“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”

– T.S. Eliot



Some Excerpted from ‘The Symbolist Movement: A Critical Appraisal’ by Anna Balakian, Some From Literary Criticism by M.A.R. Habib 



  • Drugs, Music, Perfume
  • Fight Scene Cliches
  • Art For Art’s Sake . . .&
II.    Make Your Fight Scene Fresh
  • Decadence (The Symbolists’ ETHICS)
III.   What Did You Bring to the Fight?







Even as the currents of realism and then naturalism held sway in European literature, there was also fermenting in the works of poets such as Charles Baudelaire an alternative set of concerns: with language, with poetic form, with evocation of mental states and ideal worlds, and the most intimate recesses of human subjectivity.

To some extent, these concerns were inherited from the Romantics, as was the antagonism toward an urban life regulated by the cycles of modern industry and commerce. The followers of Baudelaire eventually became associated with a literary and cultural disposition which stubbornly resisted the main streams of thought stemming from the Enlightenment, and which crystallized toward the end of the nineteenth century as a series of reactions against the realism and naturalism then in vogue. These reactions included symbolism, aestheticism, and impressionism, which have sometimes, and in varying combinations, fallen under the label of “decadence.”

This broad anti-realist and anti-bourgeois disposition had already surfaced in many writers and movements: in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of artists formed in 1848 in England which looked back to the direct and morally serious art of the Middle Ages prior to the advent of the Renaissance artist Raphael; in the Parnassian poets of France, inspired by Théophile Gautier and Leconte de Lisle (1818 –1894), who adopted an ethic of “art for art’s sake”; and in the theories of poetic composition elaborated by Edgar Allan Poe.

Baudelaire and his successors, such as Paul Verlaine (1844 –1896), Arthur Rimbaud (1854 –1891), and Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–1898), were the heirs of these aesthetic tendencies; and they have all been associated with French symbolism. This affiliation is retrospective since the symbolist movement as such arose somewhat later, its manifesto being penned by Jean Moréas in 1886. The other symbolists included the poets Jules Laforgue, Henri de Regnier, Gustave Kahn, the novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans, the dramatist Maurice Maeterlinck, and the critic Remy de Gourmont. This movement reached its zenith in the 1890s and thereafter declined, being often derisively viewed as a form of decadence and affectation. It was the precursors of the symbolists – Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, and Mallarmé – rather than the symbolists themselves who have had a vast and enduring influence, extending from major poets such as W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot, through writers of fiction such as Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf, and dramatists such as August Strindberg, to philosophers of language and modern literary theorists such as Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, and Julia Kristeva.

The major critic of the symbolist movement was Remy de Gourmont, who urged the ideals of subjectivity and artistic purity. He asserted that “only mediocre works are impersonal” 1 and advocated a “pure art” which was “concerned exclusively with self-realization” 2 This affirmation of personality in literature was based upon Gourmont’s philosophical dispositions: a staunch subjective idealist, he insisted that idealism found its best formulation in Schopenhauer’s statement that “the world is my representation,” a formula that Gourmont held to be “irrefutable.” 3 These statements embody the central philosophical and aesthetic stance of symbolism. In general, the symbolists refused to take the material world they had inherited as the real world. Drawing on Platonic philosophy, they saw the present world as an imperfect reflection or expression of a higher, infinite, and eternal realm which could be evoked by symbols. Hence they rejected the descriptive language of the realists and naturalists in favor of a more suggestive, symbolic, and allusive language, a language that could evoke states of consciousness and experience. They spurned all forms of discursive language – argument, debate, and narration – and the ideals of logical coherence or accuracy of reference. They also drew on Baudelaire’s notion of “correspondences” between the senses to elaborate an aesthetic of synaesthesia, and their predominant analogy for poetry was with music.

Symons quotes Carlyle’s definition of the symbol as possessing a “double significance,” as a locus where “the Infinite is made to blend itself with the Finite” (2–3). Seen in this light, symbolism was an attempt to reinvest language with its powers of ambivalence and mystery, to relieve it of the stultifying burden of representing factitious identity and clear-cut categories. As Symons put it, symbolism “is all an attempt to . . . evade the old bondage of rhetoric, the old bondage of exteriority” (8).

In a sense, French symbolism is a return to the arbitrariness beneath the layers of convention, a flight to a deeper subjectivity which negates or situates the literal subjectivity of the bourgeois self. Far from returning to a medieval religious regimentation of the signifying powers of language,

French symbolism must erect subjectivity itself – and the literature which uniquely expresses it – into a religion. As Symons says, such literature attains its “authentic speech” only by accepting a heavier burden: “it becomes itself a kind of religion” (9). As so often at the end of the nineteenth century, the totalizing impulses of philosophy and theology were displaced into the realm of poetry.



  • Drugs, Music, Perfume



“To handle a language wisely means to practice a kind of evocative witchcraft.”


Metaphor and symbol, by comparing what exists inside of us to what exists in the world, makes leap that sew threads connecting the human soul into the divine mind. This makes the poet, in a large sense, a translator, a decipherer of divine hieroglyphics. The literary movement of Symbolism was largely influenced by the religious mystic (who seemed to be blasphemous to many mainstream churchfolk because of the connections he was making) Emmanuel Swedenborg, because he explained the divine and familiar religious concepts in terms of human experience and relationships.


There was a fervor for shaping literal correspondence between the divine and natural worlds.


Much of the Symbolist movement was also based on an obsession with music, and making the forms of music rush into the forms of poetry and to have them intermingle there.

Wagner displayed for Baudelaire “the mystical uses of music: symbolism that is not allegory, since it leaves a gap to be filled by the imagination of him who hears it. If the melodies are deemed to be the personification of ideas, they nevertheless leave the ultimate interpretations to each man who experiences the phenomenon. This is, of course, parallel to the effects of intoxicants, which, depending on the sensory and neurological make-up of the intoxicated, are as variable and personalized as those of music. Wagner was for Baudelaire the true artist, the complete artist, who in his combination of drama, poetry, music, and decor exemplified that attainment of the perfect interplay of the sense perceptions that was to be the ideal of the poet.”


“The synesthesia that occurs in the mingling of sense perceptions does not produce a link between heaven and earth, nor does it transport us to a divine state; instead, it finds its connections between sense experiences here on earth: between perfumes and the flesh of children, linked by an adjective which has an olfactory as well as a tactical connotation, between sounds and colors (not in Heaven but here on earth) linking the oboe and the prairies, again through the clever use of an adjective that is applicable to more than one category of sensual imagery. In the last line, Baudelaire reveals that the secret of attaining synesthesia is not through the inner eye and its contact with the divine, but rather in the connection of the mind (Vesprit) with the senses (les sens) by means of a natural stimulus, such as incense or amber. The synesthesia is strictly earthly, descriptive of the kind of chain association that sensual stimuli can produce in the mind of man, and from which Proust was later to derive his notion of involuntary memory. Here the expansion of the sense stimulus does not go so far as to awaken a whole series of remembrances; what it does is to unleash metaphors on a double tract of sense perceptions. There is no spirituality here, even though most translators of Baudelaire’s famous sonnet have used the English word “spirit” to transmit the concept”.


“This is the process of indirect discourse in full play: not the direct expression of emotion by means of qualifying, descriptive adjectives, not the representation of the emotion through specific allegorical personifications, but rather the intervention of communication between ihe poet and the reader through an image or a series of images that have subjective as well as objective value. While their objective existence is unilateral, their subjective meaning is multidimensional, and therefore suggestive rather than designated: the censer, the altar, the monstrance, the violin, the blood. Poetry communicates through the intermediary of the image: as a river purges itself of debris in a lake and comes out looking quite different, so the propelling concept passes through the pool of the metaphor and comes out transfigured.”


“I have been saying for a very long time that the poet is supremely intelligent, that he is intelligence itself—and that imagination is the most scientific of all faculties, because it alone understands universal analogy, or what mystic religion calls “correspondences.””


“Correspondences”, as in Baudelaire’s poem of that name, are ways of linking different senses to objects, emotions, events, and being transported, via synesthesia, fanciful bouts of imagination, and the conduits of divine and earthly mind, that these poets traversed in their explorations of images and meaning. The symbolists were seeking for the infinite, in order to pull it down into the world of appearance, and trap it onto a page via word and ink. The way they tried, and perhaps, managed, to do so, was due to the form their movements took, and that is what style came to be known as, technically ‘Symbolism’, but in shade and hue, ‘Decadence’, ‘Art-For-Art’s-Sake’, and by matter-of-heart what Paul Valery had to say, so far as… the ‘Symbolist ETHICS’. “There is no symbolist aesthetics,” “their aesthetics divided them, their ethics united them.” And these manifested in both the symbols that became reused and perhaps worn out, but also the stance they took to the world, to the mysteries of nature, to death, to the blank page, and likewise to the void.



  • Art For Art’s Sake . . .&



“The artist is the creator of beautiful things,” Oscar Wilde writes in his preface to ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’


With this salvo, “Already, we are worlds away from the notion of art as imitation, art as expressing either reality or ideality, as well as from any purported connection of art with truth or morality. Indeed, Wilde continues, there “is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book” and “No artist has ethical sympathies.” Moreover, no “artist desires to prove anything . . . Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” For Wilde, as for Pater, the prime object of pursuit is beauty, beauty absolutely divorced from all other considerations, moral or practical.”


The phrase ‘Art For Art’s Sake’ was coined by critic Walter Pater. “Pater’s work belongs to an era of what is called “decadence,” marked by a resigned withdrawal from social and political concerns, disillusionment with the consolations available in religion, and a rejection of the philistine and mechanical world which was the legacy of mainstream bourgeois thought and practice, in favor of an exaltation of art and of experience. Needless to say, the views of Pater, Wilde, and other aesthetes and impressionists brought them into conflict not only with the builders of systems and the defenders of religion or morality, but also with those Victorian writers who saw art and literature as having a high moral purpose and civilizing function.

“In the preface to his The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, Pater rejects as useless any attempt to define “beauty in the abstract.” While on the surface Pater claims to accept Matthew Arnold’s imperative that the function of true criticism is to“see the object as in itself it really is,” he redefines this formula in a subjective way:to see the object as it really is, he says, “is to know one’s own impression as it really is,to discriminate it, to realize it distinctly” (viii). The kinds of questions we should askare: “What is this song or picture . . . to me? What effect does it really produce on me?”The answers to these questions are the “original facts” which must be confronted by the critic (viii).Pater’s views of aesthetic experience are rooted in his account of experience in general. In the conclusion to Studies he observes that modern thought tends to view all things as in constant flux. Our physical life is a “perpetual motion” of ever changing combinations of elements and forces. This is even more true of our mental life, of theworld of thought and feeling. At first sight, he says, “experience seems to bury us undera flood of external objects . . . But when reflexion begins to play on those objects they are dissipated under its influence . . . the whole scope of observation is dwarfed into the narrow chamber of the individual mind” (234 –235). Hence the world which seemed overwhelming, which seemed solid and external and of boundless scope, is actually encompassed within the circle of our impressions, our experience (235). Not only does the whole world reduce itself to our impressions, but these impressions themselves areever vanishing and in “perpetual flight” (236). Given the brevity of our life, we must“be for ever curiously testing new opinions and courting new impressions, never acquiescing in a facile orthodoxy, of Comte, or of Hegel, or of our own.” For Pater,experience must be undertaken for its own sake: “Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end . . . To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life” (236 –237). Such intense experience is furnished foremost by “the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for its own sake”(239).

We have here reached a point in Western culture where experience is dirempted and abstracted from any kind of constraint whatsoever, even from its consensual overlap with that of other individuals. Hegel would have regarded such experience as an abstract category, not even possible; but Pater expresses a desperate attempt to redeem experience from the weight of centuries of oppression and coercion and molding into various socially acceptable forms. He effectively aestheticizes experience, equating the fullness of experience with beauty, in an attempt to extricate the category of experience from the burdens invested in it by bourgeois thought. Experience is no longer a reliable source of knowledge or a basis of scientific inquiry; it is not a realm which constrains the operations of reason; nor is it a realm under the strict surveillance of morality or of religious institutions. It is raised from the mereness of means to the exaltation of end, a celebration of purposelessness, a celebration of indirection, of relativism and randomness.”


“As for the isolation of the poet, Mallarme took an unequivocal stand on that subject, which he conveyecl to his followers. He felt that, in a society that made no official place for, nor gave any recognized rank to the poet, the poet did not need to concern himself with society. He had the right to withdraw from the circle of social action, to work in solitary or in sheltered surroundings, and once in a while to send a poem—a visiting card, as it were—to the world, to remind it of his existence. Most of the Symbolists were to acquiesce in this attitude and to go out of their way to create a gulf between themselves and the public; they drew closer to each other in order to remain the more withdrawn from the world. The ivory tower became in truth a reality, a symbol of the poet’s stand, a sharp reversal of the attitude of Victor Hugo or Tennyson, who had thought of themselves as the eloquent spokesmen of the people, the voice of humanity.”


“For Mallarme the word “obscure” has a purely subjective connotation. When a journalist is obscure, he is defaulting in a domain where it is necessary to have unequivocal reporting; the nature of journalism demands the use of words that leave only one meaning for all and suggest no doubts. When a poet is accused of being “obscure” he is in reality being told that he is not being journalistic; according to Mallarme, if he did narrate and describe like a journalist, and thereby became clear, by virtue of that very clarity he would no longer be a poet. His so-called obscurity is the public’s recognition of the veiled meaning—the only valid distinction between poetry and prose, in Mallarme’s opinion; here is how Mallarm^’s English friend Edmund Gosse reports in his “Symbolisme et M. Mallarm6” Mallarm^’s very strong sentiment in this respect: “no, dear poet, except by awkwardness, I am not obscure, as soon as people read me in terms of the principles I maintain, or as an example of the manifestations of an art which happens to utilize language, and I become obscure, it is true, if people are misled and think that they are opening the pages of a newspaper.”



  • Decadence (The Symbolists’ ETHICS)



“Symbolism is a style; it is a signature.

The greatest misunderstandings about it have arisen because of the impressionistic criticism by which it has been described.

Among the heterogeneous miscellany of elements associated with symbolism there are three prevailing constants:

  • ambiguity of indirect communication;
  • affiliation with music;
  • and the “decadent” spirit.”


-concern with the mystery of life, the futility of free will, the imminence of death in man’s daily existence, the abyss of our incomprehensions—but, with it all, the consciousness of the role of the artist, the comfort of the arts as the only means of demolishing chance, the permanence of man through the emission of a thought. In accepting this position, the symbolists demonstrated a deeper philosophic mettle than Verlaine, or Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. The mirror,which had been the symbol of the contemplation of self, became the representation of the void, the absence of life, or gave way to the white sheet upon which the poem might blossom. If “decadence” was basically the haunting awareness of man’s mortality—“the daily tragic,” as Hofmannsthal calls it; “the tragic sentiment of life,” as Unamuno expressed it—then the impermanence of the artist as creator was overcome by the permanence of the created work, and nihilism was able to negate itself through the work of art. What Rimbaud had earlier discerned, in the distinction he made between the egotist and the creative artist, became the true gauge of the validity of the symbolist work of art. Does the so-called probing of the soul consist of the dazzling effects of synesthesia, or of the great flight into solitude, or of the togetherness of the elite, or of consolation in alcohol and/or drugs? Or do the images of death and devastation, of the cruelty of time and the frailty of man, transcend the narcissist preoccupation and achieve a representation of the human condition? The best of the symbolists achieved ihis end.


Paul Valery, commenting on the historic significance of symbolism in the development of poetry, has said that “there is no symbolist aesthetics,” and also explained that “their aesthetics divided them, their ethics united them.”


All the myths that could signify this hopelessness of man’s destiny were utilized. In this respect, the myth of Hamlet, so attractive to this end-of-a-century attitude, is hardly identified with the Shakespearean character struggling within himself, but has been stylized into the moment of contemplation of Yorick’s skull. This is the Hamlet who identifies man as the “quintessence of dust.” From one end of Europe to the other, under the banner of symbolism, poetry became a danse macabre, in which death, the great and formidable intruder, waits in the shadows, mingles with us, takes his mask off at the least expected moment


to the traditional parallelism between the abstract and the concrete. In fact, Baudelaire defines Romantic art in terms of the famous duality and its representation in poetic imagery.

Furthermore, if personal immortality is rejected, death becomes instead the frontline target of metaphysical meditations. The “gouffre” is the frontier between the visible and the invisible, the conscious and the unconscious, nonlife and the living; how far one can push beyond the accepted frontier and still come back to write about it, became the foremost poetic question after Baudelaire. For the “decadent,” who has grown tired of all other experiences, the “gouffre” is the only fountainhead of novelty, although the dangers of the journey are multiple and evident. This flirtation with death, suggested by Baudelaire, and its representation in literary imagery, will be exploited by the symbolists as they assume more and more the character of the “decadent” and explore the Plutonian fields of the morbid and the lethal. Swinburne, one of the first translators of Baudelaire, was also a sponsor of the “decadent” with his beautiful poem “Proserpine,” a shining star of the darkness.


HOW TO WRITE A FIGHT SCENE by Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips Podcast




220px-Synesthesia_5 220px-Booba-Kiki.svg
An illustration drawn by a synesthete showing her time unit – space synesthesia/ideasthesia: the months in a year are organized into a circle surrounding her body, each month having a fixed location in space and a unique color. Which one would be called Bouba and which Kiki? Responses are highly consistent among people. This is an example of ideasthesia as the conceptualization of the stimulus plays an important role.

Ideasthesia (alternative spelling ideaesthesia) is defined as a phenomenon in which activations of concepts (inducers) evoke perception-like experiences (concurrents). The name comes from the Ancient Greek ἰδέα (idéa) and αἴσθησις (aísthēsis), meaning “sensing concepts” or “sensing ideas”.[1] The main reason for introducing the notion of ideasthesia was the problems with synesthesia. While “synesthesia” means “union of senses”, empirical evidence indicated that this was an incorrect explanation of a set of phenomena traditionally covered by this heading. Syn-aesthesis denoting also “co-perceiving”, implies the association of two sensory elements with little connection to the cognitive level. However, according to others,[2][3][4][5][6][7] most phenomena that have inadvertently been linked to synesthesia in fact are induced by the semantic representations. That is, the meaning of the stimulus is what is important rather than its sensory properties, as would be implied by the term synesthesia. In other words, while synesthesia presumes that both the trigger (inducer) and the resulting experience (concurrent) are of sensory nature, ideasthesia presumes that only the resulting experience is of sensory nature while the trigger is semantic. Meanwhile, the concept of ideasthesia developed into a theory of how we perceive and the research has extended to topics other than synesthesia — as the concept of ideasthesia turned out applicable to our everyday perception. Ideasthesia has been even applied to the theory of art. Research on ideasthesia bears important implications for solving the mystery of human conscious experience, which according to ideasthesia, is grounded in how we activate concepts.[8]

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