An Atmospherics of the City: Baudelaire and the Poetics of Noise

An Atmospherics of the City: Baudelaire and the Poetics of Noise

An Atmospherics of the City: Baudelaire and the Poetics of Noise

An Atmospherics of the City: Baudelaire and the Poetics of Noise


What happens to poetic beauty when history turns the poet from one who contemplates natural beauty and the sublime to one who attempts to reconcile the practice of art with the hustle and noise of the city?

An Atmospherics of the City traces Charles Baudelaire's evolution from a writer who practices a form of fetishizing aesthetics in which poetry works to beautify the ordinary to one who perceives background noise and disorder-the city's version of a transcendent atmosphere-as evidence of the malign work of a transcendent god of time, history, and ultimate destruction.

Analyzing this shift, particularly as evidenced in Tableaux parisiens and Le Spleen de Paris, Ross Chambers shows how Baudelaire's disenchantment with the politics of his day and the coincident rise of overpopulation, poverty, and Haussmann's modernization of Paris influenced the poet's work to conceive a poetry of allegory, one with the power to alert and disalienate its otherwise inattentive reader whose senses have long been dulled by the din of his environment.

Providing a completely new and original understanding of both Baudelaire's ethics and his aesthetics, Chambers reveals how the shift from themes of the supernatural in Baudelaire to ones of alienation allowed a new way for him to articulate and for his fellow Parisians to comprehend the rapidly changing conditions of the city and, in the process, to invent a "modern beauty" from the realm of suffering and the abject as they embodied forms of urban experience.


The initial impetus for this essay lay in an invitation from the Department of French at the University of California, Berkeley, to give a series of seminars, of which the outlines can be read in my chapters. For their very great kindness and warm welcome, my sincere thanks go to the faculty, the staff, and the students of the Berkeley department. For their exceptional kindness and hospitality, as well as for the encouragement and intellectual stimulus their own work has provided me over many years, I owe a special debt to Michael Lucey, Debarati Sanyal, and Ann Smock.

The question underlying the Berkeley seminars was that of the uncanny “supernaturalism” that Baudelaire always seems to have understood as a crucial component of modern poetic beauty. What became of the Romantic sublime when, instead of inhabiting the countryside as Wordsworth did, poets came to live in the crowded, grimy, and usually insalubrious streets of the new cities that arose following, and as a consequence of, the Industrial Revolution?

In France, the major writers of Baudelaire’s generation—Nerval, Gautier, Flaubert—seem to have subscribed to a practice of fetishizing beauty—one not structurally different from the commodity fetishism that Marx was later to describe. Baudelaire too was a skilled practitioner of this mode of poetic artifice, and . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.