Uprooting the Lyric: Baudelaire in Wagner's Forests

By Acquisto, Joseph | Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Spring-Summer 2004 | Go to article overview
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Uprooting the Lyric: Baudelaire in Wagner's Forests


Acquisto, Joseph, Nineteenth-Century French Studies


Richard Wagner's arrival on the Parisian opera scene rocked Paris in 1860. (1) Small riots also broke out the next year, when Wagner staged Tannhauser in Paris. To defend Wagner against his Parisian detractors, Charles Baudelaire wrote Richard Wagner et Tannhauser a Paris, his only music criticism, an essay that would also turn out to be a fundamental performance of Baudelaire's own esthetics. I examine here the intertextual relationship between Wagner and Baudelaire, arguing that the latter's reworking of Wagner has important implications for the status of lyric poetry reinscribed within an urban context. My analyses of a network of intertexts will suggest that Bandelaire transformed his consideration of music into a prolonged meditation on memory. It is through his reflections on textual and cultural memory that Baudelaire rewrites the nature of esthetic experience in the early 1860s.

Toward the end of the first section of Richard Wagner et Tannhauser a Paris, between two paragraphs, Bandelaire inserts the quatrains of his famous sonnet "Correspondances":

   Le lecteur sait quel but nous poursuivons: demontrer que la
   veritable musique suggere des idees analogues dans des cerveaux
   differents. D'ailleurs, il ne serait pas ridicule ici de raisonner
   a priori, sans analyse et sans comparaisons; car ce qui serait
   vraiment surprenant, c'est que le son ne put pas suggerer la
   couleur, que les couleurs ne pussent pas donner l'idee d'une
   melodie, et que le son et la couleur fussent impropres a traduire
   des idees; les choses s'etant toujours exprimees par une analogie
   reciproque, depuis le jour ou Dieu a profere le monde comme une
   complexe et indivisible totalite.

      La nature est un temple ou de vivants piliers
      Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
      L'homme y passe a travers des forets de symboles
      Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.
      Comme de longs echos qui de loin se confondent
      Dans une tenebreuse et profonde unite,
      Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarte,
      Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se repondent.

      Je poursuis donc. (2)

This charged moment interrupts the argument Baudelaire had been developing and directly links music with poetry and esthetic perception more generally. Is this interpolation of "Correspondances" a restatement in verse of the preceding daims? (3) Is ita continuation ofthe preceding paragraph, or a new idea, a further development and expansion? This incorporation of the poem high lights the Wagner essay's status as a text, in the etymological sense of a weaving together of pre-existing materials.

Margaret Miner indicates the ways in which Baudelaire's citation of Franz Liszt earlier in the Wagner essay colors the appearance of the citation from "Correspondances":

   Readers might briefly consider that "Dieu" is a true original,
   situated safely beyond the domain of translation, but Baudelaire's
   quotation from "Correspondances" throws doubt on this possibility
   as well. Because it comes so soon after Liszt's program, the poem's
   famous first line [...] resonates differently than it might in
   other contexts. For Liszt, the tempte [...] is a uniquely musical
   structure, founded and built by [Wagner's] prdude's motif in order
   to guarantee listeners' passage between ephemeral artworks and
   eternal transcendence. With Bauddaire's quoration of his quatrains,
   however, the temple itself becomes a motif, passing from
   musical painting to poetry. [...] the temple can assure passage
   only from one art to another rather than to higher
   spirituality. (49)

I would like to extend Miner's intertextual analysis, arguing that the citation of "Correspondances" leads the reader not even from one art to another but rather from one text to another, as this early poem returns to haunt and transform, and be transformed by, the essay.

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