Pain as Aesthetic Experience in Charles Baudelaire's Work

This project aims to investigate the interest of nineteenth-century literature in pain in regard to the variety of its aesthetic, religious and anthropological implications.

Project No. G 102

Christoph Groß

This project aims to investigate the interest of nineteenth-century literature in pain in regard to the variety of its aesthetic, religious and anthropological implications. Centered on Charles Baudelaire’s poetic and aesthetic writings, it will outline the poetological means and procedures by which the author of the Fleurs du mal on the one hand expounds the problem of pain as an irritation of aisthesis and by which on the other hand he achieves the sublimation (or the pacification) of pain by its inscription into a metaphysic regime within the aesthetic immanence.

The project acts under the assumption that pain manifests itself within complex perceptual procedures in which somatic and cognitive components interact with each other. The subject in pain projects specific semantic information onto the somatic event that predominantly constitutes the event of pain as such. However, from the very beginning acute pain imposes an exclusive concentration of a subject’s perceptive awareness on the affective event that shatters the organism. This entire focalization of the mind on the painful stimulus in turn cuts the affective bonds to the external world and creates a enclosed interior space of suffering. This isolation in suffering recurs on a linguistic level. Through its very intensity, pain seems to resist intrinsically every form of representation and the transport of meaning.

In Baudelaire’s poetry and art criticism pain is therefore conceived as being a crucial occasion to outline the sublimating power of an art shattered by nameless suffering. Following the scientific assumptions of its epoch, Baudelaire relates aesthetic experience to the idea of an increased irritability of the nervous system. Pain and aisthesis thereby become closely associated terms when the intensity of aesthetic perception exponentiates, becomes painful and culminates in the experience of a nervous shock.

By creating ‘correspondences’ as bridges between the realms of perceptive sensibility and cognition, imagination projects semantic information and affective investment onto the dolorous sensation that permits its lyrical transformation and transfiguration. Thus, poetry succeeds in internalizing and spiritualizing pain by commuting it into a cognitive, linguistically representable artifact.

Under the sign of a religious inspired dolorism suffering in Baudelaire’s poetry becomes an experience of mystic intimacy and interiority that obliterates the essential alterity of pain. Pain is thereby transmitted from outside to the interior and reshaped cognitively in such a way that it becomes a means for the escape from reality as well as a place for the revelation of transcendence within the enclosures of aesthetic immanence.

Discipline

Literatury studies

Supervisor

Prof. Dr. Julia Kriesteva (Paris VI)

Prof. Dr. Joachim Küpper