The poet Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867) has been labeled the very icon of modernity, the scribe of the modern city, and an observer of an emerging capitalist culture. Seeing Double reconsiders this iconic literary figure and his fraught relationship with the nineteenth-century world by examining the way in which he viewed the increasing dominance of modern life. In doing so, it revises some of our most common assumptions about the unresolved tensions that emerged in Baudelaire’s writing during a time of political and social upheaval.
Françoise Meltzer argues that Baudelaire did not simply describe the contradictions of modernity; instead, his work embodied and recorded them, leaving them unresolved and often less than comprehensible. Baudelaire’s penchant for looking simultaneously backward to an idealized past and forward to an anxious future, while suspending the tension between them, is part of what Meltzer calls his “double vision”—a way of seeing that produces encounters that are doomed to fail, poems that can’t advance, and communications that always seem to falter. In looking again at the poet and his work, Seeing Double helps to us to understand the prodigious transformations at stake in the writing of modern life.
280 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2011
Literature and Literary Criticism: Romance Languages
“Seeing Double is a truly original study of Baudelaire’s gaze, in his recording of dualities in what Walter Benjamin called his ‘photographic plates,’ without the kind of understanding that was to come later. Meltzer’s own wide reading and understanding compose an intricately-woven texture from the poet’s verse and prose poems, the influences upon them, and their reception by various interpreters of the modernist visions that Baudelaire prefigured.”
Mary Ann Caws, City University of New York
“Francoise Meltzer’s rich and suggestive study ranges widely over nineteenth-century thought and art to explore the bifurcated vision of modernity that Baudelaire’s work registers and into which the prose and verse poems lead the reader.”
Jonathan Culler, Cornell University
“Seeing Double brilliantly revisits the idea that modernity corresponded to a change in perception—or even sight itself—in response to the sensory overload caused by the rapid changes that transformed urban life and technological advances. Françoise Meltzer demonstrates with dazzling acuity that Charles Baudelaire recorded the clashing worlds of past and present as a ‘double vision’—the shattered register of a moral and conceptual contradiction. Perceptive and powerfully imaginative, this book will interest all scholars and students of nineteenth-century thought, as well as those investigating the philosophical questions that arose from the emergence of a newly technologized world.”
Marie-Hélène Huet, Princeton University
“In this beautifully written, remarkably clear book. . . Meltzer anchors the poet’s well known tensions and vacillations in the failed revolution of 1848. . . . A superb book, extensively researched, thoroughly absorbing. Essential.”
“In an imaginative, carefully argued reading of prose poem, verse poem, and essay, Meltzer demonstrates that, far from giving shape and some degree of coherence to the chaotic processes of modernity through his use of diametric contrasts, as many critics have assumed, Baudelaire’’s texts embody the conflicting worlds of past and present simultaneously. . . . In a way, Meltzer’s book performs two valuable functions: it dispels the myth that the poet’s frequent use of binary oppositions means that he had a clear appreciation of the contours of modernity; and it provides a new way of considering his complex, burdensome relationship with the nineteenth century.”
“Seeing Double portrays the profound connection between the philosophical and aesthetic dilemmas in Baudelaire’s art and the historical moment in which he lived.”
“Thoughtful and thought-provoking. . . . Armed with a sure knowledge of the French nineteenth century and with impressive scholarship, from Pichois, Lawler, and Mauron to Blin, Chambers, and Poulet, Meltzer offers many other delights: on Baudelaire’s obsession with original sin, on the work of the image in his poetry, on the prose ‘L’hologe’ and on ‘Le cygnet.’”
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Beliefs (Assommons les pauvres!)
Proudhon’s Spirits of Contradiction
Splitting the Difference: The Poem
Appendix: “Assommons les pauvres!”
Chapter 2. Seeing (A une passante)
The Will to Know
Images and Afterimages: The Poem
Which Is the Real One?
Energy: The Baroque
Appendix: “A une passante”
Chapter 3. Money (La chambre double)
Words Pay No Debts
Depletion: The Poem
Which Room Is Counterfeit?
The Other Side of the Coin
Appendix: “La chambre double”
Chapter 4. Time (Harmonie du soir)
God, Graves, and Scholars
In Memory of the Present
Angels Doing Time
Harmonics: The Poem
And Time and the World Are Ever in Flight
Appendix: “Harmonie du soir”
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