The Glasgow Review Issue 3

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Angels and Heroes: Stories of Modernity in Pater and Baudelaire

Vassiliki Kolocotroni

Writing the story of self-creation is modernity's most fruitful and challenging preoccupation. To experiment with the self thus becomes an empowering necessity and to create the new self as artifice and style signals the modern artistic enterprise par excellence. Late-nineteenth- century aesthetic discourse tells the story of this experiment with characteristic verve and urgency. Evoking and invoking the 'modern' in life and art is never an unambiguous exercise, however: Walter Pater's vision of a transitional aesthetic may overlap but does not ultimately concur with Charles Baudelaire's direct desire to gaze at the transitory and voice the new. What follows is an account of those motifs and emphases which help to sketch out Pater's and Baudelaire's definitions of a modern aesthetic.


Walter Pater's aesthetic vision reflects an engagement with the problem of modernity in terms of a peculiar tension between acceptance of the modern and flight from it. In his writing about art history and the artist in different epochs, and culminating in the imaginary syntheses of his semi- fictional historical portraits, Pater contributes to the question of the modern in art with a uniquely evocative attempt to fix and sketch out an artistic self with simultaneously new and old features. His model is examined here not as the inspiration for late-nineteenth century aestheticist views on art, but as a self-contained and individual approach to the question of devising a new, stylised self as modern aesthetic subject.

Pater's projected personae or types are hybrid creatures of nature and artifice, occupying a space in between the actual world and that of art, temporal embodiments of a point of transition in the life of culture and the development of its thought. They are creatures who exist - or are perceptible - only in the space between light and darkness, 'evanescent shades' partaking of the qualities associated with both polarities. They are to be found implicitly in Pater's discussion of an interplay of artistic tendencies (as in his view of the interaction between Classicism and Romanticism), and in his interest in those transitional modes of art in which an older tradition gives way to a new revelation evinced in the gradual working through of accepted values by the addition of new nuances and tonalities. More explicitly, however, they are discussed in 'Diaphaneitè' (1864), one of Pater's early essays published in his Miscellaneous Studies (1895) in which he introduces these types in cryptic, always originally negative, terms:

There is another type of character, which is not broad and general, rare, precious above all to the artist, a character which seems to have been the supreme moral charm in the Beatrice of the Commedia. It does not take the eye by breadth of colour; rather it is that fine edge of light, where the elements of our moral nature refine themselves to the burning point. It crosses rather than follows the main current of the world's life. The world has no sense fine enough for those evanescent shades, which fill up the blanks between contrasted types of character. . .

(Pater, 1928, pp. 215-16)

For Pater, these are 'types', 'characters', 'natures', as well as expressions of 'a magnificent intellectual force' which energises and pervades a culture. He describes this intellectual force thus:

It is like the reminiscence of a forgotten culture that once adorned the mind; as if the mind of one filosofhsaV pote met'erwtoV, fallen into a new cycle, were beginning its spiritual progress over again, but with a certain power of anticipating its stages.

(Pater, 1928, p. 218)

This description of the mind of one who 'had once philosophised with passion' (which sets a new cycle into motion which, in turn, is one of prolepsis, of something new which has always already been) is itself peculiarly anticipatory of Nietzsche's conception of his own philo- sophising. Nietzsche seems to be exploring a similar vision of temporal interpenetration in conceiving himself as 'a spirit of daring and experiment that has already lost its way once in every labyrinth of the future; as a soothsayer-bird spirit who looks back when relating what will come' (Nietzsche, 1968b, p. 3). As in Zarathustra's imaginary return and reincarnation as a child, moreover, the character of which Pater speaks owes its 'truthfulness of temper', its 'receptivity', to innocence rather than maturity. This is not, however, the innocence of the newly- born; it is, rather, the paradoxical innocence of the newly-returned and the not-belonging: 'Such a character is like a relic from the classical age, laid open by accident to our alien modern atmosphere. It has something of the clear ring, the eternal outline of the antique' (Pater, 1928, p. 219). 'Receptivity' is particularly important in Pater's vision of this 'unworldly type', evoking as it does the adaptability and openness of such a creature which belongs neither completely in the past nor in the present. A further and related nuance added by Pater is the one invoked by the title of the essay ('Diaphaneitè'):

It is just this sort of entire transparency of nature that lets through unconsciously all that is really lifegiving in the established order of things; it detects without difficulty all sorts of affinities between its own elements, and the nobler elements in that order.

(Pater, 1928, p. 219, emphasis mine)

The qualities of 'receptivity' and 'transparency' suggest an elusive and liminal state, whereby elements cross over, interpenetrate and are transformed. However, only what is 'perfect' and 'noble' will be received or will shine through. Thus, while being attached to the idea of change, 'in this nature revolutionism is softened, harmonised, subdued as by distance. It is the revolutionism of one who has slept a hundred years' (Pater, 1928, pp. 219-20). This paradoxically revolutionary nature operates by selection and qualification, exercising a form of self-discipline whereby perfection is attained by a process of elimination and control. In The Absent Father: Virginia Woolf and Walter Pater, Meisel places this notion of 'ascesis' at the centre of Pater's aesthetic model. This 'regimen of self-curtailment', refine-ment and refusal of the unfitting, suggests an 'aesthetics of restraint', with perfection being the result of a laborious and strictly artificial process (Meisel, 1980, p. 56). Meisel unravels the diverse and overlapping connotations of ascesis in Pater, tracing its suggestions of an art of 'chemistry' (or 'alchemy'), 'metallurgy' ('the well-wrought work of art and the well-wrought personality'), Protestant renunci-ation, and 'sublimation' in the Freudian sense (pp. 57-63).

An additional feature which Pater assigns to this being described in 'Diaphaneitè' is also related to its already-apparent liminal status, as well as to the 'asceticism' which Meisel identifies: 'Here there is a moral sexlessness, a kind of impotence, an ineffectual wholeness of nature, yet with a divine beauty and significance of its own' (Pater, 1928, p. 220). This angelic figure, though never openly defined as such, incorporates the attributes of agelessness and transparency, evanescence and unworldiness, perfection and innocence. Despite its 'divine beauty', however, this does not seem to be a strictly Christian or religious angel; it is, rather, of a peculiarly secular and aesthetic kind:

Over and over again the world has been surprised by the heroism, the insight, the passion, of this clear crystal nature. Poetry and poetical history have dreamed of a crisis, where it must needs be that some human victim be sent into the grave. These are they whom in its profound emotion humanity might choose to send.

(Pater, 1928, pp. 220-1)

As hero and sacrificial victim, this angelic nature appears and reappears when the need arises for new ideas, intimating through murmur and suggestion, 'without the noise of axe or hammer', that the time for change has arrived. Here, Pater puts forward a vision which he elaborates in his later work, most notably in his Marius the Epicurean (1885), in Imaginary Portraits (1887) and in the unfinished Gaston de Latour (1896). In these studies of imaginary and historical personae, the sense of an angelic presence suggesting change and transition is seen as the driving force and creative breath which shapes innocent male youths into artists. Indeed, as he puts it in 'Diaphaneitè',

Often the presence of this nature is felt like a sweet aroma in early manhood. Afterwards, as the adulterated atmosphere of the world assimilates us to itself, the savour of it faints away.

(Pater, 1928, p. 221)

The significance of this nature, however, lies in its tendency to return; thus the angelic presence of 'early manhood' becomes later in life the angel of ideas:

Perhaps there are flushes of it in all of us; recurring moments of it in every period of life. Certainly this is so with every man of genius. It is a thread of pure white light that one might disentwine from the tumultuary richness of Goethe's nature. It is a natural prophecy of what the next generation will appear, renerved, modified by the ideas of this.

(Pater, 1928, p. 221)

This 'modification' is the inevitable negative element in the process which Pater outlines; society resists it, yet the angelic prophecy is as necessary as it is utopian:

There is a violence, an impossibility about men who have ideas, which makes one suspect that they could never be the type of any widespread life _ Also the type must be one discontented with society as it is. The nature here indicated alone is worthy to be this type. A majority of such would be the regeneration of the world.

(Pater, 1928, pp. 221-22)

It thus befalls the individual to remain sensitive and respond to such angelic prophecies. The regeneration of the world is, however, possible in the realm of art or aesthetic ideas. This coincides with the process of creating a self and a style - the one being a manifestation of the other. Thus in his studies of painters of the Renaissance, Pater traces the stylistic elements of the new in the overcoming of the old. The artists upon whose development he focuses, are always captured at the moment of transition between the old and the new, at the point where dissatisfaction with the given connects with the latent intimations of the new. The perfection of an older style, for example, 'awoke' in Leonardo da Vinci, 'some seed of discontent which lay in the secret places of his nature. For the way to perfection is through a series of disgusts'(Pater, 1986, p. 66). The same 'discontent' with the world that Pater had identified as the unique attitude of the 'clear, crystal nature' in 'Diaphaneitè' similarly operates here as the necessary violence exercised by the creative mind. The violence that Pater's scheme implies is of a different kind than the one presupposed in Nietzsche's understanding of the effect of great minds upon the world. Whereas Pater posits a 'series of disgusts' resulting through ascesis in the creation of the new, Nietzsche envisages a far more powerful intervention. As he puts it in Twilight of the Idols,

Great men, like great epochs, are explosive material in whom tremendous energy has been accumulated; their prerequisite has always been, historically and physiologically, that a protracted assembling, accumulating, economizing and preserving has preceded them - that there has been no explosion for a long time.

(Nietzsche, 1968a, p. 97)

Nietzsche's 'explosive beings' have nothing transitional or evanescent about them. Thus while Pater views the Renaissance as a period of protracted transition (and examines individual artists in the same temporal light), Nietzsche asserts that 'The great human being is a terminus; the great epoch, the Renaissance for example, is a terminus' (Nietzsche, 1968a, p. 98). This disparity between Pater's and Nietzsche's vision of 'great art' and 'great men' corresponds to an overall difference in approach in that, as Harold Bloom puts it, 'Against the ascetic ideal, Nietzsche set the "antithetical ideal"' (Bloom, 1975, p. 118).

For both, the violent act of aesthetic interruption is an act on which the very life of art depends. For Nietzsche, violence appears in the form of an explosion of energy and depends upon the strength of a psychologically overflowing nature; while, for Pater, it is a process of gradual refinement and forging of the essential and fitting. In the Paterian sense, there is nothing 'natural' about the development of art, either in terms of immanent growth or in its role as a manifestation of life. As Meisel notes, 'For Pater, _ life itself is to be identified completely with culture'. (Meisel, 1980, p. 149).

Pater's models or prototypes for artistic expression are thus often to be found in the exploration of past cultures. His writing on art also tends to invoke and invite the return of pagan and mythical gods with a calm and scholarly certainty which implies that, in his mind, they can still speak to the modern world about those processes of symbolisation which have enabled past worlds to understand and lend meaning to their existence. As Steven Connor argues, 'Like many Victorian mythographers, Pater views myth in broad terms as subjective in origin, expressive of the changing perceptions of a culture and gradually transformed as the world is re-structured or reinterpreted by a culture's changing consciousness' (Brake and Small eds., 1991, p. 172). This does not mean, however, that myth for Pater provides a unifying story of resolved tensions and contradictions; instead, Pater is aware of the remoteness of the mythical view of life and, therefore, of the inability to sustain direct links with the lost pagan world view as such. Rather, the very act of conjuring up stories which evoke rather than repeat or prescribe allows Pater to create modern myths which rely on exactly that position of 'belatedness' in which modernity finds itself. Thus, as Meisel points out, Pater's awareness of the secondary, derivative nature of all writing becomes paradoxically enabling since artifice, self-creation and refinement make up for the inevitable lack of originality: 'the belatedness of all writing is what accounts for Pater's fondness for what is pale, decadent, refined _ All writing in fact is likewise a "second flowering" or palimpsest, _ it is always "an afterthought"' (Meisel, 1980, p. 147).

Pater's belated writing of modern myths revolves around the artistic self: the tales he tells are mini-Künstlerromans, describing the cultivation of such refined and artificial 'second flowerings'. In Gaston de Latour, Pater traces the development of such an artistic self coming to terms with 'modernity':

At best, poetry of the past could move one with no more directness than the beautiful faces of antiquity which are not here for us to see and unaffectedly love them. Gaston's demand _ was for a poetry, as veritable, as intimately near, as corporeal, as the new faces of the hour, the flowers of the actual season. The poetry of mere literature, like the dead body, could not bleed, while there was a heart, a poetic heart, in the living world, which beat, bled, spoke with irresistible power.

(Pater, 1897, pp. 65-6)

This was a poetry yet to be written but for which the world was ready: 'The age renews itself; and in immediate derivation from it a novel poetry also grows superb and large, to fill a certain mental situation made ready in advance' (Pater, 1897, p. 66). The poetry that Gaston's 'modern' age required was 'a poetry which boldly assumed the dress, the words, the habits, the very trick, of contemporary life, and turned them into gol' (p. 67). What follows is the realisation of the very essence of 'modernity':

It was the power of 'modernity', as renewed in every successive age for genial youth, protesting, defiant of all sanction in these matters, that the true 'classic' must be of the present, the force and patience of present time. He had felt after the thing, and here it was, - the one irresistible poetry there had ever been, with the magic word spoken in due time, transforming his own age and the world about him, presenting its every-day touch, the very trick one knew it by, as an additional grace, asserting the latent poetic rights of the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent. Poetry need no longer mask itself in the habit of a by-gone day _ Here, was a discovery, a new faculty, a privileged apprehension, to be conveyed in turn to one and to another, to be propagated for the imaginative regeneration of the world.

(Pater, 1897, pp. 71-2)

A result of 'the reflex action of the new', this poetic alchemy whereby the 'transitory, fugitive and contingent' of ordinary life was turned into gold, was, moreover, a collective response: 'A social instinct was involved in the matter, and loyalty to an intellectual movement. As its leader had himself been the first to suggest, the actual authorship belonged not so much to a star as to a constellation' (Pater, 1897, p. 87). In these remarkable passages, Pater seems to be borrowing Baudelaire's formulations of modernity as the dialectic of the eternal and the transient, as well as his observations about the phenomenon of fashion. In a further elaboration of the 'new poetry' which Gaston and his constellation create, Pater speaks of the accompanying, wholly new 'religion' which this poetry brought to light:

Might that new religion be a religion not altogether of goodness, a profane religion, in spite of its poetic fervours? There were 'flowers of evil', among the rest. It came in part, avowedly, as a kind of consecration of evil, and seemed to give it the beauty of holiness. Rather, good and evil were distinctions inapplicable in proportion as these new interests made themselves felt _ Was there perhaps somewhere, in some penetrative mind in this age of novelties, some scheme of truth, some science about men and things, which might harmonise for him his earlier and later preference, 'the sacred and profane loves', or, failing that, establish, to his pacification, the exclusive supremacy of the latter?

(Pater, 1897, pp. 89-90)

The 'inapplicability' of the strict distinction between good and evil, sacred and profane is captured by the very phrase 'flowers of evil', with its oxymoronic connotations of an impossible negative synthesis. This is, at the same time, a lucid and concise reading of Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal - an imaginative appropriation and critical 'gloss' by a kindred spirit.

Pater's formulations belong in the same kind of 'constellation' as Gaston's: his language is a blend of suggestions of borrowings and influences, as well as carrying its own unique emphasis on the imaginary exploits of the 'clear, crystal nature'. The intersection and interpenetration in this language of Nietzschean and Baudelairean terms, of the paradoxical tension implicit in the notion of the growth and cultivation of artificial 'flowers', evident both as a main concern and in the style of writing itself, resembles a process of identification through osmosis - to risk another evocative Paterian analogy. What is more significant, however, is the attitude to modernity which Pater's language signals: the restrained, always refining and reformulating, exercise of style points to a hesitation or reluctance to articulate fully and thus accept the experience of modernity. In this sense, Pater's 'story' - the story of his style - is that of a modernity which cannot quite articulate itself fully, always caught in the liminal and shadowy space of transition.


In 'What is Enlightenment?', Foucault usefully summarises Baudelaire's attitude to modernity:

modernity for Baudelaire is not simply a form of relationship to the present; it is also a mode of relationship that has to be established with oneself. The deliberate attitude of modernity is tied to an indispensable asceticism _ Modern man, for Baudelaire, is not the man who goes off to discover himself, his secrets and his hidden truth; he is the man who tries to invent himself. This modernity does not 'liberate man in his own being'; it compels him to face the task of producing himself.

(Foucault, 1991, pp. 41-2)

Here, Nietzschean and Paterian terms converge as the pursuit of a modern style coincides - or becomes synonymous - with the notion of self-invention, achieved by a necessary process of ascesis. It could be argued that Baudelaire, writing before Nietzsche and Pater, constitutes a direct influence on both, which is, however, difficult to trace. What is more remarkable still, is the proximity of terms and concerns amongst these writers.

Baudelaire's vision, however, is more openly modern than Nietzsche's or Pater's: his projection of the modern self as artist generating new forms and new experiences relies upon the necessity of immersion into modern life in ways which Nietzsche and Pater would ultimately evade or not spell out. Whereas their self-styled creatures inhabit an imaginary topos of retreat from the modern world (notwithstanding the revelatory insight which this displacement may help bring about), Baudelaire's physical and imaginative topos is consistently and emphatically that of the modern city - the discursive and experiential locus of the modern.

In 'The Painter of Modern Life' (1863), Baudelaire defines the persona of the modern self which most significantly embodies and realises the qualities of modernity:

Today I want to talk to my readers about a singular man, whose originality is so powerful and clear-cut that it is self-sufficing, and does not bother to look for approval _ [he] loves mixing with the crowds, loves being incognito, and carries his originality to the point of modesty.

(Baudelaire, 1988, p. 395)

This man is an artist, though not in the professional sense - more importantly, he is a 'man of the world', 'the spiritual citizen of the universe'. What justifies this grand title, however, is exactly the fact that he is the one who has the courage and wisdom to immerse himself in the modern world and be shaped by it. This is the world of the crowd into which this man moves 'as though into an enormous reservoir of electricity' (Baudelaire, 1988, p. 400). As Baudelaire puts it in the prose poem 'The Crowds' (1861), this requires a particular skill: 'Not everyone has the gift of taking a plunge into the multitude: there is an art to enjoying the crowd' (Baudelaire, 1991, p. 44).

The immersion into the crowd generates the creative process. This process is organised into two stages. Firstly, the energy of the crowd provides the material:

Harness, highlights, bands, determined mien, heavy and grim mustachios, all these details flood chaotically into him; and within a few minutes the poem that comes with it all is virtually composed. And then his soul will vibrate with the soul of the regiment, marching as though it were one living creature, proud image of joy and discipline!

(Baudelaire, 1988, p. 401)

Secondly, the process of artistic discipline, formulation and selection necessitates solitary work which involves the 'steady gaze on a sheet of paper':

And things seen are born again on the paper, natural and more than natural, beautiful and better than beautiful, strange and endowed with an enthusiastic life, like the soul of their creator. The weird pageant has been distilled from nature. All the materials, stored higgledy-piggledy by memory, are classified, ordered, harmonized, and undergo that deliberate idealization, which is the product of a childlike perceptiveness, in other words a perceptiveness that is acute and magical by its very ingenuousness.

(Baudelaire, 1988, p. 402)

This secondary process, life recreated through artifice, is further described by Baudelaire as the search for 'that indefinable something we may be allowed to call "modernity"' (p. 402). In Baudelaire's definition, the emphasis on the need to search for modernity is as important as the idea of modernity itself: the aim is 'to extract from fashion the poetry that resides in its historical envelope, to distil the eternal from the transitory' (p. 402). This is, indeed, a necessary aim. Modernity must be confronted:

You have no right to despise this transitory fleeting element, the metamorphoses of which are so frequent, nor to dispense with it. If you do, you inevitably fall into the emptiness of an abstract and indefinable beauty, like that of the one and only woman of the time before the Fall. If for the dress of the day, which is necessarily right, you substitute another, you are guilty of a piece of nonsense that only a fancy-dress ball imposed by fashion can excuse.

(Baudelaire, 1988, p. 403)

Thus to wear the costume of 'the goddesses, the nymphs, and sultanas of the eighteenth century' (p. 403), would be to revert to the inappropriate and farcical. This is the tendency which Marx observed and criticised in the opening lines of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

(Marx, 1962, p. 247)

To borrow 'names, battle cries and costumes' (Marx) from the past is thus to force 'the spirit of their day' (Baudelaire) to reinhabit forms of the present which are inevitably unfitting.

This does not mean, however, that to face modernity in all its transitory yet concrete reality is a simple, straightforward act: firstly, it presupposes an aesthetic view and intention; secondly, an act of heroism. As Walter Benjamin puts it, in his study of Baudelaire, 'The hero is the true subject of modernism. In other words, it takes a heroic constitution to live modernism' (Benjamin, 1989, p. 74). In the figure of the hero, Baudelaire creates an image which 'lives out' both the immersion within and the resistance to modernity: the awareness that modernity is the inescapable and present form of experience coincides with and indeed crystallises the critical moment of decision about what path is to be taken. To decide thus that modernity must be tackled and captured artistically with passion rather than resignation signals the heroic attitude.

Baudelaire's 'hero' of modernity in this context, is personified in the image of the dandy. As the epitome of the singular man, the dandy is blasé and aristocratic, a 'mixture of the grave and gay'. His aristocratic qualities are especially meaningful in Baudelaire's scheme in that they convey the kind of 'impossibility' about this figure which Pater emphasised in his portrait of the 'diaphanous nature'. Thus Baudelaire's dandies occupy an awkward and negative space in modernity, by virtue of an originality which is highlighted and asserted through the contrasting relationship with the crowd:

Fastidious, unbelievables, beaux, lions or dandies: whichever label these men claim for themselves, one and all stem from the same origin, all share the same characteristic of opposition and revolt; all are representatives of what is best in human pride, of that need, which is too rare in the modern generation, to combat and destroy triviality.

(Baudelaire, 1988, p. 421)

Like Pater, Baudelaire sees these figures as embodying a liminal state, but unlike Pater's evocative and vague aesthetic treatment, Baudelaire's terms invoke a specific social and political context:

Dandyism appears especially in those periods of transition when democracy has not yet become all-powerful, and when aristocracy is only partially weakened and discredited. In the confusion of such times, a certain number of men, disenchanted and leisured 'outsiders', but all of them richly endowed with native energy, may conceive the idea of establishing a new kind of aristocracy _ Dandyism is the last flicker of heroism in decadent ages _

(Baudelaire, 1988, p. 421)

Baudelaire thus tells the story of modernity in the process of shedding vestiges of the past which are seen, nevertheless, not as dead structures, but as personifications of a latent life form, vainly resisting decay and still asserting their desire for originality. This is heroism as the pathos of transition, conveyed without nostalgia and from the vantage point of an ineluctable modernity.

The Baudelairean dandy exists both as a hero of and despite modernity: his heroism lies above all in the determination to create himself in a context which no longer allows any space for him. Although his attempts at self-creation may be short-lived or ultimately futile, his desire to do so singles him out from the crowd. Thus, as the crowd engenders and affirms his solitary nature, so does he suffer the necessary pains of self-creation - only to stand out from it. As Benjamin puts it, 'This population [of modern city-dwellers] is the background against which the outlines of the hero stand out. Baudelaire captioned the picture thus presented in his own way. He wrote the words la modernité under it' (Benjamin, 1989, p. 74). This is also the kind of situation in which Wyndham Lewis's dandyesque hero finds himself in Tarr (1918; 1928):

Did he feel that a man was of more importance in public? Probably not: but his relation to the world was definite and complementary. He preferred his own world to come out of the air; when, that is, issuing from his mouth, it entered either ear as an independent vibration. He was the kind of person who, if he ever should wish to influence the world, would do it so that he might touch himself more plastically through others. If he wanted a picture, he would paint it for himself. He was capable of respect for his self-projection, it had the authority of a stranger for him.

(Lewis, 1951, p. 23)

Lewis's Tarr is a dandy in the Baudelairean sense in that he lives and experiences the modern while at the same time positing a critical distance from its concrete and contingent manifestations in the life around him. Tarr is a 'man of the crowd', yet his gaze is also directed at it in a way which records both the energy of the crowd's movement and the dissolution of meaningful individual spaces which it entails. This involved yet critically aloof stance is evoked in the novel's opening lines:

Paris hints of sacrifice. But here we deal with that large dusty facet known to indulgent and congruous kind: it is in its capacity of delicious inn and majestic Baedeker, where western Venuses twang its responsive streets and hush to soft growl before its statues, that it is seen. It is not across its Thébaïde that the unscrupulous heroes chase each other's shadows: they are largely ignorant of all but their restless personal lives.

(Lewis, 1951, p. 1)

'Paris hints of sacrifice' hints at a heroism which is both invoked and deferred. The vagueness of the sentence carries the temporal connotations of what has happened in the past, is happening in the present or may still happen in the future. The word 'sacrifice' itself carries ritualistic, religious, mystical as well as heroic connotations. Linked with Paris, however, it is secularised while still retaining these connotations. The cryptic and deferred quality of the opening sentence is reinforced by the conjunction ('But') which links the original statement with the description of what is actually 'seen'. Thus Lewis defines a space which is both revealed and partially hidden, a 'dusty facet' which half-conceals both the heroic and the mundane. This is not the kind of revelation that appears in a lucid though momentary fashion to Paterian personae, yet the possibility of its manifestation is reserved through an echo of what might have been or may still be.

This tentative and suspended relationship between an acceptance of the modern as all there is, and hints at what lies hidden within it, does not make the description of the (Baudelairean or Lewisite) dandy into an unambiguous champion of the modern. It does, however, signal an attempt to come to terms with an experience which is both a threat and a challenge. It is in this delicate, dialectical balance between the fading and the emerging that the defiant, artistic act of self-creation intervenes, resulting in a kind of negative synthesis, as the shock of the ineffable and outmoded casts an indirect and passing shadow on the brightly-lit spaces of modernity.


Baudelaire, Charles. Selected Writings on Art and Artists. Trans. P. E. Charvet. (1972) rpt. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988.

Baudelaire, Charles. The Prose Poems and La Fanfarlo. Trans. Rosemary Lloyd. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1991.

Benjamin, Walter. Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism. Trans. Harry Zohn. (1973) rpt. London: Verso, 1989.

Bloom, Harold.The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. London, Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1975.

Brake, Laurel and Small, Ian eds. Pater in the 1990s. North Carolina: E.L.T. Press, 1991.

Foucault, Michel.The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rabinow (1984) rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1991.

Lewis, Wyndham. Tarr. (1928) rpt. London: Methuen, 1951.

Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederick. Selected Works. Vol. I. London: Lawrence and Wishart Ltd., 1962.

Meisel, Perry. The Absent Father: Virginia Woolf and Walter Pater. New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1980.

Nietzsche, Friedrich.Twilight of the Idols or How to Philosophize with a Hammer/The Anti- Christ. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968a.

Nietzsche, Friedrich.The Will to Power. Trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale. Ed. Walter Kaufmann. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1968b.

Pater, Walter. Gaston de Latour: An Unfinished Romance. Ed. Charles L. Shadwell. London and New York: Macmillan and Co., 1897.

Pater, Walter. Miscellaneous Studies: A Series of Essays. (1895) rpt. London: Macmillan and Co., 1928.

Pater, Walter. The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry. (1873) rpt. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986.


There is no direct translation of 'eros' into English. The word carries the connotations both of 'love' and 'passion'.
The most concise exposition of this notion is to be found in 'Style' (1889), where Pater argues that ascesis , as 'self- restraint, a skillful economy of means' or 'the removal of surplusage', is a necessary component of the process of creation as well as that of reception of art (Essays on Literature and Art, ed. Jennifer Uglow, London: Everyman,1990, pp. 69-89).
One of the most evocative appearances of an imaginative angel embodying the utopian and negative problematic of modernity is to be found in Walter Benjamin's writing. In 'Theses on the Philosophy of History' Benjamin famously visualises such a presence: 'A Klee painting named "Angelus Novus" shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.' Trans. Harry Zohn, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (London: Fontana/Collins, 1992), p. 249.
The idea of the moment itself is highly significant in Pater's scheme, both for the artist and the receiver of art. In a temporal sense, it is the embodiment of the liminal state of creation of the new or of perfection and must be captured by both artist and critic before it vanishes and loses its intensity. In a spatial sense, it crystallises the negativity of displacement, of the non-topos of 'ecstasy' (literally 'displacement' in Greek); in this sense, Pater states famously that 'To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life' (The Renaissance, 1986), p. 152.
Pater's image of a 'constellation' of kindred spirits in Gaston de Latour seems to put forward an alternative to notions of artistic innovation brought about by the solitary undertaking of a single genius, such as Wyndham Lewis's principle of individuality, for example. In the context in which it appears in the text, furthermore, it is also offered as a definition of what Pater calls 'our modern idea, or platitude, of the Zeit-geist:' This, Pater writes, was 'almost anticipated' by Gaston's awareness that 'this new poetry _ was the product not of one or more individual writers, but (it might be in the way of a response to their challenge) a general direction of men's minds, a delightful "fashion" of the time.' (Gaston de Latour, 1897, p. 87).
See Baudelaire's 'The Painter of Modern Life' in Selected Writings on Art and Artists, trans. P E Charvet (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 390-435.