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Untimely Beggar

Untimely Beggar: Poverty and Power from Baudelaire to Benjamin

Patrick Greaney
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 252
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttnks
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  • Book Info
    Untimely Beggar
    Book Description:

    Covering the period from the publication of Les Fleurs du Mal in 1857 to the composition of Benjamin’s final texts in the 1930s, Untimely Beggar investigates the coincidence of two modern literary and philosophical interests: representing the poor and representing potential. In doing so, Patrick Greaney offers significant insights into modernity’s intense philosophical and literary interest in socioeconomic poverty.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5391-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction: The Beggar and the Promised Land of Cannibalism
    (pp. ix-xxiv)

    At a lively street fair, the narrator of Charles Baudelaire’s 1855 prose poem “An Old Acrobat” spots a “poor acrobat, stooped, obsolete, decrepit, a human ruin” whose “absolute misery” so disturbs him that he is momentarily blinded by tears and stops breathing. When he recovers, he only has time to ask himself “What to do?” before he is pushed along by the crowd.¹

    About eighty years later, in notes found among his papers, Walter Benjamin imagines a ship resolutely pushing off from Europe’s shores, manned by Paul Klee, Bertolt Brecht, Adolf Loos, and others. These artists, architects, and writers turn...

  4. 1 Impoverished Power
    (pp. 1-23)

    In the introduction to the first edition of the first volume ofCapital, Marx presents as the object of his work “the capitalist mode of production and the relations of production and forms of intercourse that correspond to it.”¹ The first volume opens with an analysis of the commodity, the “elementary form”² of the “wealth of societies” (the book’s first words), and proceeds to unveil the “secret” that lies behind it, the “expropriation of workers” (the last phrase of the first volume).³ At the heart of this secret lies a relation between two powers: labor power and the expansive power...

  5. 2 Let’s Get Beat Up by the Poor!
    (pp. 24-45)

    In an essay titled “Lives of Infamous Men” that dates from the same period as the first volume of theHistory of Sexuality, Foucault presents some of the implications of his notion of biopower for literary representation. The essay formulates the conditions under which a form of life that is “infamous” and “insignificant” (infâmeandinfime) comes to light in historical and literary texts.¹ Since the time of his work onHistoire de la foliein the late 1950s, Foucault planned to present archival material from the Hôpital général and the Bastille, short notices and narratives of episodes about the...

  6. 3 Poetic Rebellion in Mallarmé
    (pp. 46-70)

    The simultaneously paralyzing and energizing force of Baudelaire’s beggars continues to determine their presentation in Mallarmé’s poems, which intensify the withdrawal that characterizes the poor inLes fleurs du malandLe spleen de Paris. If the beggar’s true force appears in “Let’s Beat Up the Poor!” only as an ominous glint in the eye, the potential of Mallarmé’s beggars barely appears at all; in fact, his beggars hardly come into view, except as indeterminate objects of address. This change in the presentation of the poor bears witness to a general tendency in Mallarmé’s texts toward presenting a certain kind...

  7. 4 The Transvaluation of Poverty
    (pp. 71-94)

    The move from Baudelaire and Mallarmé to Rilke must pass through Nietzsche, because early-twentieth-century German-speaking writers thought of Nietzsche when they wrote about poverty. Although Nietzsche shows little interest in the problem of socioeconomic poverty, his creation of a new concept of poverty involves a critique of the notions of difference and identity and a new understanding of the relation of philosophical and literary language, and the twentieth-century writers discussed in the next chapters couple their understanding of socioeconomic poverty with these philosophical concerns. The conclusion to this chapter will show how Nietzsche’s impoverished language is spoken by potential and...

  8. 5 Rilke and the Aestheticization of Poverty
    (pp. 95-115)

    Critical discussions of Rilke’s relations to his literary and philosophical predecessors usually begin with remarks on his attempt to efface the marks of influence on his writing. Erich Heller’s formulation, in his classic essay on Rilke and Nietzsche, is typical: “Rilke was in the habit of suppressing . . . acknowledgment of his intellectual debts.”¹ The Italian Germanist Furio Jesi goes so far as to say that “the only books that we know with absolute certainty that Rilke read are those that he translated.”² Of course, Jesi notes, this is an exaggeration: Rilke’s letters mention and comment on many books,...

  9. 6 An Outcast Community
    (pp. 116-142)

    Rilke’s “prose book”The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Briggerecords the changes effected by life in Paris upon a young Danish poet named Malte Laurids Brigge.¹ The seventy-one notebook entries cover topics ranging from Malte’s Danish childhood and episodes in the history of France to his Parisian neighbors and, most important for the reading of poverty in Rilke’s texts, Malte’s troubled relations with the “outcasts” (die Fortgeworfenen) whom he encounters on the Parisian streets. Malte runs into them in the hospital, on the street, in the park, and in his favoritecrémerie, and he even fearfully speculates about their imminent...

  10. 7 Exposed Interiors and the Poverty of Experience
    (pp. 143-170)

    In 1933, when Benjamin declares, “We have become poor,” he means to give nothing less than a summary account of life in the young twentieth century: trench warfare, the traumatic experience of the metropolis, new forms of mass-produced art, devastating inflation, and the disintegration of traditional concepts of humanity and culture.¹ For Benjamin, the most urgent task for the artist or writer of his day is the recognition of “how poor he is and how poor he has to be in order to begin again from the beginning.”² Poverty is double here: it is a state that must be recognized...

  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 171-172)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 173-218)
  13. Index
    (pp. 219-227)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 228-228)