Reciprocal Analogy, Baudelaire’s Imaginative Instinct

In Baudelaire’s, Salon of 1846, he reflects on the words of E.T.A.Hoffman: “It is not only in my dreams and in the reverie that precedes slumber, but also in my waking thoughts that I hear music, that I find an analogy, an intimate union of colors, sounds, and scents. All of these elements unite as if they had sprung from the same flash of light, to join together in a marvelous concert.” The imagination, at its root, joins or binds together all sensory experience so that a painter as well as a poet can experience the same phenomena and be able to describe it in similar terms; it, essentially, conveying an equivalent inner imaginative experience. Again, Baudelaire states, “The imagination is an almost divine faculty which perceives at once, quite without resort to philosophic methods, the intimate and secret connection between things, correspondences, and analogies.” (Baudelaire, “Further Notes on Edgar Poe”, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, p.102)

If one takes music, which is quite abstract, one finds that great music evokes analogous ideas in different persons. Again, Baudelaire argues that, “… for what would be truly surprising would be to find that sound could not suggest colour, that colour could not evoke the idea of a melody, and that sound and colour were unsuitable for the translation of ideas, seeing that things have always found their expression through a system of reciprocal analogy…” (Ibid., “Richard Wagner and Tannhauser in Paris”, p.117)

I have found in my own experience, that poetry provides a perfect suggestion for reverie and allows me to explore ideas for painting quite freely. There is an analogous relationship between poetry and painting- both call forth a singular image. It is a smooth path to the imagination through poetic image both suggested or implied. It also provides a fertile ground for the imagination to present the unexpected. By providing a pathway to reverie one can be open to those things that lie hidden in memory or the unconscious. When we experience effective dreams they, similarly, present something that is not premeditated presenting images with surprising efficacy.

On hearing Wagner’s Tannhauser for the first time, Baudelaire expresses the profound impact it has on him. It is the perfect description of the power of an art form to transport the imagination of the listener or viewer to a new and unexpected experience. “I remember that from the very first bars I suffered one of those happy impressions that almost all imaginative men have known, through dreams, in sleep. I felt myself released from the bonds of gravity, and rediscovered in memory that extraordinary thrill of pleasure which dwells in high places…Next I found myself imagining the delicious state of a man in the grip of profound reverie, in an absolute solitude… an immensity with no other decor but itself.” (Ibid.,p.116)

Baudelaire describes his experience as one who, “has undergone a spiritual operation, a revelation.” This experience, because it was so unexpected, releases the imagination from its ordinary bonds, and transports the listener/viewer to another place that is intimate and profound – creating an isthmus between one’s inner life and the world. One knows when one has touched this place because ever after there is a deep longing to return to this intimate place. It is a “nostalgia”, a longing for that profound contact with the self.  “It is in this gift for suffering, which is common to all artists but which is all the greater as their instinct for the beautiful and the exact is more pronounced…”, (Ibid.p.119) that propels one to seek again this visionary experience that forever binds the artist to the path of the imagination. Nothing else will satisfy the soul any longer.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

One thought on “Reciprocal Analogy, Baudelaire’s Imaginative Instinct”

  1. This is more true than it ever was; given that we have no common myth we must present our own and hope that others understand its narrative.

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