Sunday, January 29, 2012

Baudelaire



[Gustave Courbet, Portrait of Baudelaire, 1847-48]

Last week we considered how Balzac's The Unknown Masterpiece uses aesthetic language and themes as a means for articulating a political critique of both post-French Revolution anarchy and of capitalist materialism. For this week, choose one of the Baudelaire prose poems and make a brief argument about how the text links aesthetic concerns to political positions. Is Baudelaire critical of the same forces that we saw in Balzac? Does his stance on artistic, social, and political modernity (and the specific social upheavals of the 1840s) seem as conservative as Balzac's or is it more radical?  Feel free to make reference to any of this week's other materials (Proudhon, Marx, Baudelaire) to back up your claim. [Note for anyone interested in working on "The Rope": you might wish to do a bit of research on Baudelaire's relationship with Edouard Manet.]

16 comments:

  1. Baudelaire’s poem, “The Eyes of the Poor,” connects aesthetic concerns to political positions much the same way as Balzac. The main source of beauty in this poem is the newly built café. “The café was sparkling. Even its gas lights displayed all the fervor of an opening, and at full blast they illumined the blindingly white walls, the mirrors’ dazzling expanses, the gilding of the moldings and cornices ... the nymphs and goddesses carrying fruits, pates, and game ...” With his words, Baudelaire is able to effectively convey that it is quite a sight to behold. Concerning his political agenda, this elaborate description serves to represent the wealthy in society. The café embodies the “gluttony” of people who have money to spend. In the following paragraph, Baudelaire introduces the poor street urchins. A man “with a tired face” and “a graying beard” is walking with his two children, one who is too weak to walk without support. Baudelaire’s description makes me picture a very old man, even though the text states that he is forty.

    The poem is commenting on the inequality that exists between the rich and the poor. As such, it seems that Baudelaire and Balzac are critical of the same forces. Balzac was strongly opposed to materialism and capitalism. “The Eyes of the Poor” is a poem about excess and how this makes observers feel. The poor look at the glorious building in awe. The weakling is “stupified” by the sight in front of him. Though the father recognizes the beauty of the building, he is keen enough to understand that it took a great amount of money to create this. He suggests that “All the poor world’s gold seems to have fallen upon these walls.” Instead of using this money to pay for food and clothing for these underprivileged individuals, the wealthy have no qualms spending their money to create visually pleasing architecture. The elder boy realizes that “only people not like us can enter this house.” He understands that there exists a very real divide between those who possess money and those who do not. The wealthy can go where they please and do what they want, all because they have a constant flow of money at their fingertips. The poor, on the other hand, are seen as dirty and vile. It would be an outrage if they entered a place as beautiful as the café. The woman in the poem, presumably of considerable wealth, does not even appreciate the beauty of the café. Rather, her eyes are fixed on the poor. She says, “‘I can’t stand those people with their eyes wide open like entrance gates.’” She is taken aback by the fact that they are even gazing upon the structure. She takes it as a personal insult. She feels that because they do not have any money, they should not be in the presence of the café. “‘Can’t you ask the headwaiter to send them away?’” she asks her companion. It is ironic that in the presence of a great piece of architecture, she can only notice the ugliness of the impoverished.

    On the same token, the narrator also is attracted to the three. However, his reasons are much different than that of the woman. He feels sad by the excess of the city. “... I felt a little ashamed of our glasses and decanters, larger than our thirst.” He knows that what they have in front of them is too much and it makes him feel guilty.

    At the end of the poem, the narrator realizes that he and this woman share very different views. Since he doesn’t say anything to try to emphasize the inequality between the two groups, I feel as though Baudelaire is trying to show that while people may hold the opinion that gluttony is wrong, many do not take action against it.

    I would say that Baudelaire’s stance on modernity is conservative. He is not calling people to action, but rather opening their eyes to the problems of society. In “The Eyes of the Poor” he succeeds in showing the inequality between the wealthy and the impoverished, but he does not give suggestions as to how to go about fixing this problem. His goal was to enlighten his readers, but not force them to make any changes.

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  2. Charles Baudelaire seemed as though he was in agreement with Balzac’s sentiments on art and politics. Baudelaire’s poem “The Double Room” shows that he believed art should be based upon order. The poem describes a room filled with all the contrivances of luxury and beauty. The way art is described gives away Baudelaire’s sentiments, as he wrote, “No artistic abomination on the walls. Compared to pure dream, to unanalyzed impressions, a precise art, a concrete art, is blasphemy. Everything here possesses the abundant light and delicious darkness of harmony” (Baudelaire, 6). In this poem, art is constructed as something that must be in harmony, it must be ordered, and it must be refined. The text is critical of “unanalyzed impressions” which means that art is not something purely subjective; it must be structured according to the rules of convention. When describing the scent of the room, the poem suggests that there is a hierarchy of taste, by calling the scent a “most exquisite choice” (Baudelaire, 6). The fact that “choice” is used means that one can choose between good and bad when it comes to art; this of course, means that there are people with more refined tastes, which would usually be associated with a person of a higher class. The room is then described in quasi-mystical terms, all relating to order. The idol in the room is said to “subjugate” (Baudelaire, 6). The language of course related to the discourse of politics and monarchs.
    The peacefulness of the room is interrupted by a knock on the door. The knock suggests an intrusion of the lower classes, which has ruined the beauty of the room, and in effect, art. The decline of art is suggested by the uncanny image of the specter, a bailiff, and at the same time, “a loathsome concubine come to bemoan her poverty and adding to the trivialities of her life to the sorrows of mine” (Baudelaire, 7). The poem does not treat the image of the poor women with care or empathy, but rather as an annoyance, as something that is ruining the life of the aristocrat with good tastes and knowledge of what art really is. The poem ends with the speaker remembering the old room, and now the speaker only has laudanum and the memories of the room. The poem asserts that something has been lost, a sense of what art was, what good tastes and refinement were, and this is because of the new role of the lower classes.

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  3. The Double Room

    Charles Baudelaire’s The Double Room blends both poetry and surrealism in order to comment on aestheticism and modernism. As discussed in class, aestheticism can most broadly mean art for arts sake, beauty for the sake of beauty. His artistic and fluid descriptions of the room are surreal and vibrant. His depiction of the furniture and the architecture of the room is dream-like and it is as if his words embody the spirit of a Salvador Dali painting. Baudelaire wastes no time in throwing the reader into this dream-like surrounding.

    “The furniture has elongated, collapsed, languid shapes. The furniture seems to be dreaming, you might say endowed with a somnambular life, like vegetables and minerals. The fabrics speak a silent language, like flowers, like skies, like setting suns” (page 6). It is Baudelaire's creative word choice that inspires. I believe, it is his prose and style that encourages us to break away from traditional art. To break away from the conventions of art could also imply the need to break away from the conventions of society: the Monarchy.

    Honore de Balzac was critical of Capitalism. He saw it as an abuse. His desire for aestheticism and his appreciation for all things fine, he believed, was a credited to the power of the Monarch. All of his leisure and all of his indulgence was a product of the ruling elite and it was the Monarch who allowed him to enjoy these gifts. I believe that Baudelaire had a more libertarian political stance based upon his stylistic writing and creative word choice in The Double Room.

    While reading Baudelaire’s prose poem, I found his word choice to be something of significance. When he discusses art he uses words like “blasphemy” and “harmony”. He uses his descriptive language to compare and contrast art to dreams. “No artistic abomination on the walls. Compared to pure dream, to unanalyzed impressions, a precise art, a concrete art, is blasphemy.” (page 6). I wondered for a while what he meant when he said “precise art is blasphemy”. And what I have decided was this: that art should stray away from meticulous order and tradition and that the true beauty of art is as free, beautiful, and chaotic as a romantic dream. It is a metaphor for the oppression and destitution of the common man under the rule of a Monarch. Thus, in my opinion, his political stance most closely resembles that of an anarchist or of a socialist libertarian and it is through his modernist literary style through which he expresses the desire to be creative and the desire to be free.

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  4. I think Baudelaire’s “The Double Room” does have some similarities to Balzac’s “The Unknown Masterpiece;” they both seem to suggest a need for passion (or pleasure) in art, however Balzac’s tale appears, as we’ve discussed in class, to warn against an artist becoming too passionate or too radical, while Baudelaire, I think, seems to celebrate it.
    Baudelaire’s narrator describes the room in his poem as a “reverie,” filled with “voluptuous pleasure,” and on the bed is this Idol, who I saw to maybe correspond to unbound passion (6). I feel the way she’s described as demonic almost parallels her to Frenhofer in Balzac’s story, who was ultimately overcome and undone by unbound passion. Baudelaire, in accordance, even suggests a danger to the Idol when talking about her eyes: “They attract, they subjugate, they devour the gaze of anyone reckless enough to contemplate them” (6-7). So perhaps here he warns that unlimited passion will overcome and devour those who consider it, but maybe he doesn’t feel this is a bad thing. Baudelaire describes the Idol as a “benevolent demon,” suggesting he maybe finds such passion to be good, or at least harmless.
    It seems to me Baudelaire is much more radical than Balzac when it comes to the balance of tradition and passion, though in “The Painter of Modern Life,” Baudelaire expresses a balanced view that “it is doubtless an excellent thing to study the old masters in order to learn how to paint; but [it’s]…a waste of labour if your aim is to understand the special nature of present-day beauty” (Baudelaire, 13). But it seems he leans more towards passion and radicalism when he critiques traditional art in “The Double Room,” his narrator says: “Compared to pure dream, to unanalyzed impressions, a precise art, a concrete art, is blasphemy” (6). So pure dream, (or perhaps pure passion,) is better than precise, traditional art; Baudelaire seems to support a breakaway from traditional methods of art, and perhaps politically, a breakaway from traditional monarchy. The narrator in “The Double Room” describes a “heavy knock” at the door and how a Specter enters, and one of the specters described is “a bailiff come to torture [him] in the name of the law,” and to me it appears to be like the conservatives of the time, wanting to force him out of the reverie of passion and bring him back to tradition. It’s kind of like this Specter has come and literally interrupted Baudelaire’s rebellion because it literally interrupts his unconventional prose poem, a poem without the traditional order of stanzas or meter, and which could figuratively represent Baudelaire’s rebellion against order and tradition.

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  5. In Baudelaire's "The Double Room" I had trouble discerning any concrete political beliefs. As with Balzac, art is mentioned several times throughout the poem but in this case is referred to negatively quite often. One quote from the poem speaking in reference to art says that "No artistic abomination on the walls. Compared to pure dream, to unanalyzed impressions, a precise art, a concrete art, is blasphemy."

    In terms of actual political beliefs, it is clear that Baudelaire at the very least enjoys fine things and looks down on the lower classes with disdain. At one point he writes that "And that scent of another world, which I used to intoxicate myself with a perfected sensitivity, alas! it was replaced by a fetid odor of tobacco mixed with some sort of nauseating mustiness. Now you breathe the rancid smell of destitution.

    While Baudelaire's speech on time could be read as an indication that perhaps he is not a fan of monarchy either, in that time is referred to as both a sovereign and as being a horrible old man, it seems to me that the poem in no way supports mutualistic anarchy or communism. Baudelaire quite clearly believes that the poor are inferior, and in my opinion it seems that he does not support any political system which would make the wealthy upper classes equals with the poor and also possibly with the bourgouis.

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  6. In his prose poem “Let’s Beat Up the Poor!” Baudelaire seems much more critical of the old social order the Balzac was. Balzac thought that the order was a positive thing to have and brought out the best in people and Baudelaire seems to think quite the opposite. He uses his work “Lets Beat Up the Poor!” to tell a seemingly exaggerated and dramatization of this idea.

    He does not seem to employ a large amount of Balzac’s aestheticism. While Balzac’s “The Unknown Masterpiece” focused more on description and imagery, drawing a realistic and beautiful picture of the studios the artists painted in and the painters they worked on. This flowing and effusive description extended a story that by pure plot was only a few pages long, into a work dozens of pages long.

    Baudelaire’s work however is short and to the point and does speak to an upcoming power struggle between the poor and the wealthy. For example early in “Let’s Beat Up the Poor!” he seems to knock the “popular books of the time…books dealing with the art of making nations happy wise and rich in twenty four hours”. He says that after reading them it wasn’t at all surprising that he “was then in a state of mind bordering on vertigo or idiocy”. He clearly thinks these books are ridiculous and of no worth. Even in his description of the books, the way he frames them as producing all these things “
    in twenty four hours” seems to be smacked with a sarcastic slight against them. Clearly he doesn’t think much of them saying that after reading, it wouldn’t be surprising for someone to become idiotic or even suffering from vertigo.

    But he does seem to think a revolution is coming soon. He may think it will take agitating the poor to a point of physical beating-a dramatization in this story-but it will com. I believe that he is saying right now, in his time as he wrote the story, the poor are being beaten as he described and will soon begin to fight back. And as more of them fight back, others will see that and become inspired.

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  7. In his works, Baudelaire proves himself to be critical of aristocratic tastes. He writes frequently about the poor and the everyday man. His prose poem “The Eyes of the Poor” very obviously expresses a concern for those in impoverished situations. Further reading also reveals a critique on aestheticism and a political statement touching upon both aesthetic pleasure and inequality.

    The basic interpretation of this prose poem is rather simple. The speaker attends a lovely new café with his beloved, and this café represents decadence and aristocratic wealth. He then sees a poor family looking in the window longingly, representing poverty. This prose poem very clearly makes a statement about the unfairness of poverty. One of the especially interesting aspects of this piece, however, is its treatment of aestheticism. The café is described as extremely beautiful, and Baudelaire uses a great deal of imagery suggesting brightness or light. For instance, he writes, “The café was sparkling . . . blindingly white walls, the mirrors dazzling expanses, the gilding of the moldings and the cornices.” The amount of light and shining decoration suggests both happiness and wealth, as it makes the reader think of shining diamonds or gold. Baudelaire then goes on to describe the paintings in the café, though in such a sudden way that the reader does not at first realize they are paintings but wonders if all the aristocratic events described in them actually happened in the café. Paintings depict aristocratic activities, such as falconing, or figures from mythology. Furthermore, all of the paintings suggest some type of leisure, and many depict decadent eating. Therefore, the aestheticism in this prose poem is one of abundance and aristocracy.

    Baudelaire then goes on to critique this type of aestheticism by contrasting it with the poor family standing outside. He does not approve of the shining aesthetic in the café. Rather, he disapproves of the sharp contrast between the café and the lives of the poor family. Therefore, Baudelaire proves himself to be firmly anti-aristocracy. He is, in fact, the exact opposite of Balzac, who favored the fine things that aristocracy could bring. Baudelaire looks at this decadence with guilt and disdain. While no specific desire for anarchism can be seen in this prose poem, he clearly does not approve of the separation of social classes as they are. One could argue that he desires some type of anarchic society in which this vast inequality would not exist. This desire can especially be seen when he writes, “I felt a little ashamed of our glasses and decanters, larger than our thirst.” The intention of an anarchist society is to ensure that no one collects surplus at the expense of others. The fact that his and his beloved’s glasses were “larger than our thirst” shows that they were, in fact, enjoying surplus, and his shame proves his disdain of doing so. Sufficient evidence does not exist to conclude that Baudelaire was an anarchist, but his writings support some type of system that encourages a break-down of classes and a lack of aristocracy.

    In other works Baudelaire also proves that he does not support aristocracy. It is specifically worth noting that in The Painter of Modern Life, Baudelaire discredited aristocratic and traditional modes of painting in favor of a mode of painting that is more down-to-earth, in touch with the everyday man, and modern (taking the exact opposite position Balzac took in The Unknown Masterpiece). He is not against aestheticism, but rather against an aestheticism that classifies people into groups of have and have-not, powerful and powerless, just as the rich, decadent and shining aestheticism of the café did. “The Eyes of the Poor” uses aesthetic examples to critique the existence of an aristocracy.

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  8. Like Balzac, Baudelaire uses prose to paint images of contemporary worries. Though his poem "The Dog and the Scent-Bottle" does not directly connect to artistry it connects to luxury, which is art. Baudelaire begins the poem by offering his dog an inhale from an "excellent perfume purchased from the best perfumer in the city". Here he paints an image of excellent luxury, a life so lavish that even the dog is able to participate in it. Baudelaire seems to be suggesting the extreme materialistic ways of the bourgeoisie, a concept that both Proudhon and Marx comment on in their various works. The dog walks over to the offering with tail wagging, "the sign corresponding to laughter and smiles", which supports the idea of the dog representing the bourgeoisies's obsession with material goods, when presented with a gift they are all smiles. The poem then gets very interesting when the dog recoils and barks in terror, to which Baudelaire says "if I had offered you a lump of excrement you would have sniffed it up with delight....you resemble the public, which must never be offered delicate perfumes that exasperate them, but only meticulously selected garbage",immediately the line reminded me of Balzac's line in The Wild Ass' Skin, where he wrote "man believes that he has reached perfection when he has but rearranged matters". Though the poem is quite short I feel it truly resembles Balzacs political stance, and due to the dramatic shift in his prose's aesthetic, we go from a beautiful french perfume bottle to, well, dog shit, he seems to have an even more conservative view of France's political position. I assert that Baudelaire is not happy with what has happened after the revolutions, and feels that no real gain has been made, to the point where everything is exactly as it were, it just seems better in theory, or seems better when "meticulously picked". Baudelaire suggests that the dog, like those who are for revolution, those of bourgeoise, have no idea what they really want, they do not understand regal luxury,and the responsibilities that go along with it, but insist that they do.

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  9. Charles Baudelaire’s poem, “The Rope,” was written to Edouard Manet, a French impressionist painter in the nineteenth century. Upon looking up the relationship between Baudelaire and Manet, I found that Baudelaire was quite inspirational to Manet, and encouraged him to delve into impressionist work and become a more modern painter. Manet created multiple works of art in which Baudelaire was the subject.
    It is clear that in “The Rope” Baudelaire is portraying a conversation between two people, at least one of which is a painter. They are discussing a young boy that would pose for the painter, whom the painter found to be, not only a particularly interesting subject to paint, but also quite charming and whimsical. The poem then takes a strange turn for the worse, the young boy was succumbing to “fits precocious sadness” and would have “immoderate cravings for sugar and liquors.” The young boy ended up hanging himself, and, in what seemed like a fit of madness from grief, his mother begged to have the rope he used to commit the act. Upon re-reading the poem, I wondered if this act was truly insane, or if it was just demonstrative of a mother’s love, something that should be expected to continue beyond death. What interested me more, however, was the stark contrast of events between how the poem begins and how it ends. I wondered what exactly it was that made the young boy want to take his own life, and how his personality so drastically changed.
    It took several readings for me to finally get a grasp on what Baudelaire might have been getting at. The painter in this poem seemed to treat the young boy as a prize, an object, something less than human. Although the painter did care about the young boy, it was not in the way a person should, not in the same way the boy’s mother did—a much more pure and unconditional love. This reminded me of the way that Gillette is treated in Honoré de Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece. Gillette, the model and lover of the painter Porbus, is traded away by the very man she loves in order for Porbus to see the painting. This is essentially trading a person for something inanimate, an action that we would think of as despicable.
    It seems as though both Baudelaire and Balzac are critical of this action, and perhaps this is making commentary on society at the given time. During this period the French were rapidly changing governments, and the only thing that seemed to stay in place was the new wave of people who were making it into the middle class, and were able to enjoy leisure with new money. I know from class that Balzac was quite against this group, because, although he enjoyed luxury, he felt there should be a certain sense of refinement. I’m still not entirely sure how everything comes together, but I do feel as though Baudelaire must be making some sort of commentary on those who are so actively participating in leisure at this time.

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  10. In Baudelaire's poem, Get High, he is promoting modern behavior, perhaps not so much the behavior of constantly intoxicating oneself, but more to the point of immersing oneself passionately and fully in what they desire. He does not just suggest getting high on alcohol or drugs, but also virtue or poetry, and examples could extend to any number of things such as art, sport, politics, and so on.

    His prime reason for advocating what can be considered as liberal behavior, is so to prevent oneself from being a slave of time. More specifically, Baudelaire says, such behavior is necessary "as to not feel the horrible burden of Time wrecking your back and bending you to the ground." It seems that Baudelaire is using Time as a synonym for the "old guard" or something that is rather antiquated. He seems to be advocating a push away from the old and into Modernity. In fact, Baudelaire was a proponent of those things modern.

    In this, he differs from the critiques of Balzac, however, Baudelaire's politics are not as clearly definable. In Balzac, we saw the complete distaste of the modern in Frenhofer's art. Balzac sees no merit in the art and that it lacks what can be learned and effectively tamed by "old school" methods"

    Baudelaire seems to favor a more "as you wish" approach to life. However, Baudelaire does not make any other mention to the benefit of this behavior than just the avoidance of Time. Perhaps the repeating of the behavior over again suggest that there is nothing else to it, no progress to be made, and there for Baudelaire is saying that it is not to be done in excess.

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  11. Baudelaire articulates that true beauty, politics and art cannot be understood or even appreciated by the proletariat class in “The Dog and the Scent-Bottle”. In this poem, the beloved dog is representative of the common man, which he even alludes to directly as he tells the dog, “You resemble the public.” The dog “wagging its tail” appears to be in a state of bliss as he wanders over to his master who offers his “dear bowwow” a scent of “excellent perfume.” Instead of rejoicing over the delicious scent purchased from the “best perfumer in the city,” the dog recoils, becoming angry and aggressive. Preferring a “lump of excrement” to this delicacy indicates the dog’s (or proletariat class’s) lack of sophistication and ignorance. Thus, the dog can never be his companion, and is left to enjoy “meticulously selected garbage.”

    In this way, Baudelaire’s views correspond to that of Balzac; both men maintain that only the elite, educated nobility can uphold taste and distinction. Yet it seems that Baudelaire may be more conservative than his counterpart; in his other writings, Baudelaire has a blatant concern with modernity and shifting aesthetic views. This is especially evident in The Painter of Modern Life. Just as Baudelaire criticizes the public for their lack of eloquence and taste in the poem, in The Painter of Modern Life he emphasizes that art should be left to the elite and criticizes those who think they know fine art and mastery of language by reading a mere couple of books.

    This concern shows a strong contempt for political modernity; those who do not understand fine things surely cannot grasp political affairs and thus should be limited, like the dog, to selections of garbage. In this way, the public can remain in ignorant bliss, wagging their tails and remaining beyond the reach of the scent of fine perfumes and exasperation.

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  12. In Baudelaire’s “The Eyes of the Poor“ the author seems to be in contrast with many of the characteristics on Balzac’s work. Unlike Balzac, Baudelaire seems to be in opposition to the wealth and extravagances enjoyed by the rich. It is not towards the aesthetically pleasing that Baudelaire’s narrator is drawn towards, but towards the poor family. Baudelaire also shows the lack of cohesiveness between what is aesthetically pleasing and what he finds morally correct.

    Baudelaire goes into explicit detail when portraying the café. The café is brand new and“ its gas lights displayed all the fervor of an opening, and at full blast they illumined the blindingly white walls, the mirrors' dazzling expanses “ (42). It is clear that this café is for those with money. It is lavishly decorated and serves delicacy. Despite all of this, the narrator still states “all history and all mythology at the command of gluttony“(42). Rather than being concerned with the aesthetic beauty of the café, Baudelaire’s narrator notes the gluttony of the people there.

    A poor family passes by the café and looks in awe of its beauty. Their experiences range from being amazed by its beauty to recognizing that people like them, poor, could never enter the café. In response to the poor family Baudelaire’s narrator is moved and feels “a little ashamed of our glasses and decanter, larger than our thirst“(43). Baudelaire is showing his sympathy towards the poor through his narrator’s reaction. He is disgusted by the wealth and gluttony of the rich and feels sympathy for the humble family.

    Baudelaire also shows the paradigm between what is beautiful and what he finds to be acceptable. His narrator looks to his gorgeous date in hope of seeing his feelings reflect, only for her to reply “I can’t stand those people with their eyes wide open like entrance gates“(43). Baudelaire does not glorify the beautiful, but displays how it is not always “right.“

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  13. In response to Samantha:

    I like your connection between the rise in consumerism and the dog’s apparent satisfaction with the physical appearance of the bottle. It is only after the bottle is opened that he becomes angered. Furthermore, it is not the perfume that pleases him, in fact that simply enrages him, but it is the mere look of the bottle that entices him forward.

    The only thing I may disagree with you over is whether or not the dog represents the bourgeoisie. It seems as though the dog in his inability to enjoy the finest perfume is extremely disconnected from the bourgeoisie, which I would argue is instead represented by the narrator. When the dog is able to experience fine things, he does not understand them. Thus, the elite are the only ones who can prevent luxury from turning to mere material production.

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  15. In Baudelaire’s “The Double Room” he shares some of the same views as Balzac on the desire and importance of material luxury, but he expresses them in a more radical way through his strong visual and emotional contrasts in this text. He describes the room as a place where “the soul takes a bath of laziness, perfumed with regret and desire” (6). It is a place where a person can go and do nothing, something only people of a higher class could do because they had no need to go out and work for a living. The room is described as dream-like and a place “of voluptuous pleasure” (6). Through his physical and emotional description of the room one can see his strong emphasis on extravagant things and how a life of leisure and nice things is euphoric, very similar to Balzac.
    Continuing this idea he goes on to talk about the “Idol, the sovereign queen of dreams” (6), describing this beautiful and perfect woman. He not only is referring to the beauty and perfection of a woman, but of a queen. Here he is not only making a comment on capturing the beauty of someone from the higher class through art of prose but he is also making reference to monarchy. He describes her eyes saying, “they attract, they subjugate, they devour the gaze of anyone reckless enough to contemplate them” (6-7), showing the strong power and authority a monarch has over its people and how through this intimidating power they are able to keep reign and order. Getting caught up in the ecstasy of the room filled with its lavish goods, relaxation, and a beautiful monarch, the author describes it as a place where, “eternity now reigns, an eternity of delights!” (7). He sees the room as a perfect place to dwell where time stops and people can live in happiness forever.
    Yet through his writing Baudelaire comments that this place of euphoria cannot exist forever because of the poor and middle class. The prose takes a negative shift when the people from the lower class begin to barge into his dream room, “He is a bailiff come to torment me in the name of the law; a loathsome concubine come to bemoan me her poverty” (7). His room then begins to deteriorate and he starts to breathe in the “rancid smell of destitution” (7). Here he is commenting on the people of society and how they are the reason why nothing good lasts. These people are the ones that drove away the happiness and luxury of the monarchy which in his mind ruled in a fair and honorable way.
    He ends his prose saying, “time reigns as sovereign now. And with that hideous old man the whole diabolical procession has returned, Memories, Regrets, Spasms,” (8), showing how time is the true ruler of a place because with time comes the radical changes of government that constantly rotate because people are never happy with what is in place. He ends on a very negative thought saying that in reality, “time reigns; it has recaptured its brutal dictatorship. And it drives me as if I were an ox,” (8), showing that how in life people are not a slave to the government but to time and the radical revolutions that come with it. He feels that because of this nothing good will last, just like his fleeting room filled with luxury, dreams, leisure, and his beautiful queen.

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  16. Robert Patrick MurrayFebruary 2, 2012 at 10:50 PM

    Baudelaire’s Spleen of Paris, and his collection of prose poems, is an intricate and emotionally volatile critique of the cynicism that characterized France’s bourgeois after the turmoil of the 1840’s “brotherly” revolutionary period.

    In the poem “The Eyes of the Poor” Baudelaire recognizes France’s supposedly progressive and modern society by way of highlighting, in a unique way, the direct correlation between aesthetics and political positions. This poem speaks volumes of the seemingly megalomanic, opulent perception of life taken on by the bourgeois in France during a time when, in actuality, the social and economic realities of many people were quite the opposite.

    In the introduction, Baudelaire states, “there is nothing original about this dream, except that, dreamed by everyone, no one has realized it.” While referring to the dynamic that ensues in the poem, he is talking directly about the tumultuous revolutionary history French society has fallen victim to once and again. The attempts at a better France were a roller coaster in which grandeur, sought by the revolutionaries, was never met and therefore always left a marginalized section of the population which came back angered at the disregard displayed by the wealthy.

    In this poem, Baudelaire masterfully synthesizes this characteristic of French classist indifference when the main character becomes enthralled by a family of impoverished onlookers mesmerized by the brand new, opulent café in which he was dining and states, “Not only was I moved by that family of eyes, but I felt a little ashamed of our glasses and our decanters, larger than our thirst.” After experiencing that minimizing, de-constructive, connective moment of shame and guilt he realizes his female counterpart does not feel the same. In this way, Baudelaire is able to take the supposed purpose of this meeting, which he stated at the beginning of the poem as “we had indeed promised each other that all our thoughts would be shared with each other”, and shatters it with the realization that the main character did not find his thoughts in his lover’s eyes as he had expected.

    Baudelaire is emphasizing the fact that social differences between rich and poor are stretched so far apart at this point that it has become inconceivable for the poor to understand the grandeur of a building such as the café and that such riches even exist. Simultaneously, it has become inconceivable for the rich that such poverty is allowed to roam the streets and gaze at a place where only the wealthy and elite are supposed to gather. I think this point is key to understanding Baudelaire’s take on modernity. He is clearly demonstrating the progress of society through modernity by showing the access to wealth, the access to poverty and the intermingling of classes in public. The shock caused by the grandeur of the café on the poor is significant, as well as is the disgust experienced by the wealthy female at the sight of the impoverished family. These lifestyles are not isolated into their own neighborhoods or sections of town as they used to be. They are now facing each other, out in the open, out in reality.

    In this particular poem I believe that Baudelaire’s stance on the different types of modernity is more radical than Balzac given that he speaks unequivocally to the drastic interactions in society. He places the reader in the situation and through the emotions, whereas Balzac’s “Unknown Masterpiece” tells a story that can or cannot happen in the end. I think Baudelaire certainly feels uncomfortable with some of the sour outcomes of modernity (i.e. the poor family) yet I also believe he understands that these outcomes are a necessary evil of a movement that will eventually, hopefully continue to progress and in the end become beneficial for the greater good of society.

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