Disintegration of essence and subjectivity : the poetry of Charles Baudelaire and T.S. Eliot
This thesis elaborates upon Charles Baudelaire and T. S. Eliot's poetic negotiation of the erosion of the essentialist cognitive and moral foundations that hypothetically monitor human praxis and cement a stable subjectivity on the basis of the human subjects' co-inhering in a common horizon of understanding. I contend that Baudelaire's work consciously belaboured the collapse of vaulting cognitive frameworks and testimonial accountability in a way that reveals both the historical and trans-historical dimensions of the non-integratability of experience within a modem economy of existence. His work eschews the trappings of both aestheticism (history being one of its explicit and pervasive concerns) and historicism, since it reveals parameters of the reification of organic experience that are intrinsic to language and specific to the mnemonic abridgement of the subject's experiential trajectory. Moreover, Baudelaire's poetry compels the critique of the aesthetic abstraction from the social being of man, and solicits scepticism vis-a-vis straight historicism's teleological infrastructures and collateral crypto-transcendentalist angles. The examined poetry exposes the inner complicity of the two perspectives in question latent beneath their surface mutual closure. I examine T. S. Eliot's work in order to address the anti-essentialist motifs of his poetry in counterpoint to his literary criticism, and reveal the dialectic of cultural determinism (mostly materialising in the latter) and radical impersonality that resumes modernity's aporetic necessity to deploy egological categories within an agenda that has invalidated any notion of essence fundaments sustaining human experience. His poetry's homeopathic re-enactment of the experiential fragmentation that it thematically laments constitutes the privileged terrain whereupon essentialist construals of human subjectivity and history can be revealed to be inherently ideological. I have throughout drawn on Walter Benjamin's understanding of allegory and memory, along with Paul de Man's enhancement of the antagonism of the material and transcendental axes endemic in language and cognitive anchoring. This thesis explores the problematisation of essentialist configurations of subjectivity and history in the poetry of the archetypal poet of modernity, and the mutations they submitted to when they were inscribed within an aesthetic and political agenda that was far more reluctant to relinquish egological paradigms of communication and subjectivity. The underlying concern has been to elucidate Baudelaire's 'inexhaustible wealth of responsiveness vis-a-vis the collapse of organic experience, and his resistance to both historicist and reductively aesthetic appropriations. This thesis has aimed to analyse his treatment of experiential disintegration as an effect of historical juncture along with his welcoming address of cognitive and experiential reification as the outcome of the differential and semiotic character of language and memory.