manet were neighbors, and for ten years the poet visited the artist in his studio almost daily. The poet wrote three pieces defending his friend (the longest appearing in English in a London art monthly). The two friends collaborated on an edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Mallarmé also wrote on Whistler and Berthe Morisot (a catalogue for her posthumous exhibition). Artists were welcome at the poet’s Salons.

Coming to terms with Mallarmé is one of the most challenging tasks in the whole history of Western literature. He is a supremely “difficult” poet. Sometimes, in my frustration with him, I have thought that I had rather succumb to a bad case of the ‘flu than to have to confront those darned poems one more time. All the same, he is the indispensable linchpin of the Symbolist Movement. There is no way getting around him.

At first the concision of his corpus seems help. Quantitatively speaking, he was surely the least productive of all major poets. The oeuvre that he approved for collection amounts to a little more than 100 pages. Scholars have augmented this total several times with other poems, published and unpublished, and juvenilia.

As one might expect, a mountain of scholarship has accumulated to decode the work. Some hold that this endeavor goes contrary to Mallarmé’s intention, which was to create “open” works that defy any complete resolution. At all events, it is imperative to look at his work in French (with the helpful crib afforded by the bilingual Oxford volume), for much turns upon relations of sound and sense that are integral to that language. But take heart: someone remarked that it would have been better if Mallarmé had written his poems in German!

As the Blackmores remark, "[f]or him … the vital role of poetry was to purge language of its everyday setting.” In this he indicated one of the main paths of defamiliarization or estrangement, that deliberate departure from everything ordinary, indeed everything that we normally expect, that is characteristic of the most challenging twentieth-century poets, such as Eliot and Pound, George and Rilke. In Mallarmé’s case, the achievement is all the more remarkable in that he keeps to standard verse forms. The subversion of language—which the poet would call a return to its true nature—takes place on the deepest level

All things considered, it must be acknowledged that Mallarmé is one of the French poets most difficult to translate. The conventional wisdom ascribes this difficulty to the inherently vague nature of much of his work, but this explanation is a simplification. Close reading of his work in the original French reveals that the role of sound relationships between the words in the poetry equals, or even surpasses, the standard meanings of the words themselves. This principle may generate new meanings in the spoken text which are not evident on reading the work on the page. It is this aspect of the work that eludes translation (especially when attempting a more literal fidelity to the words as well), since it arises from ambiguities residing in the phonology of the spoken French language. It may be that this “pure sound” aspect of his poetry that has led to its inspiring musical compositions, and to its direct comparison with music. This method also anticipates that of abstract painting in the early 20th century.

A good example of this play of sound appears in Roger Pearson's book Unfolding Mallarmé, in his analysis of the “Sonnet en '-yx'.” The poem opens with the phrase “ses purs ongles” (her pure nails), whose first syllables when spoken aloud sound very similar to the words “c'est pur son” (it's pure sound'\). This use of homophony, along with resulting relationships and layers of meanings, is simply impossible to capture accurately through translation.

As the high priest of modern poetry, Mallarmé seems formidable for the reasons stated. However, he had a lighter side. For eleven months he edited a ladies’ fashion magazine, writing the contributions under female pseudonyms. Much of his poetic work is occasional, and therefore more approachable. In the end, though, one comes back the fearsome, hermetic Scriptures of modern poetry-—the core oeuvre.

The Introduction to the Oxford volume provides a useful discussion of the poet’s commitment to suggestion, nuance, and the thing not said. In a famous sentence Mallarmé formulated the 25/75 rule. Mere statement or “naming” affords only one-quarter—25%--of the value of a poem. By contrast, the other 75% provides the true measure of the enjoyment and appreciation of the poem. In that 75%, or so it seems to me, lies the essence of the Symbolist quest. Its exact content, of course, Mallarmé does not divulge. “Those who say, don’t know; those who know, don’t say.”

One should examine the poems for references to decadence (esp. pp.83-85) and nothingness (le néant; cf. p. 20). Mallarmé remarked that “destruction is my Beatrice.”

Mallarmé’s take on the Salome-Herodias theme is very different from that of other writers. For the demonic temptress, the poet substitutes an icon figure—perhaps an icon of the artistic challenge as such.

“The Windows” p. 10-13, offers parallels with Symbolist paintings.

In “The Demon of Analogy” (p. 88ff.) Mallarmé defends “accidental” relations of words. In his view, these links are not accidental at all, but take us into the realm of the essences of words. The poet preferred traditional verse forms, but in his affirmation of the “secret” links of words, he was farseeing. He implicitly posited the concept of the poem as an artifact, not dependent on relations with the outside world. The instructor offered a tentative English-language parallel: the word “word” encloses the word “or,” suggesting the inherent variability of word choices.

Mallarmé's poetry has elicited several musical pieces, notably Claude Debussy's "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune" (1894), a free interpretation of Mallarmé's poem “L'après-midi d'un faune” (1876), which creates powerful impressions by the use of striking but isolated phrases. Maurice Ravel set Mallarmé's poetry to music in "Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé" (1913). Other composers to use his poetry in song include Darius Milhaud ("Chansons bas de Stéphane Mallarmé," 1917) and Pierre Boulez ("Pli selon pli," 1957-62).

The contemporary Belgian visual artist Marcel Broodthaers was strongly influenced by Mallarmé, as evidenced by his “Un coup de dés,” based on the typographical layout of Mallarmé, but with the words blacked over by bars.



For details of the writer’s biography, see Robert Baldick, The Life of J.-K. Huysmans, which has just been reissued by Dedalus Press.

Through most of his adult life Joris-Karl Huysmans produced art criticism. In a recent collection this amounts to almost 600 pages. In this way he “discovered” Gustave Moreau four years before assigning him a starring role in Against Nature.

As it happens, though, Huysmans’ most important discovery in art did not concern a contemporary artist, but one who had lived in the 16th century. In an 1888 tour of Germany he was deeply affected by seeing Grünewald’ “Crucifixion” in the Kassel Gallery. “Never before had realism attempted such a subject; never before had a painter explored the divine charnel house so thoroughly, or dipped his brush so brutally in running sores and bleeding wounds. It was outrageous and it was horrifying. Grünewald was the most daring of realists, without a doubt; but as one gazed upon this Redeemer of the doss-house, this God of the morgue, thee was wrought a change. Gleams of light filtered from the ulcerous head; a superhuman radiance illumined the gangrenous flesh and the tortured features.” Later, Huysmans traveled to Colmar, where he saw Grünewald’s masterpiece, the Isenheim Altarpiece. Huysmans is generally credited with reviving interest in this hitherto obscure artist. In their turn, Grunewald’s works have presided over a major trend of 20th century art, Expressionism. They proved to be tragically attuned to the bloodiest of centuries, the 20th.

Grünewald makes an appearance in chapter one of La-bas. Like Against Nature, La-bas is a “bachelor novel.” Yet the hero, Durtal, is much more sociable and reasonable than Des Esseintes. There is a kind of book within the book, because Durtal is writing a study of Gilles de Rais, the 15th-century Bluebeard. His researches lead him to discover a group of Satanists in Paris (the Black Mass scene).

After this Huysmans accomplished his final reinvention as a novelist, one that is imbued with his newfound Catholicism.


The bizarre details of his life seem almost more fascinating than his works. He was born in Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, to a distinguished aristocratic family. His parents, Marquis Joseph-Toussaint and Marie-Françoise were not rich, however, and were financially supported by Marie's aunt, Mademoiselle de Kerinou. His father became obsessed with the idea he could restore the family fortune by finding the lost treasure of the Knights of Malta, reputedly buried near Quintin during the French Revolution. Consequently, he spent large sums of money buying land, excavating it and then selling it at a loss when he failed to find anything of value.

The young Villiers' education was troubled (he attended over half a dozen different schools) but from an early age his family were convinced he was an artistic genius: as a child he composed poetry and music.

In 1860 his aunt gave him enough money to allow him to live in Paris permanently. He had already acquired a reputation in literary circles for his inspired, alcohol-fuelled monologues. Some held that, like Oscar Wilde, he was more talented as a conversationalist than a writer. Villiers began living a Bohemian life, frequenting the Brasserie des Martyrs, where he met his idol Baudelaire, who encouraged him to read the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

His attempts at securing a suitable bride for himself would all end in failure. In 1867, he asked Théophile Gautier for the hand of his daughter Estelle, but Gautier--who had turned his back on the Bohemian world of his youth and would not let his child marry a writer with few prospects--turned him down. His plans for marriage to an English heiress, Anna Eyre Powell, were equally unsuccessful. Villiers finally took to living with Marie Dantine, the illiterate widow of a Belgian coachman. In 1881, she gave birth to Villiers' son, Victor (nicknamed "Totor").

A high point of Villiers' life was his trip to see his hero Richard Wagner at Triebschen in 1869. Villiers read from the manuscript of his play La Révolte and the composer declared that the Frenchman was a "true poet".

Disaster came in 1871 with the death of Villiers' aunt, and the end of her financial support. Though Villiers had many admirers in literary circles (the most important being his close friend Stéphane Mallarmé), mainstream newspapers found his fiction too eccentric to be saleable and few theaters shied away from his plays. Villiers was forced to take odd jobs to support his family: he gave boxing lessons and apparently worked in a funeral parlor and as a mountebank's assistant for a time. Another money-making scheme Villiers considered was reciting his poetry to a paying public in a cage full of tigers, but he later thought better of the idea.

According to his friend Léon Bloy, Villiers was so poor he had to write most of his novel L'Eve future lying on his belly on bare floorboards because the bailiffs had taken away all the furniture. His poverty only increased his sense of aristocratic pride. In 1875, he attempted to sue a playwright he believed had insulted one of his ancestors, Maréchal Jean de Villiers de l'Isle Adam. In 1881, Villiers stood unsuccessfully for parliament as a candidate for the legitimist party. By the 1880s, there was some change in fortune: Villiers' fame began to grow, but not his finances. The publishers Calmann-Lévy accepted his Contes cruels, but the sum they offered Villiers was negligible. The volume did, however, come to the attention of J.-K. Huysmans, who praised Villiers' work in his highly influential novel A rebours. But by this time, Villiers was dying of stomach cancer.

Villiers' works, which owe a good deal to the Gothick tradition, are often fantastic in plot and filled with mystery and horror. Important among them are the drama Axel (1890), the novel L'Ève future ("The Eve of the Future,” 1886), and the short-story collection, Contes cruels (1883).

The novel L'Ève future concerns Lord Ewald, a wealthy Englishman, who discovers his ideal beloved during a train journey. There was a problem, though, as her trivial mind does not match her sublime exterior. To solve this problem, he visits his friend Thomas Edison in Menlo Park, New Jersey, who agrees to create an android which will be an exact replica of the woman, with the proper spiritual sensitivity within. Unfortunately, the replica is lost when Lord Ewald returns by sea to England. In this novel Villiers coined the term “android" (andréide in French

Villiers held that the imagination has within it much more beauty than reality itself, existing at a level which nothing real could compare.

Axël was the work Villiers considered his masterpiece, although critical opinion has often been reluctant to agree with him, placing far higher value on his fiction. Villiers began work on the piece around 1869 and had still not put the finishing touches to it when he died. It was first published posthumously in 1890. The play is heavily influenced by the Romantic theatre of Victor Hugo, as well as Goethe's Faust and the music dramas of Richard Wagner. The play's most famous line is Axël's "Vivre? les serviteurs feront cela pour nous" ("Living? Our servants will do that for us"). Edmund Wilson used the title Axel's Castle for his study of early Modernist literature.


Despite the fact that he was a minor writer, Dujardin ranks as the inventor of the literary technique known as stream of consciousness.

Dujardin became editor for the journal Revue Indépendente in 1886, and it was here that his first works were published. His participation in this journal resulted in it being recognized as an important voice for the symbolists. Thus Dujardin was a kind of facilitator or manager of Symbolism.

His landmark work is a short novel of 1888, Les lauriers sont coupés. The work traces the movements of the hero Daniel Prince in Paris during one evening, between between 6 PM and 12:30 AM. Dujardin takes us into the mind of the hero, and we see and hear everything as it registers in his awareness. This is the method of the stream of consciousness. James Joyce was a great admirer of this work, and he utilized the method in Ulysses, especially in the thoughts of Leopold Blum and the famous concluding monologue of Molly Bloom. Others who have followed Dujardin in using this device are Virginia Woolf (The Waves), William Faulkner, Samuel Beckett, and Carlos Fuentes. One could almost say that modern prose fiction could not exist without Dujardin’s method of the stream of consciousness.

Something of a dandy, Dujardin had expensive tastes in clothing, and was a familiar figure in Parisian nightlife. His many romantic flings were noted and he had had numerous relationships with actresses, models, and other glamorous women.

His literary works are extensive and include numerous plays, poems and novels. In his later years Dujardin dabbled in far-out theories about the origins of Judaism and Christianity


He was born in Tournai and went to school in Ghent, where he became friends with the poet Emile Verhaeren. Rodenbach worked as a lawyer and journalist. He spent the last ten years of his life in Paris as the correspondent of the Journal de Bruxelles, and was an intimate of Edmond de Goncourt. He published eight collections of verse and four novels, as well as short stories, stage works and criticism. He produced some Parisian and purely imitative work; but a major part of his production is the outcome of a passionate idealism of the quiet Flemish towns in which he had passed his childhood and early youth.

In his best known work, Bruges-la-Morte (1892), he explains that his aim is to evoke the town as a living being, associated with the moods of the spirit, counseling, dissuading from and prompting action. The novel concerns the grief that the hero experiences at the death of his beloved wife Marie. In his rambles through the city he meets another woman, Mariette, who seems just like Marie, but is frivolous and unfaithful. The novel was turned into an opera by Erich Korngold (performed this fall at the City Opera).


While he made his debut as a Symbolist poet, Maeterlinck’s main activity was as a playwright. Of the original group he was the only Symbolist to have won the Nobel Prize in literature (1911). (Yeats received the Prize in 1923.)

Maeterlinck’s masterpiece is the play Pelléas et Mélisande (1892). It is set at an indeterminate place during an indeterminate period. It seems to be somewhere on the border between France and the Dutch-speaking area; it is medieval, or is it Renaissance? We first discover Mélisande weaping by a fountain. Her origins are never explained—a mystery within an enigma. Against these indeterminate features Maeterlinck tells his story of the forbidden, doomed love of the title characters.

The play has been the basis of several pieces of music. Nowadays even better known than the play is the opera by Claude Debussy (1902), which builds upon the Symbolist features of the play adding music that is perfectly suited to it, and thereby creating a composite work of art, one of the ultimate aspirations of the period. Earlier, in 1898, Gabriel Fauré had written incidental music for the play, from which he later extracted a suite. The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius also wrote incidental music for it in 1905. The story is also the basis for the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg’s early symphonic poem "Pelleas und Melisande" of 1902-03.


When Yeats was young, his family moved first from Sandymount, County Dublin, to County Sligo, and then to London, to enable his father John to further his career as an artist. At first, the Yeats children were educated at home. Their mother, who was homesick for Sligo, entertained them with stories and folktales from her county of birth.

Yeats' early work tended to focus on the Romantic style, based on Irish lore, best described by the title of his 1893 collection The Celtic Twilight. During the ‘nineties, coached by his friend Arthur Symonds, he attached himself to Symbolism. In his forties, inspired by his relationships with modernist poets such as Ezra Pound and his involvement in Irish nationalist politics, he moved towards a harder, more modern style. In this way Yeats was a bridge from Symbolism to Modernism.

Even before he began to write poetry, Yeats had come to associate poetry with religious ideas and thoughts of sentimental elements. Describing his childhood in later years, he described his "one unshakable belief" as "whatever of philosophy has been made poetry is alone... I thought ... that if a powerful and benevolent spirit has shaped the destiny of this world, we can better discover that destiny from the words that have gathered up the heart's desire of the world."

Yeats' early poetry drew heavily on Irish myth and folklore. His first significant publication was The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889). The long title poem was based on the poems of the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology.

His other early poems are lyrics on the themes of love or mystical and esoteric subjects. The Yeats family had returned to London in 1887, and in 1890 Yeats co-founded the Rhymer's Club with Ernest Rhys. This was a group of like-minded poets who met regularly and published anthologies in 1892 and 1894.

Yeats had a life-long interest in mysticism, spiritualism, occultism, and astrology. He read extensively on these subjects all through his life. In 1885, he and friends formed the Dublin Hermetic Order. This society held its first meeting on 16 June, with Yeats in the chair. The same year, the Dublin Theosophical lodge was opened with the involvement of Brahmin Mohini Chatterjee. Yeats attended his first séance the following year.

Throughout his life Yeats' mystical inclinations--informed by the writings of Swedenborg and Hindu religion (Yeats translated The Ten Principal Upanishads, 1938) with Shri Purohit Swami), theosophical beliefs, and the occult--formed much of the basis of late poetry. After his marriage, he and his wife dabbled with a form of automatic writing, Mrs. Yeats contacting a spirit guide she called "Leo Africanus."

GERTRUDE STEIN (1874-1946).

Born into a talented German-Jewish family, Gertrude Stein had the good fortune to study with William James at Harvard. After 1903 she lived mainly in Paris, forming a durable partnership with Alice B. Toklas.

Three Lives (1909), Stein’s first published book, was begun in 1905, before she had absorbed the full lesson of Picasso and the Cubists. Easily accessible and full of human interest, Three Lives does not provide an adequate measure of Stein’s capacity for innovation. Written in 1912 and published two years later, Tender Buttons, is a remarkable advance, facilitated by her contacts with the Parisian milieu. This little book is a landmark, since it is one of the first literary works in any language to provide a plausible counterpart for Abstraction.

The first part, on objects shows a remarkable similarity to her friend Picasso’s Cubist still lifes of the same period. Both may have been influenced by the bodegones of the Spanish baroque (e.g. the example seen by Sánchez-Cotán)

In writing the book she said she “needed to completely face the difficulty of how to include what is seen with hearing and listening.” Note the synaesthesia motif. Elaborating on this point Stein noted that it was her “first conscious struggle with the problem of correlating sight, sound and sense and eliminating rhythm.” The last phrase seems to men that she renounced poetry in all of its forms, as prose was challenging enough.

As a first approach, it is best to read Tender Buttons in small sections. Nonetheless, it has a tripartite structure: objects, food, and room. Together these themes evoke Stein’s coupled, domestic life with Alice B. Toklas. More generally, they pertain to “woman’s sphere,” as conceived of a hundred years ago. (Some have detected sexual themes here and there, with hidden anatomical references.)

Broadly speaking, the book may be said to be about similarity and nonsimilarity, and about causation and noncausation. The first is shown in the unusual juxtapositions, possibly following Lautréamont’s talisman: “Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine on an operating table.”

Several stylistic devices put causality into question. The frequent use of the word “and” implies contiguity but not necessarily anything more. And the omission of question marks in sentences that seem to be questions, elides these sentences into a uniform whole. Declarative sentences and questions are all one thing. The suppression of the difference implies the zetematic (questioning) nature of reality.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Lecture TEN Symmary


Baudelaire ranks as the protopoet of Symbolism. This designation can be understood in two ways. On the one hand, he is the precursor, the John the Baptist as it were of the movement. On the other hand, he is the first in the series, crystallizing some of the quintessential features of the movement.

The pote's biological father, who was elderly when he was married, died when his son was only five. Throughout his life Baudelaire remained closely attached to his mother.

As he showed no sign of taking up a profession, he mother (who had remarried) sent him on a voyage to India (1841). However, he jumped ship at Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean, and returned to France. Then he returned to France. Afterwards he never traveled outside of France and Belgium.

On reaching twenty-one he came into his father’s inheritance, which he proceeded to squander on the proverbial wine, women, and song-—as well as paintings (he was a small-time collector and dealer). His mother, alarmed at his accumulating debts, placed him on a tiny monthly allowance, administered by a strict lawyer. These sums were never enough, and much of Baudelaire’s life was spent in scrounging together an existence. It may be that he would never have written much, except for the need to earn money. That this activity was never sufficient is a commentary on the way in which modern society starves its creative figures.

One should remember that Baudelaire’s first public identity was as an art critic. He debuted with his Salon of 1845, when he was only twenty-four. Painting was his love as a consumer (and for a time as a quasi-dealer), more perhaps than literature. (Offering little private recitals for friends, he was already a closet poet, but this activity was not generally known.) His biological father had been an artist, though a mediocre one, and Baudelaire had practiced drawing as a child.

In this first Salon Baudelaire says he will be impartial, contradicting this assertion the following year with the triple-P declaration: “partial, passionate, and political.”

His reliance on the neologism modernité (Chateaubriand, Balzac) becomes salient in the second Salon (1846).

He views Delacroix as the consummate artist, the most original of all time. By rallying to this great Romantic he hitched his wagon to a star. For Baudelaire Delacroix excelled both in color (the conventional wisdom) but also in drawing. This commitment lead to conflict with his theories, to which the artist’s work only partially conformed. Much of Delacroix’s work is literary and historical, such as the “Barque of Dante” (1822). . Thus there remained a serious problem: how to reconcile Delacroix’s subjects-—ancient, medieval, Orientalist-—with the ideal of modernity. The answer he eventually came up with is that modernity is a sentiment not a straight-jacket. But not everyone will agree that the definition of modernity can be so elastic.

A chance find in a periodical (a translation of the story “The Black Cat”) led to a life-long obsession with Edgar Allan Poe, whom he seems to have regarded as a literary counterpart to Delacroix. Baudelaire spent sixteen years translating the American writer. Poe too was not limited to modern subjects.

Baudelaire’s concern with beauty was matched by his interest in caricature. The yoking together of beauty and ugliness was to become characteristic in his poetry. The intersection of beauty and ugliness is rooted in the modern city, and Baudelaire’s understanding of this inseparability is one of the features that make him THE pioneering modernist in poetry.

This perception of the fusion of beauty and ugliness is not unproblematic. A notorious example is the poem “La Charogne” (The Carcass). Here Baudelaire recalls going out one morning with his mistress on a walk, where they came upon a carcass (apparently of a horse or donkey). The legs of the beast are thrust up into the air like a “lecherous whore.” The effect of the light on the oozing carcass is striking. There is also a sinister synaesthesia—the combination of the odor with the buzzing of the flies. At the end, the poet rudely says to his companion that she too will be like that one day. Several mitigating considerations may be suggested. The last comment might belong to the “world enough and time” category. Let us enjoy each other while we can. But why doesn’t the poet indicate that he too will be that way. After all, the theme of the medieval and Renaissance memento mori is that this fate awaits us all (illustrated with the predella of Masaccio’s Trinity). Also, Rembrandt and others had previously explored the counterintuitive aesthetic interest of the dead carcass of an animal. When all is said, though, this poem remains unpleasantly transgressive. It reveals an almost boundless capacity for disgust, one that the writer has not brought fully under control.

As the two later Salons show, Baudelaire’s praise of originality in art came to be tempered by the acknowledgement that all truly successful works must have both an eternal and a transitory aspect. For this reason his essay on Constantin Guys, who was exclusively present-minded, fails to convince.

Let us turn now to a theme of special interest to this course. The “mystical” Baudelaire is not present in the first two Salons of ’45 and ‘46. That seems to have crystallized ca. 1852. The Salon of 1859 has some indications (the word specialité), and perhaps more generally in the sovereign role ascribed to the imagination (“the queen of the faculties”). The imagination now supersedes imitation of nature—and perhaps modernity as well.

Swedenborg, at first mediated by Balzac, was the principle source of Baudelaire’s mystical ideas of analogy. This is shown by the adoption of the term “correspondence” (poem no. 4 in Les Fleurs). However, Swedenborg himself depended on older ideas, as seen in his striking evocation of the microcosm-macrocosm idea. Here the cosmos is compared to a gigantic human being (a theme already illustrated in Les Tres Riches Heures, ca. 1416). It has been argued that Baudelaire’s interest in mysticism is grounded more generally in the rhetorical theory of analogy, which goes back to Antiquity. At all events, care must be taken not to exaggerate the role of this interest-—even though it was of supreme importance to the Symbolists.

The death of Delacroix in 1863 was a great shock. After his passing we had entered into the decrepitude of art (as he tactlessly remarked to Manet). This historical pessimism is sometimes termed “declinism.” Compare the relationship of Vasari to Michelangelo. Vasari too believed that with the death of his hero art could only decline.

In Les Fleurs du Mal the link with art takes the form of a series of ekphrasis poems, evoking paintings and sculptures, whether real or imaginary. The “real” sources are generally minor works, such as sculptures by Ernest Christophe, suggesting that they were merely pretexts for the poem.

The sixth poem in the first edition of Les Fleurs du Mal (1857) is entitled “Les Phares” (“The Beacons”). Here he cites eight artists of particular importance, allocating a quatrain to each. The artists are (in the order given) Rubens, Leonardo, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Puget, Watteau, Goya, and Delacroix. As it is not chronological, the sequence seems hard to understand, though perhaps these figures are intended as precursors of Baudelaire’s idol, Delacroix. Otherwise, the octet is admirably balanced. There are two Netherlandish artists, two Italians, one Spaniard, and three Frenchmen. Three media--painting, printmaking, and sculpture--are covered. Three of the artists are “twofers,” active in two media. Michelangelo was both a sculptor and a painter. And while Rembrandt and Goya were major painters, Baudelaire probably owed his acquaintance to them mainly through their prints. Baudelaire recognized the distinction between the linear and painterly modes, which was based ultimately on the contrast between the disegno of Renaissance Florence and the colore of Venice. The eight all adhere to the painterly mode. Significantly, Baudelaire begins with Rubens, the standard-bearer in the ca. 1700 battle over whether Rubens or Poussin was the ideal painter. In 1708 the critic Roger de Piles had hedged; not so Baudelaire. His worthies are all from the Rubéniste camp.

Such lists have a considerable history, of which Baudelaire was only partially aware.

The template stems from the poet Ludovico Ariosto, who formerly enjoyed an almost universal esteem. Cantos 32 and 33 of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (final version, 1532) concern the Castle of Tristan, remarkable for its murals that prophetically illustrate future events. In order to illustrate the power of artists, the poet gives two lists: a somewhat hypothetical ancient Greek one (derived from Pliny the Elder) and a modern Italian one. The latter ranks as the first ”beacon list” I have been able to find. Here it is: Leonardo, Andrea Mantegna, Bellini, the two Dossi brothers, Michelangelo, Sebastiano del Piombo, Raphael, and Titian. All are Italian.

In a theoretical treatise of 1590 the Milanese artist and writer Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo selected seven top artists, correlated with the seven planets and seven metals. Lomazzo’s supremes are Michelangelo, Gaudenzio Ferrari, Polidoro Caravaggio (these last two are local luminaries), Leonardo, Raphael, Mantegna, and Titian. Along with Michelangelo, these last four would certainly still command assent.

When Lomazzo’s treatise was published in an English rendering in 1598, the translator added the names of English artists, Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver. The adaptation and recreation of the lists in Northern Europe shows a process of gradual internationalization, the results of which are fully evident in Baudelaire’s latter-day roster.

Despite the “Correspondences” so beloved of the later Symbolists, critics of the poems tend to ignore Baudelaire’s mystical side. The conventional wisdom is that Baudelaire is the poet of modernity and subjectivity, who works out his destiny in the modern city, with all its grandeur and squalor. As we have seen, the theme of the union of beauty and ugliness is highlighted in “La Charogne.”

What makes Baudelaire most modern, at least in the sense of a precursor, is his incipient challenge to the venerable doctrine of the harmony of levels of style. According to this view there are three literary modes: the elevated, the middling, and the low. Each of these situations calls for a distinctive use of language. (We still have survivals of the idea, as seen in the shock that greeted Cheney’s admonition to Senator Leahy that he perform an act of contortionist sexuality on himself.)

Marked by his immersion in a modern metropolis, Baudelaire attends to the contrasts it affords. Still, in Les Fleurs du Mal, he clings to the constraints of the standard apparatus of French poetry. The aesthetic of his late poems in prose foregrounds more frankly the “somersaults” required by modern urban living.

With the passage of time we can identify several downsides of Baudelaire’s poetry. 1) Embedded in Les Fleurs du Mal are three minicycles, devoted to the women in his life. Even seen in the most charitable light, his relationships with women can only be regarded as neurotic. He sees them as inextricable from the pervasiveness of le Mal. Interestingly, the cycle of poems was originally to be entitled Les Lesbiennes. No one is quite sure why. He ended up with three poems about female same-sex love, but that is hardly enough to establish the theme of the whole. 2) Baudelaire is much taken with a kind of bargain-basement Satanism, le Mal again. He is tormented by a sense of guilt and the horrors that it portends. To be sure, this preoccupation lends drama—as in the last poem of the enlarged edition, where he accepts the abyss, whether “it leads to Heaven or Hell.” This preoccupation is connected with his pervasive depression, his spleen or ennui. Still, most modern readers find this obsession with damnation hard to accept. (Interestingly, in one poem he identifies le Mal with le Néant, nothingness, a term that is to enjoy a considerable fortune.)

By the way, was Baudelaire really the first modern poet in any language? Whitman’s 1855 Leaves of Grass precedes him by two years, and is more innovative metrically. (Baudelaire knew Poe, of course, as well as Emerson and Longfellow, but not Whitman.)

In summary Baudelaire faces in two directions, towards tradition and towards the future. His involvement with the city of Paris is emblematic. He grew up in a still half-medieval city, but he lived to see most of the transformations effected by Haussmann.

PAUL VERLAINE (1844-1896).

Born in Metz, Paul Verlaine was educated at a lycée in Paris and then took up a post in the civil service. He began writing poetry at an early age, and was initially influenced by the Parnassien movement and its leader, Charles Leconte de Lisle. Verlaine's first published collection, Poèmes saturniens (1867), though adversely commented upon by Sainte-Beuve, established him as a poet of promise and originality.

Verlaine's private life spills over into his work, beginning with his love for Mathilde Mauté, who was a disciple of Louise Michel, a radical leader. Mauté became Verlaine's wife. At first Mathilde seemed the more interesting of the two, for her husband came across as a kind of accountant. This perception would soon change.

In September of 1871 Verlaine received the first letter from the stripling Arthur Rimbaud. By 1872 he had lost interest in Mathilde and effectively abandoned her and their son, preferring the company of his new lover, a situation that had a devastating effect on the insecure and overemotional Verlaine. He now became a heavy drinker, and shot Rimbaud in a jealous rage, wounding him, but not mortally. Verlaine was arrested and subjected to a humiliating medico-legal examination, including his intimate correspondence with his lover and the accusations of Verlaine's wife about the nature of their relationship. Jailed for 18 months, Verlaine produced some of his best poetry in confinement. He returned to Catholicism, a change which influenced his work (and earned him the vicious mockery of the inconstant Rimbaud.)

After his release from prison, Verlaine traveled to England, where he worked for some years as a teacher and produced another successful collection, Sagesse, this one heavily religious. He returned to France in 1877 and, while teaching English at a school in Rethel, became infatuated with one of his pupils, Lucien Létinois, who inspired Verlaine to write further poems. Verlaine was devastated when the boy died of typhus.

Verlaine's last years witnessed a descent into drug-addiction, alcoholism, and poverty. Yet his poetry gained new adherents and was recognized as ground-breaking. The poems served as a source of inspiration to several composers, such as Gabriel Fauré, who set many of his poems to music, including La bonne chanson, and Claude Debussy, who turned the entire Fêtes galantes into a classic mélodie album.

Several artists painted Verlaine's portrait, among them Henri Fantin-Latour, Antonio de la Gándara, Eugène Carrière, Frédéric Cazalis, and Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen.

Verlaine’s early lyrics are characterized by delicate evocations of landscapes, some tinged with nostalgia (for the 18th century, above all). Some are correlated with his inner states. As he experienced the whiplash of his attraction to both women and men, his poetry became more personal and intense.

His “The Art of Poetry” (1884) sets forth several themes dear to the Symbolists, including the preeminence of musicality and the importance of the nuance. The sonnet “Languor” (1884) is a wonderful expression of the siting of decadence in the late Roman Empire. Both these poems appear in the collection Jadis et naguère, which must have played a key role in the formulation of the Symbolist aesthetic.

In addition to his loyalty to the “decadent” label, Verlaine coined the expression "poète maudit" (accursed poet) in 1884 to refer to a number of poets like Stéphane Mallarmé and Arthur Rimbaud who had fought against poetic conventions and suffered social rebuke or had been ignored by the critics. In the 20th century the idea was extended to the “peintres maudits.”

ARTHUR RIMBAUD (1854-1896).

Arthur Rimbaud was born into the provincial middle class of Charleville in the Ardennes in northeastern France. As a boy he was a restless but brilliant student. By the age of fifteen he had won several prizes, composing original verses and dialogues in Latin.

In 1870 his teacher Georges Izambard became Rimbaud's literary mentor and his verses in French began to improve rapidly. He frequently ran away from home and may have briefly joined the Paris Commune of 1871, which he portrayed in his poem “L'orgie parisienne ou Paris se repeuple” (The Parisian Orgy or, Paris Repopulates). He may have been raped by drunken Communard soldiers (his poem "Le cœur supplicié" ["The Tortured Heart"] suggests so). By this time he had become an anarchist, started drinking and amused himself by shocking the local bourgeoisie with his shabby dress and long hair. He returned to Paris in late September 1871 at the invitation of Paul Verlaine (after Rimbaud had sent him a letter containing several samples of his work) and resided briefly in Verlaine's home. Verlaine, who was married, promptly fell in love with the sullen, blue-eyed, overgrown (5 ft 10 in), light-brown-haired young man. They became lovers, leading a wild, vagabond life spiced by absinthe and hashish. They scandalized the Parisian literary coterie on account of the outrageous behavior of Rimbaud, the archetypal enfant terrible, who throughout this period continued to write strikingly innovative, visionary verse.

Rimbaud's and Verlaine's stormy love affair took them to London in 1872. In Brussels in July 1873 Rimbaud committed himself to journey to Paris with or without Verlaine. In a drunken rage, Verlaine shot at him, one of the two shots striking the 19-year-old in the left wrist.

Rimbaud eventually withdrew the complaint, but the judge sentenced Verlaine to prison. Rimbaud returned home to Charleville and completed his Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell) in prose, widely regarded as one of the pioneering instances of modern Symbolist writing and a reflection of that "drôle de ménage" (odd partnership) life with Verlaine, his "pitoyable frère" ("pitiful brother") and "vierge folle" ("mad virgin") to whom he was "l'époux infernal" ("the infernal husband"). One of the segments bears the enigmatic title “Alchemie du verbe.”

In 1874 he returned to London with the poet Germain Nouveau and put together his pathbreaking Illuminations. Alternative titles for these prose poems are “Painted Plates” and “Colored Plates,” suggesting that he may have been influenced by the illuminated manuscripts he saw in the British Museum.

Rimbaud and Verlaine met for the last time in March 1875 in Stuttgart, Germany, after Verlaine's release from prison and his conversion to Catholicism. By then Rimbaud had given up writing and decided on a steady, working life; some speculate he was fed up with his former wild living, while others suggest he sought to become rich and independent to afford living one day as a carefree poet and man of letters. He continued to roam extensively in Europe, mostly on foot. He traveled to Cyprus and in 1880 finally settled in Aden as an employee in the Bardey agency. He had several native women as lovers. In 1884 he quit the job at Bardey's and became a merchant on his own in Harar, Ethiopia. He made a small fortune as a gun-runner, but Rimbaud developed right-knee synovitis which degenerated into a carcinoma. His deteriorating health forced him to return to France in 1891, where his leg was amputated on May 27. Rimbaud died in Marseille on November 10, 1891, at age 37.

Rimbaud’s most celebrated single poem is his sonnet on the vowels, which has invited various esoteric interpretations. Whatever it may ultimately mean, it ranks as a famous set piece on the theme of synaesthesia.

One of Rimbaud’s most challenging statements is “Je est un autre” (I is someone else.) Reflection suggests that he was questioning the age-old Western commitment to the integrity of the personality. This declaration occurs in the outpouring known as the “Seer Letter” of May 1871. As he states: “The poet makes himself a seer by a long, involved, and logical derangement of all the senses. Every kind of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself; he exhausts every possible poison so that only essence remains. He undergoes unspeakable tortures that require complete faith and superhuman strength, rendering him the ultimate Invalid among men, the master criminal, the first among the damned--and the supreme Savant! For he arrives at the unknown.”

Rimbaud’s influence in modern literature, music, and art has been pervasive. His life in Paris was dramatized in a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio called "Total Eclipse" (1995). Among the creative figures who have felt the influence of Rimbaud are French poets in general, the Surrealists, the Beat Poets, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, William S. Burroughs, Bob Kaufman, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Hugo Pratt, Mário Cesariny de Vasconcelos, Sérgio Godinho, Klaus Kinski, Dwid Hellion of Integrity, Jack Kerouac, Philippe Sollers, Patti Smith, Bruce Chatwin, Penny Rimbaud, Jim Morrison, John Hall, Bob Dylan, Richard Hell, Joe Strummer, John Lennon, Rozz Williams, and David Wojnarowicz.

Bob Dylan refers to Rimbaud in his song "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" from Blood on the Tracks: "Situations have ended sad, / Relationships have all been bad. / Mine've been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud. / But there's no way I can compare / All them scenes to this affair, / You're gonna make me lonesome when you go."

The composer Benjamin Britten began his scintillating settings of Les Illuminations in Suffolk in March 1939 and completed them a few months later in the USA. The work has been choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton and Richard Alston.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Lecture NINE summary

[In the exhibition of Americans in Paris currently at the Met, note Sargent’s “Mme. X” and Whistler’s “Symphony in White.” Also, Josef Hoffmann show at the Neue Galerie]


As a leading monument in the Austrian capital, the Karlskirche offers instructive material regarding the complex ways a building may communicate meaning. It resulted from a vow made by Emperor Charles VI in 1713 on the occasion of a plague. This showy church is Christian, imperial Roman, and dynastic (viz. the allusions to the empire of Charles V). Impressive as they are, the accumulation of symbolic devices still does not qualify this monument as an architectural precursor of Symbolism.

For that we may turn to 19th-century buildings that rely on the principle of association. Examples were the Red House at Bexley Heath, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and the two parliament houses (London and Budapest). Even so, the concept of architectural Symbolism requires refinement and qualification.

Late 19th century Vienna saw the emergence of serious questions about the role of ornament in architecture. Otto Wagner’s Majolica House offered an ingenious solution by distributing the floral motifs over the building surfaces. Josef Hoffmann offered attenuation, together with richness of materials. It was Adolf Loos, in effect branding ornament as crime, who reached the ultimate radical solution, heralding the austerity of the International Style of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Still, Olbrich’s 1898 Sezession Building (nicknamed “the golden cabbage”) remains the representative monument of the epoch.

These architecture and design themes are part of the status of Vienna as a hothouse of modernity. Through it all the citizens of “Vindobona” (Latin for Vienna) retained a sense of their classical heritage. This is seen in the choice of the word Sezession (from an obscure episode in the Roman Republic) for the organization of avant-garde artists.

GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918).

Gustav Klimt was born in Poechlarn, near Vienna, the second of seven children. His father (Ernst Klimt) was an engraver and was married to Anna Klimt (née Finster). He lived in poverty for most of his childhood.

Gustav Klimt was educated at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule) in the years 1879–1883 and received training as an architectural decorator. He began his professional career painting interior murals in large public buildings on the Ringstraße. Especially important among these were the decorations for the Kunsthistorisches Museum. In the spandrels of the interior he first experimented in his combination of gold and mosaic with naturalistic forms.

In 1893 Klimt was commissioned to create three paintings to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall in the University of Vienna. His three paintings, Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence, came under attack for their radical themes and “pornographic” material resulting in their not being displayed on the ceiling of the great Hall. All three paintings were eventually destroyed by retreating SS forces in May 1945. In assessing Klimt it is necessary to go beyond the easel paintings we see in exhibitions, to include the monumental cycles executed in situ.

Much of his work is distinguished by the elegant, sometimes gaudy gold or colored decoration, often erotically suggestive that conceals the more even more erotic positions of the drawings he based many of his paintings on. This feature can be seen in “Judith I“(1901), and in “The Kiss”(1907–1908).

The provocative frontality of his “Nuda Veritas” (Naked Truth) make this one of his most challenging works. Yet it is based on a traditional concetto going back to the emblem books of the 16th and 17th centuries.

While strikingly modern, his art pays tribute to early forms of art that had only recently become known, as seen in the spirals (relating to Minoan-Mycenean art and early Balkan) and the Greek archaic (whence his Nietzschean “Pallas Athena”). In fact, art historians note an eclectic range of influences contributing to Klimt's distinct style, including Egyptian, Minoan, Classical Greek, and Byzantine motifs. Klimt was also inspired by the engravings of Albrecht Dürer, late medieval European painting, and Japanese Ukiyo-e.

Klimt was one of the founding members of the Wiener Sezession (Viennese variant of Art Nouveau) and of the periodical Ver Sacrum. He left the movement in 1908. He also forged a creative partnership with the fashionista Emilie Flöge, whose elegant dresses were one aspect of the flowering of the decorative arts in Vienna.

The Beethoven Frieze of 1902, originally in the great hall of the Sezession Building in Vienna, is the most important of the in-situ works. The centerpiece was Max Klinger’s theatrical statue of Beethoven. It was inaugurated by a special performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Klimt’s frieze had three main sections. 1) Longing for Happiness (weak appeal to the strong man); 2) The Hostile Forces; 3) Fulfillment (longing for happiness finds its surcease in poetry).

He died in Vienna on February 6, 1918 of a stroke and was interred at the Hietzing Cemetery, Vienna. Numerous paintings were left unfinished.

Seemingly bagatelles, his landscapes have also evoked great interest. In November of 2003, Klimt's Landhaus am Attersee sold for $29,128,000.

Purchased for the Neue Galerie in New York by Ronald Lauder for a reported US $135 million, the 1907 portrait "Adele Bloch-Bauer I" for a time deposed Picasso's 1905 "Boy With a Pipe" (sold May 5, 2004 for $104 million) as the world's most expensive painting (only to be surpassed in turn by the sale of a Pollock).

Raoul Ruiz has directed a biopic, "Klimt," starring John Malkovich in the title role. It has been reported that the film had its world premiere at the International Film Festival Rotterdam on January 28, 2006


Going back to the time of Peter the Great are the two orientations: the Westernizers and the Slavophils. This contrast has continued to play itself out almost to the present. The Slavophil heritage consisted of two parts: a vernacular tradition going back to pagan times, and a sophisticated Byzantine overlay. However great the attractions of the West, it proved hard to abandon these native elements.

The Silver Age (ca. 1890-1917) was a period of extraordinary creativity in literature and the arts. The portraits of Valeri Bryusov and Andrei Bely represent the two waves of Symbolism.

The poet Valery Bryusov, who succeeded Konstantin Balmont as the leader of the first generation of Russian Symbolists, wrote on a wide variety of topics, from Cleopatra to mushrooms.

Andrei Bely (“Andrew White”) first published a series of prose “symphonies,” heavily influenced by music. His “The Silver Dove” postulates a Russia unable to unite its Western and Eastern halves. His masterpiece is the kaleidoscopic “Petersburg” (1916), perhaps the first truly modernist novel, anticipating Joyce and Proust. It revolves around the conflict between a deeply conservative father, the high official Ableukhov, and his idealist son, Nikolai, who agrees to bomb his father.

Sergei Diaghilev was the mastermind of the Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) group. He also performed important work in promoting Russian art and music in the West through his Ballet Russes. Bakst, Benois, and Roerich were significant artists in this effort.

MIKHAIL VRUBEL (1856-1910). The son of an officer, his stepmother, a pianist, encouraged his gifts. While at the St. Petersburg Academy he was asked to assist in the restoration of the 12th century church of St. Cyril in Kiev. This experience, which marked him profoundly, would appear to direct him towards a Byzantine-Eastern trajectory. He spent time in Venice and Spain, though, observing how those places transformed their medieval heritage into the Renaissance. Back in Russia, he joined the Abramstevo circle, with its interest in Russian folk art and lore.

His almost obsessive fascination with the poem “The Demon” by Lermontov was expressed in several paintings. The “Demon Downcast” (1902) is the last of these. “The Swan Princess” is based on Russian folklore.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Lecture EIGHT summary

[For the next class, reread the material on Baudelaire in Dorra. Then in Mallarmé’s Collected Poems, read pp. ix-xxxi (Introduction), 10-14, 20-23, 28-55, 70-71, 136-81 216-25 (and related notes in the back). As a reminder, note that you should have read pp.33-181 in Lucie-Smith.].

Let us briefly return to the achievement and limitations of C.D. Friedrich. How is that Friedrich could have anticipated so presciently the achievements of Symbolism, which emerged a half century after his death? Perhaps the answer lies in the common heritage of German Idealism. This philosophical and literary approach emerged in Germany during Friedrich’s lifetime. But because of the need for translation and cultural resistance there was a timelag before the Idealist contribution arrived in France—and hence the rest of Europe. By exception, it reached Russia in the 1830s, but had little direct consequence (see the current play “The Coast of Utopia”).

After his death in 1840 Friedrich’s work enjoyed little favor, even in Germany. The reason lies largely in his disdain for the formative experience of Italy. As the home of both the Romans and the Renaissance, Italy enjoyed vast prestige. The Grand Tour of the baroque period, and its bourgeois version in the railway era affirmed this cachet.

Apart from this cultural benefit, what other attractions did Italy afford? The image of Italy incorporates a range of contradictory features: land of geniuses, cuisine, fashion, arcadia, nation of slackers (the dolce far niente), and so forth. Thus the attractions of Italy were manifold, with art being only one of them.

In this context Germany enjoyed a special relationship (or some would say that it was burdened by it). The first step, as it were, was Charlemagne’s imperial coronation in Rome in 800. The custom arose that the Holy Roman Emperors must be crowned in Rome. Experiences in the Eternal City were not always happy (cf. Martin Luther). One stereotype was that Italy was a place of sexual license. And of course some sought to enact this notion, as seen for example in Goethe’s amours in Venice. (This might be regarded as an early version of sexual tourism.) To be sure many, like Robert and Elizabeth Browning, continued to cultivate Italy for enlightened cultural reasons. As the Brownings show, the appeal was not limited to Germany (cf. Ibsen, Henry James, Proust, Santayana, and many others). Still, Germans felt a special bond.

There were two types of pilgrims to Italy: the short-stayers and the permanent residents. Preeminent among the latter were the Deutschrömer (German expatriates), with J. J. Winckelmann at the head. Note the Nazarenes, as seen in the painting “Italia and Germania” by Franz Overbeck.

A major influence on the Nazarene current was the writer Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder (1773-1798), associated with Ludwig Tieck. In his Outpourings of an Art-Loving Friar (Herzensergießungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders, 1796) Wackenroder preached the idea that art had lost its way and must return to its earlier freshness and purity. This idea reflects the broader concept of the Taste for the Primitives. He also is one of the first to advocate aesthetic relativism, as seen in his points about Indian and African art being beautiful in their own right.

The name Nazarene was originally a pejorative label used against the group for their affectation of “biblical” dress and hairstyle. In 1809 six students at the Vienna Academy formed an artistic cooperative called the Brotherhood of St. Luke or Lukasbund, following a common name for medieval gilds of painters. In 1810 four of them, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Franz Pforr, Ludwig Vogel and Johann Konrad Hottinger, moved to Rome, settling in the abandoned monastery of San Isidoro. Philipp Veit, Peter von Cornelius, Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld, Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow, and others joined them.. They met up with Austrian romantic landscape artist Joseph Anton Koch (1768–1839) who became an unofficial tutor to the group.

The Nazarenes reacted against Neoclassicism and the routine art education of the academy system. They hoped to return to art which embodied spiritual values, and sought inspiration in artists of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, rejecting what they saw as the superficial virtuosity and mendacity of later art.

By 1830 all except Overbeck had returned to Germany and the group had disbanded. Ironically, many Nazareners found employment as instructors in German art academies.

HANS VON MAREES (1837-1887)

This still enigmatic German painter is sometimes classed as an “Idealist” (a term with interesting overtones, reminding us distantly of Aurier’s “ideist”). From 1853 to 1855 he was a student at the Berlin Academy, whereupon he moved to Munich. He was supported financially by the art theorist Konrad Fiedler, with whom he had an intense Platonic relationship, perhaps something more. Reacting against the linear clarity and precisionism of earlier German painting, he immersed himself in the rich colors and deep shadows of the school of Titian. Some have detected homoerotic qualities in his works, but this matter remains moot. The male nude is prominent in his works, and a sense persists that “there is something there” that we cannot name. Perhaps he preferred it that way. His idea of Arcadia is very different from that of Puvis de Chavannes.

After 1864 he lived mainly in Italy. He died in Rome, where he is buried in the Protestant cemetery.

Unlike that of Hans von Marées, the sexuality of the photographer WILHELM VON GLOEDEN (1856-1931) was overt. The collateral attractions of Italy were diverse.


A Swiss-German painter, Arnold Böcklin studied at Düsseldorf where he became a friend of Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach. Originally a landscape painter, his travels to such places as Brussels, Zurich, Geneva and Rome exposed him to classical and Renaissance art, and the Mediterranean landscape. These new influences brought allegorical and mythological figures into his compositions. In 1866 he resided at Basel, in 1871 in Munich, in 1885 in Hottingen (Switzerland). He completed his life in a lavish villa in Fiesole near Florence.

Influenced by Romanticism his painting today strikes us as eclectic, with classical and baroque affinities, as well as Symbolist ones. His pictures portray mythological, fantastical figures along classical architecture constructions (revealing often an obsession with death) creating a strange, fantasy world. During his day he was regarded by some as the finest painter in the world, but after his death a sharp reaction set in, and his work came to be regarded by many as pretentious and overbearing.

Böcklin is best known for his five versions of The Isle of the Dead (1880ff.), originally created for Marie Berna in memory of her deceased husband. Many prototypes have been sought, but none is uniquely convincing (I believe that I saw the scene on the island of Corfu). The painting partly evokes the myth of Charon crossing the Styx; the island may derive from Celtic mythology. The example in the Metropolitan Museum may not be, strictly speaking, the first.

This painting has enjoyed an extraordinary resonance, yielding many imitations and parodies. Pascal Lecocq, a contemporary French painter, has created a whole site: Rachmaninoff’s tone poem of 1909 is still performed. Strindberg uses the painting in his “Ghost Sonata.” There have been a number of related novels and movies. And there is even a perfume called “Isle of the Dead.”

We turn now to Southern Germany. As the Bavarian baroque shows, this region (which remained Catholic) retained close ties with Italy. In the early 19th century Munich underwent urban improvements designed to recast it as the new Florence. Towards the end of the century the city became the major focus of the form of art nouveau known as Jugendstil.

FRANZ VON STUCK (1863-1928)

Far and away the most influential artist of the fin-de-siècle in Munich, Franz von Stuck lived in a palatial villa overlooking the city. His works are a mixed bag. Some are classical in inspiration, others almost macabre. His misogyny is hard to stomach, even by the standards of the period (though his American wife did not seem to complain).

Paul KLEE was briefly a student of Stuck’s.


EDVARD MUNCH (1863-1944)

The Norwegian Munch lost his mother to tuberculosis in 1868, his older and favorite sister Sophie (b. 1862) to the same disease in 1877. Ultimately his father, Dr. Christian Munch, died young, as well, in 1889. After their mother's death, the Munch siblings were raised by their father, who instilled in his children a deep-rooted fear by repeatedly telling them that if they sinned in any way, they would be doomed to hell without chance of pardon. One of Munch's younger sisters was diagnosed with mental illness at an early age. Munch himself was also often ill. He would later say, "Sickness, insanity and death were the angels that surrounded my cradle and they have followed me throughout my life." His alcoholism did not help. Several early paintings depicting sickrooms reflect the unfortunate circumstances of his family.

In 1881, he enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design of Kristiania (Oslo). During this period he spent much time in louche bohemian circles, and took up their doctrine of free love. This theory did not take account of jealousy, however, and this emotion is one source of his problems with women.

While stylistically influenced by the postimpressionists, Munch's art emphasizes the depiction of a state of mind rather than an external reality (an approach he himself termed “Symbolist”). Interested in portraying not a random slice of reality, but situations brimming with emotional content and expressive energy, Munch carefully calculated his compositions to create a tense atmosphere.

Munch's means of expression evolved throughout his life. In the 1880s, Munch's idiom was both naturalistic, as seen in “Portrait of Hans Jæger” (the theoretician of free love), and impressionistic, as in (“Rue Lafayette"). In 1892, Munch formulated his characteristic, and original aesthetic, as seen in “Melancholy," in which color is the symbol-laden element. He picked up the concept of angst from the Danish protoexistentialist Kierkegaard. Painted in 1893, “Screams his most famous work (there are several versions). It was based on an earlier work, “Despair,” in which the figure turns away, looking into the distance. Despite its startling originality, the work reflects the ancient theory of the link between the macrocosm (the outside world) and the microcosm. Some art historians believe that the red sky in the background of The Scream reflects the unusually intense sunsets seen throughout the world following the 1883 eruption of the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa.

The painting now known as “The Vampire” was originally entitled “Love and Death.” Once one gets rid of this later title, the relationship between the woman and the man emerges as more sympathetic. “The Kiss” is an unusual take on the Biblically rooted idea “they shall become one flesh.” The melding of the two faces has disturbed many. At least they seem equal in their urge to merge. Strindberg saw the matter differently, as “the fusion of two beings, the smaller of which shaped like a carp, is on the point of devouring the larger, as is the habit of microbes, vermin, vampires, and women.” Strindberg had his own woman problems, possibly more severe than those of his artist friends.

In 1892 the Union of Berlin Artists invited Munch to appear in its November exhibition. His paintings evoked bitter controversy, and after one week the exhibition closed. In Berlin, Munch involved himself in an unconventional international circle of writers, artists, and critics, who gathered at a tavern called the Black Piggie.

While in Berlin in the last years of the century, Munch experimented with a variety of new media (photography, lithography, and woodcuts), in many instances re-working his older imagery.

In the autumn of 1908, Munch's anxiety became acute and he entered the psychiatric clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobsen. Arguably the therapy Munch received in hospital changed his personality, and after returning to Norway in 1909 he showed more interest in nature subjects, and his work became more colorful and less pessimistic.

Munch built himself a studio and simple house at Ekely, outside of Oslo, and spent the last decades of his life there. He died there on January 23, 1944, about a month after his 80th birthday. He left 1,000 paintings, 15,400 prints, 4,500 drawings and watercolors, and six sculptures to the city of Oslo, which built the Munch Museum at Tøyen.


Playwriting was the chief vehicle of the prolific Swede Strindberg. Yet he was almost demonically energetic, active as a novelist, painter, and (in his own view) scientist.

Munch’s portrait of him, perhaps with malicious overtones (the misspelling of the name, the Medusa hair), goes back to their friendship in the dive known as the Black Piggie in Berlin. Strindberg’s mentoring reinforced a certain mystical strain in Munch.

Strindberg’s career falls into two parts. The first is the realist plays, starting with "Master Olof" in 1872. His life was cleft by the Inferno period, which marked by hallucinations, paranoia, and alchemical experiments (1894-98). Afterwards he wrote plays that depart from naturalism and have been termed protoexpressionist, but might just as well be called Symbolist. In the “Dream Play” the daughter of the Hindu god Indra comes down to earth and enters into a number of relationships with Swedish men. The construction is characterized by sudden shifts of scenes and characters. Strindberg described it as follows, when he says “the author has tied to imitate the disjointed but apparently logical form of a dream. Anything may happen: everything is possible and probable. Time and space do not exist . . . The characters are split, doubled, and multiplied: they evaporate and are condensed, are diffused and concentrated. But a single consciousness holds sway over them—that of the dreamer. (At the same point in time Freud identified condensation and expansion as qualities of the “dream work.”)

During his Inferno period in the 1890s he gave up playwriting and sought to make a name for himself as a scientist. He made alchemical experiments in transmuting sulphur into carbon—experiments that he believed would lead him on the path to making gold. Drinking heavily he was subject to hallucinations. He had long believed that our lives are regulated by “unseen powers.” There was also his belief in “woodspiritism,” based on the story of the boy walking in the woods who imagined that he had seen a beautiful sprite with emerald green hair, only to find that it was just a tree. This is the principle later exploited in the Rorschach blots.

He called his graphically descriptive writing “painting with words.” Yet at certain points in his life, he turned to painting itself as a creative outlet. In his autobiographical novel, Son of a Servant, he describes how painting made him ‘indescribably happy – as if he’d just taken hashish.’ Certainly, he seems to have immersed himself in painting at moments of crisis: when unable to write, or when going through marital troubles. The plays are mostly seascapes and become less frequent after 1900. Thus they anticipate, but do not really accompany his late plays.

HILMA AF KLINT (1862-1944).

Born to a prominent family in Sweden, Af Klint early revealed intellectual gifts. She entered the Royal Academy in Stockholm in 1882, painting conventional portraits after graduating.

In the 1890s she formed, with four other women, the Friday circle to investigate spiritual phenomena. The friends investigated automatic writing and automatic drawing. At first attracted to Theosophy, Af Klint gravitated to the Anthroposophy of Rudolph Steiner. These beliefs enabled her to become a pioneering abstractionist. Her “hard edge” paintings are almost the diametrical opposite of Strindberg’s.