This essay considers Rainer Maria Rilke's use of classicism as a response to the uncanny and fragmenting industrial city. While the twentieth-century revival of classicism has typically been seen as part of the reactionary “call to order,” I argue that Rilke's work represents a radically different modernist classicism – one that celebrates the fluidity and contingency of urban life. While his early work evinces a flight from the chaos of the modern city to a lost antique wholeness, after his engagement with Rodin's disarticulated sculpture, Rilke radically reimagines classicism as the ideal form for a Baudelairean modernity defined by “the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent.”

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