Seeing Double: Baudelaire’s Modernity

Francoise Meltzer
Seeing Double: Baudelaire’s Modernity

Mark Ford writes:

It was Walter Benjamin who most persuasively argued that Baudelaire was the first ‘writer of modern life’, adapting the title of Baudelaire’s encomium on the artist Constantin Guys, ‘The Painter of Modern Life’, published in 1863. The influence of Benjamin’s essays on critical approaches to Baudelaire is so pervasive that they can at times come to seem a double act. In Seeing Double: Baudelaire’s Modernity, Françoise Meltzer goes so far as to present Baudelaire’s writing as in crucial ways incomplete without Benjamin’s interpretations of it. Her argument is an attempt to push one stage further a complex metaphor used by Benjamin in a fragment not published in his lifetime, but written around 1921-22. Benjamin’s metaphor asks us to compare time to a photographer who photographs the essence of things. And while Baudelaire doesn’t possess the vital developing fluid, he is somehow, ‘thanks to infinite mental efforts’, able to read the plates. ‘He alone is able to extract from the negatives of essence a presentiment of its real picture. And from this presentiment speaks the negative of essence in all his poems.’

(LRB 21 February 2013)

Published by University of Chicago Press
31 May 2011
ISBN: 9780226519883