The Symbolist Aesthetic in France, 1885-1895

By A. G. Lehmann | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
THE SYMBOLIST VIEW OF LANGUAGE

Un désir indténiable à mon temps est de séparer comme en vue d'attributions différentes le double état de la parole, brut ou immédiat ici, là essentiel.--MALLARMÉ

Sentir avec génie, et être incapable d'exprimer, paraît aussi incompatible que d'exprimer avec force ce qu'on ne sent pas.--SÉNANCOUR

1. The field of language defined. 2. Edgar Allan Poe and the 'emotive' theories. 3. Partial revolts from the 'symbolic' theory. 4. Mallarmé and the 'music' of poetry. 5. 'Musicality', the symbolists, and Wagner. 6. The symbolist approach to form. 7. The disruption of forms. 8. Vers libre. 9. The lyric drama; transition to chapter V.


I. THE FIELD OF LANGUAGE DEFINED

IT is possible to hold one of two views concerning language, in the philosophy of art: on the one hand, that whatever its nature may be, it cannot materially affect the remainder of aesthetic theory; or on the other hand, that it occupies a position of central importance, and cannot be wrongly or carelessly determined without bringing distortion, paradox, and falsehood into every adjoining part of the field of study.

For the first view, the way we normally think of language will be adequate: that is to say, it will be claimed that we all know what it is; namely, a way to communicate what is in our minds to other people, making use of words arranged according to the laws of grammar, with meanings assigned by convention. In such a language, the units, the words, out of which it is made, will be symbols--that is to say, signs of reference arrived at by agreement between the two parties to the communication.1 Within this general definition, the theory will discern two specific types of symbolic language: the one

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1
In this chapter the meaning ascribed here to the words symbol, symbolic, will be held to throughout. In chapter VI, however, we shall be talking of symbols and symbolism in quite a different sense. This embarrassment, unfortunately, cannot be avoided. On the one hand, long established usage has sanctified the philosopher's claim to be allowed to use the word in the way he wants. On the other hand, literary criticism has gone beyond the point where it could renounce so popular and widespread a term. The 'Symbolist' movement can never be rebaptized, hasty and ill-considered as may have been the original christening. The two uses, we shall try to show, are incompatible; and so far from being a source of pregnant insight into the poetry in question, this confusion of terms has again and again misled critics and historians of literature, not excluding those of the contemporary scene in the last century.

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The Symbolist Aesthetic in France, 1885-1895
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • Part I 1
  • Chapter I- The Nature of the Inquiry 3
  • Chapter II- The Starting-Point of an Aesthetic 21
  • Chapter III- Poetic Knowledge 74
  • Part II 127
  • Chapter IV- The Symbolist View of Language 129
  • Chapter V- The Classification of the Arts 194
  • Chapter VI- The Symbol in Art 248
  • Index of Proper Names 319
  • Subject-Index 323
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