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"A hole in a paper sky" : Pirandello, Baudelaire and the crisis of representation in modernism Beard, Lauren

Abstract

In this paper I investigate the ways in which Luigi Pirandello and Charles Baudelaire, as modernist authors, articulate and respond to the crisis of representation in modernism. Modernism is an aesthetic period governed by a series of crises, including the crisis of the general or metanarrative, the crisis of experience, and the crisis of history. These crises are tied to a Christian theological breakdown in which transcendence no longer gives purpose to immanence. In this paper I investigate the ways in which the crises that define modernism effect representation. I examine the way that allegory changes in modernism, and the way that Pirandello and Baudelaire both record and respond to the crisis of representation. Without a Christian theological metanarrative or general, allegory in modernism ceases to function as it did in previous eras. This aesthetic crisis also has a psycho-social dimension in the realm of subjectivity. The modernist subject becomes more uncertain, more reflective, and more “pensive.” This “pensive” subject is an individual anxiously coping with the crises of modernity. The pensive subject sees life and experience as fragmented, and schemes or metanarratives that would organize the world as tentative at best. Walter Benjamin, in The Origin of German Tragic Drama, distinguishes allegory from symbol by describing it as a relationship between a general concept and the particularity of lived experience. Benjamin refers to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose concept of the symbol provides the fullness of immediate experience, whereas the notion of allegory requires mediation and process to derive meaning. The symbolic understanding of the world is what is lost in modernism; instead, a fractured form of allegory is what remains, leading to the creation of a new subjectivity. The transition to an allegorical style of writing marks the onset of modernism in literature. Pirandello sees allegory as a mode that is broken, and no longer functions for the modern world. Baudelaire observes this problem and tries to rehabilitate the mode. In this way, Baudelaire in a sense responds to the crisis outlined by Pirandello.

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