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Charles Baudelaire

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Walter BenjaminEdit

Charles Baudelaire: The Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism [1935-1939]Edit

The work Charles Baudelaire comprises 3 of Benjamin's essays on Baudelaire from his unfinished work The Arcades Project, intended as a cultural study of 19th century urban Paris, which he worked on for roughly 20 years. Each section of the book was written at different times, and was in different stages of editing. The first section is "The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire", completed in 1938, and was originally intended as 1/3 of a seperate book on Baudelaire. 'Some Motifs in Baudelaire' was written in 1939, and "Paris--Capital of the Nineteenth Century" was written in 1935 as a draft of the overall Arcades Project. Of interest in this final section is the short essay "Dauguerre or the Dioramas".

The FlaneurEdit

Chapter 2 of "The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire" contains some of Benjamin's extended ruminations on Baudelaire's concept of the flaneur, which Benjamin adopts as a bougouise urban observer deeply linked to modernity, industrialization, and the rise of the metropolis. The flaneur, for Benjamin, is appropriately related to the arcade, a glass enclosed shopping plaza. For the flaneur, the street is the home, and the crowd a place of privacy and anonymity. The flaneur experiences a typical ennui, only ameliorated by crowds and the roamed city. Benjamin explores the city and the crowd in the world of Baudelaire's poetry and Poe's detective novels.

The bourgeouise flaneur of Baudelaire is somewhat innocent of the commodity, still unconscious of his mode of existence and not yet driven to proletarianize (as the flaneur in the crowd is analogous to the commodity in the sea of customers). The masses obscure the pollution and horror of the city, and rather produce the effect of enchantment (60). The crowd becomes a new subject for modern poetry, and Benjamin documents the crowd as the force of utmost influence upon Baudelaire, so much so that Baudelaire "took to vie with Hugo in this experience" (60). If for Hugo, the crowd was a spectacle of nature, a surging ocean in which he loses himself, for Baudelaire, the crowd is a place of shock which keeps the flaneur alert; for Baudelaire, the man in the crowd is not lost or swept away, but immanently self-aware: "To Baudelaire the crowd never was a stimulus to case the plummet of his thought down into the depths of the world" (61). "When Victor Hugo was celebrating the crowd as the hero in a modern epic, Baudelaire was looking for a refuge for the hero among the massess of the big city. Hugo placed himself in the crowd as a French citizen; Baudelaire sundered himself from it as a hero" (66).

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