|Aesthetica Preprint, 63 (December 2001)
«A book full of books»: that is how Paul Claudel (1868-1955), one of the most important French poets and playwrights of the 20th century, defines his Art
Poétique, his only explicitly theoretical and philosophic work. Written in China between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, Art
Poétique bears the evidence of the decline of positivism and symbolism and is influenced by the new neo-Thomist spiritualism. Art Poétique provided the basis for the entire poetics of Claudel, who returned and reelaborated its theme and images in original ways in his plays and poems, as well as in such exegetic prose essays as Introduction à la peinture hollandaise, which inspired philosophers like Bachelard and Wahl and informed Merleau-Ponty's and Maldiney's reflections on the visual arts.
Influenced by metaphorology, the present study analyzes the connections and contrasts between the various lexicons and notions that, though different and at time almost incompatible, are brought together in Claudel's writing, which draws from Thomas Aquinas and Mallarmé, Poe and Augustine. The debate regarding the imitation of the poiesis of nature and the autonomy of art, the tension between the stable identity of form and the fluctuating forces that at once constitute and transgress it, the relationship between formation and apocalypse, between morphologic and eschatological variation, the problem of the legibility or figuration of the aesthetic world, the dichotomy between knowing and seeing: these are the issues that reveal how Claudel's theologic aesthetic is not an ideological philosophy of art or a specialistic reflection on poetic and rhetorical institutions. Rather, his aesthetic is an ambitious cosmogony of the 20th century and a complex ontology of living forms that, to this very day, deserves to be examined in light of the anxieties it expresses and the issues it raises, even more than for the solutions it proposes.