Richard Walker (University of Central Lancashire)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘Natural Pleasures in Destruction: Stevenson and Baudelaire’s Notebooks’

At the heart of this newly revealed modernity are inner contradictions, principles of destruction and self-destruction. (Henri Lefebvre, Introduction à La Modernité)

This paper examines the relationships between Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Mon Coeur Mis à Nu’, his intimate journals or notebooks composed in the aftermath of the Paris revolt of 1848, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Dynamiter (1885) and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). Baudelaire’s notes – which cover politics, aesthetics and dandyism – are one of his many diagnoses of modernity and, in particular, of the urban experience. This environment is one where the individual assumes ‘the features of the werewolf at large in the social jungle’, as Walter Benjamin puts it in ‘The Return of the Flâneur’. At the heart of the notebooks is a commentary on the failure of revolution, a critique of progress and an equation between destruction and literary excitement. In addition Baudelaire, like Stevenson, likens art to prostitution. In the character of Zero from The Dynamiter, Stevenson (whom Stephen Mallarmé called ‘un Maitre’) creates a failed revolutionary who also classifies himself as an artist, revelling in destruction and rejecting what Baudelaire disparagingly calls the ‘professions’. Similarly Hyde, in the Strange Case, can be viewed as an aesthetic terrorist and urban dandy, scribbling blasphemous comments in Jekyll’s ‘pious work’, exhibiting a ‘natural satanism’ and, like Baudelaire, a ‘source of the cruel aperçu that the city changes faster than a human heart’ (Benjamin).Where Zero is a failure as a revolutionary and as an artist, Hyde has at least a sulphurous trace of Baudelaire’s Satanism (and the ‘cult of evil’ disinfecting ‘moralizing dillettantism’ as embodied by the other poètes maudit Lautréamont and Rimbaud), where the failure of political revolution leads to the establishment of a radical aesthetic practice.

Categorized as Abstracts

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