What say you, then,
to times when half the city shall break out
Full of one passion, vengeance, rage, or fear?
To executions, to a street on fire,
Mobs, riots, or rejoicing? From those sights
Take one,--an annual festival, the Fair...
--William Wordsworth, The Prelude (7:644-49).
Walter Benjamin writes that, at the turn of the nineteenth century, "fear, revulsion and horror were the emotions which the big-city crowd aroused in those who first observed it" (174). Besides Baudelaire, Benjamin quotes Edgar Allan Poe and E.T.A. Hoffman. He could have mentioned Wordsworth who, early on, had confronted and then described, perhaps more explicitly than anybody else, what amounts to a traumatic encounter with the modern crowd.
According to Freud, the trauma must have compared to a shower of stimuli impinging upon the too young ego of the subject. What the mental apparatus of the individual could not possibly shield and protect itself against, Freud explains, was nothing in particular. It was, Lacan adds, Das Ding an sich, La Chose received from nowhere and everywhere at once. It was "quelque chose du réel" which could not stay tranquil (stay put) in the ordered space of pleasing perception, and beyond, of satisfying representation (71-86).1
I would like to show that the Freudian notion of the shock illuminates Wordsworth's experience of the urban crowd, "This Parliament of Monsters" dramatically represented in the celebrated pages of "Residence in London." In Book VII of The Prelude, the narrator magnifies his horror (and fascination) at the sight of the streets in the big city. While in solitude and from the midst of regained tranquillity, Wordsworth recalls the sho...
... middle of paper ...
... going to be ever smaller and more fragile. <
Baudelaire, Charles. "Notes Nouvelles sur Edgar Poe." Oeuvres Complètes d'Edgar Allan Poe. Trans. Baudelaire. Paris: Gibert Jeune, 1953.
Benjamin, Walter. "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire." Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Shocken Books, 1968.
Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Trans. J. Strachey. New York: Norton, 1961.
Lacan, Jacques. Séminaire VII. Ed. J.A. Miller. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1986.
Stallybrass, Peter, and Allon White. The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1986.
Wordsworth, William. "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads." 1802. Ed. C. Ricks. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.
The Prelude. 1805, 1850. Ed. J. C. Maxwell. New Haven: Yale UP, 1971.
The Recluse. Ed. C. Ricks. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.
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