Academic journal article French Forum

'Vox Populi, Vox Dei': Baudelaire's Uncommon Use of Commonplace in the Salon De 1846

Academic journal article French Forum

'Vox Populi, Vox Dei': Baudelaire's Uncommon Use of Commonplace in the Salon De 1846

Article excerpt

  De la vaporisation et de la centralisation du Moi. Tout est la.

  Baudelaire, Mon coeur mis a nu

  Le poete jouit de cet incomparable privilege, qu'il peut etre a sa
  guise lui-meme et autrui....

  Baudelaire, Spleen de Paris

Who is speaking in Baudelaire's Salon de 1846? Such a seemingly straightforward question is worth asking because the incongruity of many statements and attitudes in the Salon makes it difficult to attribute the voice to a singular literary persona. Shifts in tone and temperament, the dislocation of the source of a series of remarks, these come as no surprise given Baudelaire's propensity for self-dissimulation, his ever-changing masks. (1) The Salon de 1846, however, raises questions about literary voice and literary identity in an insistent fashion because it undermines the cohesiveness of such categories. Pursuing an answer to the question "who is speaking?" reveals not one, but a changing cast of speakers. Such polyphony in turn challenges the expectation that the literary persona responsible for the text is an individual who distinguishes himself from the host of other critics producing the abundant art criticism of the 1840's. What kind of critical voice creates coherence through incoherence, originality through repetition, singularity through plurality? How does the author-critic become himself by opening up his text to the many voices of others, to the anonymous speech of a collectivity?

I contend that in the Salon de 1846 Baudelaire strategically echoes critical commonplace, offering a synthesis of varied critical perspectives and opening up a space of enunciation for the critical community as a whole as the means of exploring a paradoxical model of criticism as both individual and collective, original and banal. To establish that Baudelaire's practice of art criticism in 1846 involves a recycling of ideas and attitudes found elsewhere, a reenactment of art criticism's polyphony, requires comparing Baudelaire's Salon de 1846 with other Salons of that year and investigating the "sources" of the aesthetic theories he develops. There are, of course, entire books devoted to these topics, and it would be impossible here to go into as great a detail as David Kelley has in situating Baudelaire with respect to his contemporaries, or as Gita May, Jean Pommier, and Margaret Gilman have in connecting Baudelaire's artistic theories to those of Diderot, Stendhal, Delacroix, and Poe among others. These classic studies, however, raise an unresolved issue: the question of Baudelaire's "originality." Kelley's study reveals numerous parallels between Baudelaire and contemporary critics of every bias, but given that his primary goal is to define the unity of Baudelaire's thought, the conclusions he draws from such parallels are modest, with Baudelaire's individuality always remaining intact. (2) On the other hand, May, Pommier, and Gilman insinuate that Baudelaire borrows from others in a manner that verges on plagiarism. (3) This latent polemic pitting Baudelaire's originality against an almost criminal lack thereof is related to the debates concerning the seemingly contradictory attitudes Baudelaire adopts, for whether it is due to his dubious relationship to other writers or to his own varied manner, the Baudelaire of the Salon de 1846 is difficult to pin down. Areas where aesthetics and politics overlap have proven particularly problematic, and scholars who infer Baudelaire's political stance from politically charged statements reach a surprising variety of conclusions, ranging from Baudelaire's populist sympathies to his reactionary stance. (4) The fact that Baudelaire echoes anti-republican, socialist, and Fourierist sentiments alike has been variously explained as a subversive's necessary response to censorship, a petty-bourgeois' gesture toward leftist politics, the nuances of a sophisticated utopianism, and a "tactic" of resistance to the politics of consensus. (5)

In spite of the difference in critical agenda between evaluating Baudelaire's political maneuvers and determining possible intertexts, one thing these analyses have in common is their focus on reconstructing the opinions of Baudelaire himself, without considering the relationship between the structure of the literary persona Baudelaire designs and the text in which he appears. …

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.