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Campos, Isabel Sobral: "Affinities between Two Worlds: Dickinson, Baudelaire and the Divinity"

Affinities between Two Worlds: Dickinson, Baudelaire and the Divinity

Isabel Sobral Campos, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Living in two different sides of the Atlantic, influenced by opposing fractions of Christianity, one a urban Bohemian poet, the other a New England recluse, Charles Baudelaire and Emily Dickinson at first glance may seem to share little more than a taste for certain poetic topoi - both poets are fond of the vast landscape and of the journey into imaginary territories in faraway lands. A closer inspection, however, reveals that their poetry proved tremendously fruitful for the next generation of poets in their respective national traditions. Both have a flair for the symbolic and for violent ruptures with convention, embracing irony and relishing in the mockery of authority. More importantly, they share an interest in the mystical, difficult contemplation of the immense universe: both poets are fond of meditating on the meaning of the human being when faced with the absolute. They study intimately and relentlessly death in its various forms: the myriad metamorphoses of the living self as much as the ultimate dissolution of the body and the release of the soul into death’s nothingness. Both poets also struggle with their respective religious traditions, straddling uneasily between Christianity -- with its dogma, its biblical message, its ethical worldview and Church rituals -- and an attempt to relate to divinity beyond that same religious system. My paper analyzes the ways in which these two poets draw extensively from the wellspring of Christianity, its biblical characters and events, but nonetheless attempt to strip it of its particularity, turning them into depersonalized placeholders that convey a complex relation to the divine. This relation, due to its abstractedness, casts divinity as infinity. Finally I propose that the notion of infinity displayed in many Dickinson and Baudelaire poems is paradigmatic of modernity’s new relationship to the divinity.