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Seeing Double

Baudelaire’s Modernity

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.”

French Studies

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.’”

French Review

Table of Contents



Chapter 1. Beliefs (Assommons les pauvres!)

            Homo Duplex 

            More Duplexities 


            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      


            Scopic Syllepsis 

            Which Is the Real One? 

            Optical Gaps 

            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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