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  • The Fall out of Redemption: Writing and Thinking beyond Salvation in Baudelaire, Cioran, Fondane, Agamben, and Nancy by Joseph Acquisto
  • Brian Sudlow
The Fall out of Redemption: Writing and Thinking beyond Salvation in Baudelaire, Cioran, Fondane, Agamben, and Nancy. By Joseph Acquisto. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. vii + 218 pp.

This is a powerful, complex, and fascinating book, offering what the author, Joseph Acquisto, argues is an innovative reading of Charles Baudelaire. This reading inscribes Baudelaire in a line of writers and thinkers whose attempts to think beyond the necessities of salvation illuminate much of Baudelaire’s poetic project. This is not the Baudelaire who revels in Satanic perversions and all manner of human naughtiness, but one whose poetic imagination draws on the grand paradigms of theological thought while inwardly deconstructing its necessities and obligations. This is not so much about hating God as drawing the idea of God into the equation of the subject’s own pointlessness. In this light, concepts such as ‘sin’ and ‘the Fall’ are turned by Baudelaire against their theological origins while being retained as matrices or drivers for cultural and aesthetic creativity. Acquisto in six chapters thus traces Baudelaire’s journey through the littoral spaces between poetry, metaphysics, aesthetics, and political philosophy, where he is joined by readers and critics such as Walter Benjamin, Benjamin Fondane, Emil Cioran, Giorgio Agamben, and Jean-Luc Nancy. The book will probably appeal most to critics of Baudelaire, as many of his poems are explored and commented on in the light of this overarching thesis. Acquisto is mentally agile and writes consistently and with clarity about thinkers who are themselves less engaging and rarely as clear. The great success of the book is the way in which he makes a range of very different voices speak across the centuries and the decades in a dialogical feast of commentary and counter-commentary. All that said, two problems with the book’s argument are worth noting. The first is that Acquisto never really tells us what redemption means. From his commentary we can assume it has something to do with God, sin, and the saving of souls, but neither the inner logic of these concepts, nor their differentiation across different religious traditions (Christianity and Judaism would have been a start) are expounded. Accordingly, Acquisto blithely follows Slavoj Žižek and Nancy into deconstructive narratives of Christianity more illustrative of their ignorance of theological history than of Christianity’s fatal flaws. To take but one example, to claim that God needs sin (p. 46) is to ignore perhaps one the greatest theological debates between the medieval Dominican and Franciscan schools on the motives of the Incarnation. It is, moreover, possible that some of the inner logic of Baudelaire’s engagement with theological discourses depends precisely on those he was exposed to in mid-nineteenth-century France. Yet such nuances are barely mentioned by Acquisto who does not see that ‘redemption’ undifferentiated is too blunt an instrument. The second problem is much more succinctly put: contrary to Acquisto’s conclusions, if redemption is impossible for these writers, are not all their attempts at writing ‘irredemptively’ a self-defeating substitution of theological redemption with some other kind of salvation? Otherwise, the dilemma of how they live in a world without redemption would be as urgent as the dilemma of how they live in a world without time travel. [End Page 637]

Brian Sudlow
Aston University


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