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  • Baudelaire and Other People
  • Maria Scott and Alexandra K. Wettlaufer

OVER ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS after the death of Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867), his work remains a focus of interest and investigation for scholars of modernity across a range of disciplines and discourses. In this issue of L'Esprit Créateur, we propose that one reason Baudelaire's œuvre continues to be such a key point of reference for art historians, cultural historians, urban studies specialists, and literary scholars is that his writings—his poetry, prose, and criticism—explore a phenomenon that continues to be a major preoccupation today, namely, what it means to live in permanent proximity to other people. Closely associated with the definition and experience of modernity itself, Baudelaire inhabited the urban landscape of Second Empire Paris, a quasi-anonymous denizen of the crowded parks and boulevards. Manet aptly captures this modern social identity in La musique aux Tuileries (cover illustration), where the top-hatted author of "Les foules" is portrayed in profile against the trunk of a tree, one of a myriad of fashionable Parisians gathered in the gardens behind the elegant pair of lavender-bonneted women who dominate the foreground of the painting. Looking at this picture, it is difficult to imagine that, for many readers and critics, Baudelaire embodies the solitary individual whose psychic, moral, poetic, and even physical integrity is threatened by the presence of other people, or what one of his prose poems describes as "la tyrannie de la face humaine."1 Indeed, for Jean-Paul Sartre, Baudelaire's defensive stance against the gaze of other people is what defines him and his work.2 The theme of autrui is equally central to Walter Benjamin's essays and notes on Baudelaire. Benjamin argues that Baudelaire's verse and prose poetry bear witness to the shock effects produced by life in a modern city and to the mechanisms developed to defend the psyche against the potential violence of random encounters with others.3 Crowded urban spaces produce at least as much anxiety and exhilaration today as they did in Baudelaire's time; encounters with strangers, whether in person or on social media, continue to be a source of both unease and pleasure.

Ross Chambers, whose death in 2017 was a grievous loss for French studies, places the various interpersonal croisements that took place in the busy streets of Second Empire Paris at the heart of his exploration of Baudelaire's poetry.4 For the critic Edward Kaplan, similarly, Baudelaire's poetry, in both verse and prose, places the relation between self and other at its very core; Kaplan shows how the poet's work challenges presuppositions about sameness [End Page 1] and difference through complex dialogic interchange.5 Our collection of articles similarly locates the self-other relation at its center, proposing fresh interpretations of Baudelaire's thinking about other people, and showing how the otherness of other people was negotiated by this founding figure of European modernity. Organized in three sections, "Baudelaire and Other People" first considers how the other is constructed in Baudelaire's poetry, then turns to Baudelaire's relationships with other poets, whether as reader or object of reading, and concludes with the role played by other arts and other artists not only in Baudelaire's poetry and criticism, but also in interpretations of his work.

In our first section, "Baudelaire's Poetic Others: Theorizing and Realizing Autrui," authors examine the representation of encounters with other people in Les fleurs du mal and Le spleen de Paris. In her analysis of "À une passante" and "Les veuves," Sarah Gubbins explores the role played by both "generic baggage" and pre-existing assumptions in the perception of other people—in this case widows—in Baudelaire's verse and prose poetry. Kevin Newmark's reading of "Les sept vieillards" considers what the "loss of self" at the heart of Baudelaire's encounters with the other might entail and the possibility that it might be merely a provisional loss that allows for an even greater measure of self-possession and understanding in its wake. Maria Scott's essay, engaging with a currently topical theme in psychology and cognitive literary studies, approaches the meeting...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 1-7
Launched on MUSE
2018-03-16
Open Access
No
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