- Baudelaire’s Media Aesthetics: The Gaze of the Flâneur and 19th-Century Media by Marit Grøtta
This assured study looks at the wide aesthetic implications of Baudelaire’s engagement with new and emerging media technologies. With chapters on newspapers, photographs, and pre-cinematic devices such as the kaleidoscope, Marit Grøtta’s book challenges narrow Benjaminian-inflected readings of Baudelaire by offering fresh analyses of familiar prose poems that showcase Baudelaire’s awareness of new ways of experiencing the world. The prose poems are characterized by techniques such as optical illusions, and Grøtta demonstrates how they enable the poet to see ‘a new aesthetic potential superseding reality’ (p. 85). In this way, the prose poem ‘Le Port’ is reread as an example of ‘kaleidoscopic vision’ (p. 99), in which the comings and goings of a busy harbour are transposed from those of trade and commerce to those of mobile spectacle. Grøtta is [End Page 609] adept at situating Baudelaire’s aesthetics within the historical context of ever more ambitious technological experiments in capturing sound, vision, and movement. She goes on, in chapters on corporeality and toys, to examine other forms of bodily and technical apparatus, which train and reshape our modes of perception such that they prime us for social change. Dizzying mass-communication strategies and mechanical toys become objects of focus for Baudelaire for their invasive and fetishizing properties, bridging the gap between high and popular culture. Readings of ‘Le Mauvais Vitrier’ and ‘La Morale du joujou’ foreground the mysterious impulses and illusions underpinning Baudelaire’s media aesthetics. Each medium is not seen in isolation, but as part of an exchange-and-response system, such that, in Grøtta’s words, ‘Baudelaire’s media aesthetics [ . . . ]can be seen as intermedial at its core’ (p. 146). This book is suitable for readers both familiar with and new to Baudelaire. Grøtta’s strength lies in the limpidity of her writing, which clearly condenses Baudelaire’s aesthetic thought in relation to different media forms.