The madman, understood not as one who is sick but as an established and maintained deviant, as an indispensable cultural function, has become, in Western experience, the man of primitive resemblances. This character, as he is depicted in the novels of plays of the Baroque age, and as he was gradually institutionalized right up to the advent of nineteenth-century psychiatry, is the man who is alienated in analogy. He is the disordered player of the Same and the Other. He takes things for what they are not, and people one for another; he cuts his friends and recognizes complete strangers; he thinks he is unmasking when, in fact, he is putting on a mask.
The necessity of being up-to-date in order to obtain recognition explains why the concept of modernity is so frequently and so emphatically invoked by writers claiming to embody literary innovation, from its first formulation by Baudelaire in the mid-nineteenth century to the very name of the review founded by Sartre a hundred years later—Les Temps Moderne. One thinks of Rimbaud’s famous injunction (‘One must be absolutely modern’); also of the modernismo founded by Rubén Darío at the end of the nineteenth century, the Brazilian modernist movement of the 1920, and ‘futurist’ movements in Italy and in Russia. The rushing after lost time, the frantic quest for the present, the rage to be ‘contemporaries of all mankind’ (as Octavio Paz put it)—all these things are typical of the search for a way to enter literary time and thereby to attain artistic salvation.
Pascale Casanova, The World Republic of Letters, 2004 (trans. M. B. DeBevoise). (via literarypiano)