- Reviewed by
This is an excellent book which engages in a very close reading of twenty of Baudelaire's prose poems from Le Spleen de Paris, with the aim of tracing some of the distinctive characteristics of the collection. The multiple "logiques" which are pointed up in the book's title reflect Murphy's conviction that the workings of all of the selected poems cannot be traced back to a single underlying logic; rather there are a number of logics or schemes at play in the collection. The readings of them in this book can, to a great extent, be seen to converge.
Using the introduction to underline Baudelaire's fondness for playing hoaxes and shocking his readers, particularly morally, Murphy's fundamental premise is that Baudelaire's prose poems were written so as to be deliberately susceptible to contradictory readings. Murphy sets out to explore the idea of a "poétique de l'effet" (25) in Baudelaire's later work; he takes as a starting point the idea that this aspect of Baudelaire's way of writing was "une source de fécondité poétique" (25). In choosing among the fifty-one prose poems which make up Le Spleen de Paris, the more lyrical and fantastical among them are ignored in favour of those dealing with more urban themes.
That Baudelaire was aware of the likelihood of his work being misunderstood, on account of the complexity of its engagement with irony, emphasises the difficulties faced by the reader in coming to any definite conclusion regarding the meaning of a particular prose poem. Polyphony is the term used by Murphy to define the complex narratological structure of the prose poems, where each "je" must be deciphered by the reader over the course of multiple readings. Murphy consistently points up the potential plurality of the "je" in each of the prose poems and insists on the need to resist the temptation to assign an unambiguous meaning to any of the texts.
Written in a clear and lively style, this book's meticulous scholarship and impressive breadth of reference make it a well-crafted and valuable addition to the library of all scholars of Baudelaire. The reluctance of many French academics to read outside their native language is noted by Murphy. Given that it is written in French, Logiques du dernier Baudelaire: lectures du "Spleen de Paris" will surely prove significant in bridging the divide. Murphy's regard for and engagement with recent Baudelaire criticism written in English means that this book serves as an important conduit for the introduction of the work of Anglophone Baudelaire scholars to their French counterparts.