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All that glitters: connecting baudelaire's art criticism and poetry.

In the many decades since Charles Baudelaire's death, critics have been seeking to understand the relationship between Baudelaire's extensive art critical writings and his poetic project. One of the recurrent themes in studies of Baudelaire's art criticism is the at times problematic relationship between his aesthetic theories and the art he was actually judging. The art critical writings contain many contradictions and paradoxes especially when read against the context of the Salons of the 1840s and 1850s. Baudelaire's emphasis on images that are completely new, on the primacy of imagination over any kind of "imitation," and his critique of overt references in painting to past art or even to literary texts does not easily correspond to the artists he most admired. (1) I have examined elsewhere how Baudelaire's art critical texts maneuver to hide and cloak these paradoxes. I argue that his art criticism restores the images that appeal to him and makes the art of the period new by hiding or displacing what was old. (2) In other words, Baudelaire does not simply privilege the new in his art critical writings; he creates a kind of absolute originality through his writings that is not actually present in the art of the period in the way that he theorizes. This argument has led me to wonder if the cloaking and manipulation of the image have some kind of corollary in the poetry. If Baudelaire's aesthetic theories are not logical or consistent, (3) if the art criticism does not contain some kind of ideal theory of the relationship between the literary and plastic arts that is then put into practice in Les Fleurs du Mal, then what is the relationship between the art critical writings and the poems? What I will propose is that one exemplary relationship is a vocabulary interface involving vision and light between Baudelaire's poetry and art criticism that not only connects the aesthetic writings to the poems but also relates to how Baudelaire negotiates, transforms and deflects the art of his time.

In Baudelaire's Salon writings, as the critic pronounces judgment on what he sees from exhibition to exhibition, there emerges a vocabulary of praise and critique that comes to signal to the reader either satisfaction or scorn. What appears before the eye is transformed into a kind of prose in which the critic not only tells the reader which paintings he likes or dislikes, but also lets a recurring set of terms signify valorized aspects of particular works. Common to the genre of art criticism, these kinds of terms allow for the identification of traits that for the critic are indicative of well-executed art. For Baudelaire, one of the major sets of vocabulary for describing a successful image involves different kinds of light. In the Salon de 1846, Baudelaire claims that the Ingres school has not been effective in landscape painting because "la ligne et le style ne remplacent pas la lumiere, 1'ombre, les reflets et ratmosphere colorante." (4) This goes beyond Baudelaire's usual privileging of color over line (in fact, color is last on his list) and favors the interplay of light, dark, and reflection. The words that return again and again across Baudelaire's Salon writings to praise and commend invoke a pure, clear light: lumineux, transparent, limpide, clair, illuminer, briller. (5) The poem "La Beaute" is frequently associated with the frustration of the poet faced with the enigmatic figure of Beauty. (6) Although the poem implies frustration and anguish in front of Beauty's mysterious nature, it also contains a valorization of that enigmatic allure that connects to Baudelaire's discussions of sculpture in the art criticism; more specifically, "La Beaute" relates to how Baudelaire transforms sculpture into another medium, painting, through his writing. How Baudelaire manipulates sculpture is what connects the art criticism to the poetry through the willful construction of two mirrors that can only reflect one another, along with the aid of light and eyes that cannot see. The first quatrain, through the first letters of each line, couples "je" with "et" ("Je ... Et ... Est ... Eternal") and the second quatrain follows, continuing the partnership of "je" and "et," this time giving the lead to "je" and leaving the last line for "et" ("Je ... J'unis ... Je hais ... Et"). In other words, the first quatrain deconstructs itself only to reconstruct itself in reverse. If the two quatrains were folded in on one another, all first letters would match up, creating a tightly closed unit. (7) This mirror-made inacces- sibility reverberates in the stanzas themselves: a statue that shows no emotion, eternal and silent, resolute and immovable. The two tercets repeat this mirror that closes in on itself. In the first tercet, the poet sits in front of the statue, absorbed in study: "Les poetes, devant mes grandes attitudes ... Consumeront leurs jours en d'austeres etudes." The sonnet ends with the declaration of Beauty's means of fascination: "Car j'ai, pour fasciner ces dociles amants / De purs miroirs qui font toutes choses plus belles / Mes yeux, mes larges yeux aux clartes eternelles!" The statue's eyes are pure mirrors, but eyes that also emit an eternal light--beauty seems to be a clear, transparent light that makes things beautiful. The poet conceivably looks into the eyes of the statue/Beauty and sees a reflection; what has been made beautiful by the statue's gaze. But these reflections are also mirrors that reflect back to the first tercet and back to the poet, studying the statue.

The poet in "La Beaute" is situated in front of the sculpture: "Les poetes, devant mes grandes attitudes ... Consumeront leurs jours en d'austeres etudes" (my italics). The austeres etudes suggest the seeking of knowledge and an attempt to learn or discover Beauty's secrets, but it also connotes the notion of an art student doing a study, as in trying to produce a sketch of a model or piece of art. This notion of a sketch or drawing only further reinforces the image of the poet sitting before the statue. It is the fixed eyes (eyes emanating clear light) that fascinate and mesmerize the poet, a poet who is necessarily in front of the sculpture. In the Salon de 1846, Baudelaire defines his dislike of sculpture as the ability to move around a statue and thus discover a vantage point or perspective the artist did not intend. In the Salon de 1859, Baudelaire is more supportive of sculpture, but only under the right conditions. He argues that painting, unlike sculpture, is despotic and abstract because the viewer is forced to consider the image from a single point of view: in front of the painting. (8) Baudelaire reinforces this view through a discussion of primitive man, a portrait in profile, and monkeys confronted by painting. A sculpture that one can move around and see from different angles does not trouble the "primitive man:"
  devant un objet tire de la nature et represente par la sculpture,
  c'est-a-dire rond, fuyant, autour duquel on peut tourner librement,
  et, comme 1'objet naturel lui-meme, environne d'atmosphere, le
  paysan, le sauvage, l'homme primitif, n'eprouvent aucune indecision;
  tandis qu'une peinture ... par sa nature paradoxale et abstractive,
  les inquiete et les trouble. (9)

The sculpture accessible from all angles is closer to "nature" and to what it represents and this renders it incapable of stunning or troubling the viewer as much as painting would have been capable of doing. He goes on to mention two examples of how painting can disturb the viewer: one in which an artist was criticized for having painted a portrait in profile, thus "robbing" the person represented of half of his face (and robbing the viewer of the "full" image that would have been more explicative), and another example in which monkeys, "surpris par une magique peinture de nature," move behind the picture to try and find some solution in the inversion of the image. For the monkeys, the front of the image is enigmatic, while for the portrait artist, seeing only a profile gives the impression of something lacking and stolen from the viewer. The monkeys attempt to go around the art object, associating freedom of perspective of the viewer with a de-obfuscation of the mysterious picture. For the portrait painter, only giving one view (and this only representing half of the view of the full face) leads to anger. Once again, the ability to turn around the image, the ability to see the whole face, would have appeased most critics, but disappointed Baudelaire.

Baudelaire indicates how in a sculpture gallery, the eye of the viewer can become tired and lose its critical authority: "l'oeil de 1'amateur lui-meme, quelquefois fatigue par la monotone blancheur de toutes ces grandes poupees, exactes dans toutes leur proportions de longeur et d'epaisseur, abdiqne son autorite. Le mediocre ne lui semble pas tou-jours meprisables, et, a moins qu'une statue ne soit outrageusement detestable, il petit la prendre pour bonne; mais une sublime pour mau-vaise, jamais!" (10) The way that viewers regain their critical ability and designate correctly a sublime piece of sculpture is by facing the statue in such a way that its eyes and gaze are visible. Once again, appreciating sculpture depends on one vantage point, in front of the statue:
  ... quelle force prodigieuse l'Egypie. la Grece, Michel-Ange, Coustou
  et quel-ques autres ont mise dans ces fantomes immobiles! Quel regard
  dans ces yeux sans prunelle! De meme que la poesie lyrique ennoblit
  tout, meme la passion. la sculpture, la vraie, solennise tout, meme
  le mouvement; elle donne a tout ce qui est hu-main quelque chose
  d'eternel et qui participe de la durele de la matiere employe. (11)

The fascination and awe in great sculpture is in being in front of the statue such that the viewer can see its gaze ("quel regard dans ces yeux sans prunelle"). The way to the "quelque chose d'eternel," to the sculpture's beauty, is in that one vantage point, despotic like painting, and thus necessarily enigmatic like painting. It is found in keeping the monkeys from looking at the back of the picture and allowing a portrait in profile. At the same time, the sculpture's eyes are eyes with no pupil, eyes that cannot see. The eye as a slightly hollowed out space in marble is no longer a vehicle of sight but, clear, a space for creation. The eye opens up onto infinity as a passageway to things never seen. The eyes in "La Beaute" are also eyes that do not see, not just because they are allegorized as a statue, but because they emit light and thus function as mirrors. The sculpture's eyes are there to affect the way others see. When read in connection with the art criticism, "La Beaute" is constructed so as not to see what is actually in front of you. Beauty emerges as a fixed image (fixed in space), which leads to an enigma, but an enigma that is willfully created through Baudelaire's art criticism and poetry.

The espace limpide and pure lumiere make up only part of Baudelaire's light interface between art criticism and poetry. An even more common light source is one that is not only transparent, but dazzles. A lexicon of bright, glimmering color and light scatters across Baudelaire's art critical text and resurges in the poems. The vocabulary of a transparent, clear light joins with one that stuns and fascinates the eye: eclater, eblouir, resplendir, scintiller, miroiter, flamboyer, rayonner, and their respective adjectives and adverbs are used to differentiate between good and bad art in the Salon writings. In the Salon de 1846, Baudelaire writes that "M.P. Rousseau, dont chacun a souvent remarque les tableaux pleins de couleur et d'eclat, est dans un progres serieux." (12) In the same Salon, "M. Jules Noel a fait une fort belle marine, d'une belle et claire couleur, rayonnante et gaie." (13) And in the Salon de 1859, Baudelaire criticizes Corot for lacking the ability to dazzle quickly: "II etonne lentement, je le veux bien, il enchante peu a peu; mais il faut savoir penetrer dans sa science, car, chez lui, il n'y a pas de papillotage, mais partout une infaillible rigueur d'harmonie." (14) What troubles Baudelaire about Corot is what he identifies as "un profond sentiment de la construction;" in other words, the visible evidence of each detail, the structure of drawing and arrangement underneath the paint. The solution to this "problem" would have been to stun the eye, "eblouir," "etonner." Corot stuns slowly; one needs to know how to stare at the image long enough so that it begins to blur. There is no "papillotage" to help the viewer; no sparkling or twinkling that would cause the eye to flutter. This glimmering light so valorized in Baudelaire's art criticism, and in certain poems, does not make clear or brighten as much as it confuses and renders an image mysterious. In the Salon de 1846, Baudelaire describes a portrait by Haffner as "noye dans le gris et resplendissant de mystere." (15) Delacroix appears in the Salon de 1859 as the artist "qui a illumine l'histoire des rayons de sa palette et verse sa fantaisie a flots dans nos yeux eblouis." (16) In this instance, the rays of light emanating from the painting transfer the imagination of the artist into the eyes of the spectator, eyes which in turn become sparkling and glimmer themselves.

The light that dazzles in Baudelaire's art criticism and his poetry does more than fascinate. It necessarily renders the critic and the poet blind. Just before the passage where Delacroix pours his imagination into the viewer's shimmering eyes, Baudelaire writes that Delacroix has "fought" with Byron, Walter Scott, Goethe, Shakespeare, Aristotle, Tasso, and Dante. (17) It is light, rays of glimmering light, which deflect the overtness of Delacroix's literary paintings away from the eye of the viewer and back into the imagination of Delacroix. The vocabulary I have already identified as crucial to Baudelaire's project of art criticism (eblouir, resplendir, rayonner, miroiter, etc.) carries two related meanings, and two ways to affect the eye. The definition of eblouir, for example, is to fascinate, to seduce, but also to deceive. It means to trouble the view or the vision of a person with an intolerable light--to make a person temporarily blind. The Larousse Grand Dictionnaire universel du XIXe siecle defines eblouir as "emerveiller, frapper d'admiration, seduire, aveugler, priver de raison." In the Salon de 1859, Baudelaire expresses his frustration at what he sees as the lack of imagination in landscape painting:
  ... oui, l'imagination fuit le paysage. Je comprends qu'un esprit
  applique a prendre des notes ne puisse pas s'abandonner aux
  prodigieuses reveries contenues dans les spectacles de la nature
  presente; mais pourquoi I'imagination fuit-elle 1'atelier du
  paysagiste? (18)

The landscape painter, according to Baudelaire, is obligated to imitate nature as closely as possible, but then must know when to abandon that imitation and let imagination take over. He praises the artist Boudin for knowing "la difference qui separe une etude d'un tableau." (19) Baudelaire then describes the exactitude of Boudin's preparatory sketches: "vous pourriez verifier par memoire I'exactitude des observations de M. Boudin. La legende cachee avec la main, vous devineriez la saison, l'heure et le vent. Je n'exagere rien. J'ai vu." (20) Just after having seen (j'ai vu) the meticulous accuracy of the season and time of day through Boudin's picture, Baudelaire depicts through his prose the imaginative painting such imitative sketches should become:
  ... a la fin tous ces nuages aux formes fantastiques et lumineuses,
  ces tenebres chaotiques, ces immensites vertes et roses, suspendues
  et ajoutees les unes aux autres, ces fournaises beantes, ces
  firmaments de satin noir ou violet ... ces horizons en deuil ou
  ruisselants de metal fondu, toutes ces profondeurs, toutes ces
  splendeurs, me monterent an cerveau comme une boisson capiteuse ou
  comme 1'eloquence de 1'opium. (21)

In part with the help of glittering light, Baudelaire muddles the precision of Boudin's drawings through chaos, immensity, and confusion. All of the exact drawings thrown together in a mass of bewilderment make the imitation into imagination. (22)

It is this kind of vision, a valorization of confusion through the assistance of dazzling light, that marks a connection between Baudelaire's poetry and his art critical project. "Reve parisien," a poem dedicated to Constantin Guys, is usually seen as having no association with any particular image. (23) This is generally because Baudelaire asserted as much himself. In a letter to Auguste Poulet-Malassis in March 1860, Baudelaire states that the only relation of the poem to Guys is that Guys, like himself, rarely gets out of bed before noon: "quant a la deuxieme piece, celle dediee a Guys, elle n'a pas avec lui d'autre rapport positif et materiel que celui-ci: c'est que comme le poete de la piece, il se leve generalement a midi." (24) The connection of the poem to Guys is certainly not tactile or material, especially given Baudelaire's disdain for positivism, but it does relate to Guys through a correlation with Baudelaire's vocabulary of vision and light in the art criticism and in Le Peintre de la vie moderne in particular. As one moves through Le Peintre de la vie moderne, the eye becomes more and more dazzled--not the critic's eye, but the eyes of Constantin Guys. In the Salon writings, it was the critic's eye that was dazzled; the color, canvas, or composition glimmered and shone. By contrast, in Le Peintre de la vie moderne, Baudelaire makes the world that Guys is looking at glimmer. The way that Baudelaire, the art critic, looked at art in the Salons is the way Baudelaire represents the way Constantin Guys looks at the world. Baudelaire's text dismantles Guys's pictures to imagine the scene before Guys painted it. In this way, Baudelaire not only restructures Guys's art into his text, he also re-enacts Guys's original act of looking. In the section, "L'artiste, homme du monde, homme des foules et enfant," Baudelaire recounts Guys's awakening to find that the sun has already been shining for several hours. He exclaims, "Quel ordre imperieux! quelle fanfare de lumiere! Depuis plusieurs heures deja, de la lumiere partout! de la lumiere perdue par mon sommeil! Que de choses eclairees j'aurais pu voir et que je n'ai pas vues!" (25) Later, when evening arrives and the sun sets, Guys stays outside: "M.G. restera le dernier partout ou peut resplendir la lumiere." (26) Before advancing to discussions of specific works, Baudelaire closes his general discussion of Guys with the following: "Pour tout dire en un mot, notre singulier artiste exprime a la fois le geste et l'attitude solonnelle ou grotesque des etres et leur explosion lumineuse dans l'espace."(27) The way in which figures exist in space, a positioning that Guys supposedly renders, is not only luminous, but an explosion, with all the crackling and blinding light the word connotes.

Not only does the world shimmer and glisten before Guys paints it, but the interiors of his images dazzle, as if the representation were glittering inside of itself. In the section "Les femmes et les filles," Baudelaire commends Guys's representation of women "tres-parees et embellies par toutes les pompes artificielles." These women reflect light off one another:
  Tantot, frappees par la clarte diffuse d'une salle de spectacle,
  recevant et renvoyant la lumiere avec leurs yeux, avec leur bijoux,
  avec leurs epaules, apparaissent, resplendissantes comme des
  portraits dans la loge qui leur sert de cadre, des jeunes filles du
  meilleur monde. (28)

Inside of Guys's picture is another, framed by the loge--Guys is made into the viewer who is already looking at a framed representation and not "reality." Baudelaire structures Guys's image as a mise en abyme in which deflecting and reflecting light cause the viewer and Guys to continuously exchange position. (29) The double frame signifies these two positions. The women depicted reflect rays of light off one another inside of the image and represent Baudelaire's gesture to take apart Guys's picture. Baudelaire replaces Guys as the viewer of the original scene. At the same time, the reference to the cadre ("dans la loge qui leur sert de cadre"), the frame inside the frame, reminds the reader that these women are inside Guys's image; they are not women at all, but already a representation of modern night life. This situates Baudelaire back into the position of the viewer/critic. The shimmering rays are on the side of artifice and, like with the Boudin drawings, help to distort and complicate what is actually seen. (30)

"Reve parisien" recounts a dream in which a painter/poet's vision replaces urban reality. From the first stanza, landscape has been separated from its representative image: "De ce terrible paysage / Tel que jamais mortel n'en vit / Ce matin encore l'image / Vague et lointaine, me ravit." Not only is "de ce terrible paysage" far from "1'image" (it is "l'image de ce terrible paysage" that the poet remembers), but "vague et lointaine" reinforce the vagueness of the dream. The poet will "paint" his painting from memory: a memory of a dream of an image of a landscape. The separation of "image" from "de ce terrible paysage" also puts "paysage" closer to the second line and to what no mortal person has seen: "tel que jamais mortel n'en vit." Already in this first stanza, the privileging of the new echoes from the art criticism. "Vit" in the passe simple emphasizes even more the fact that this landscape is not known and has not been seen; it also relegates the dream to the world of fiction. The succeeding stanzas continue the personal nature of the impression. The "vegetal" of the typical landscape is banished in favor of metal, marble, and water. It is "je" that builds this picture, and no other: "Peintre fier de mon genie / Je savourais dans mon tableau ... Architecte de mes feeries / Je faisais a ma volonte ..." The image eventually described will be full of light, but there is no light source for the picture: "Nul astre d'ailleurs, nuls vestiges / De soleil, meme au bas du ciel / Pour illuminer ces prodiges / Qui brillaient d'un feu personnel." Even the rays to light the image come from a personal fire instead of from the sun.

In the dreamed landscape of "Reve parisien," everything glows. Pools cascade over shining gold, waterfalls resemble curtains of crystal, there are immense dazzling mirrors, and everything is polished, limpid, and iridescent. The poem forms a list of mirror after mirror, reflection after reflection, dazzling ray after dazzling ray. Everything is clear, neatly arranged into stanzas by the poet/painter, yet what is described could not possibly be seen and deciphered through the maze of blinding light and cross reflection. There is a sense in which what is seen in the dream is a confusion that could not really be seen. Moreover, the first description of this landscape in the fourth stanza invokes a founding moment of confusion. The first image the poet/ painter savors he names Babel: 'Babel d'escaliers et d'arcades." Babel, the proper name, acts as a synonym for linguistic confusion, but there are no words or language even possible in this landscape. The Ganges are "insouciants et taciturnes" and " ... sur ces mouvantes merveilles / Planait (terrible nouveaute! / Tout pour l'oeil, rien pour les oreilles!) / Un silence d'eternite." This is Babel, but a visual Babel; optic confusion. The poet/painter builds another tower out of his dream, the poem's fifteen stanzas of octosyllabes resembling the tower it constructs of itself on the page. The poem, like the original tower, aspires toward infinity ("C'etait un palais infini ... Des nappes d'eau s'epanchaient, bleues / Entre des quais roses et verts / Pendant des millions de lieues / Vers les confins de l'univers"). In the "original" Babel, destruction of the tower served as punishment for seeking this infinity. The demolition led to the need for translation and the end of exact equivalencies. Derrida points out that the punishment was also for attempting to make one's own name and thus construct a self-made and self-referencing unique genealogy. (31) In a sense, the punishment was imposed for making originals, one of Baudelaire's projects in the art criticism. Baudelaire also seeks to build his own genealogy of art and artists. He favors either artists with no representational lineage--completely new--or a genealogy of his own creation, one that will make Delacroix the "heritier de la grande tradition" at the same time that he remains completely original. However, while the destruction of the "original" tower of Babel led to confusion as punishment, the tower in "Reve parisien" seeks to achieve visual confusion. The obliteration of the tower, when the poet opens his eyes and sees his "real" surroundings, does not result in confusion and lack of understanding. Instead, Baudelaire's punishment is that all becomes clear. (32) He is relegated back to the moment in his discussion of the imitative sketches of Boudin, when he sees precise representations of nature: "j'ai vu." (33)

Luminosity and its correlate in the gaze split along two related trajectories. The first advocates for a pure, transparent light with a fixed eye that heightens or even creates beauty. At the end of the poem "J'aime le souvenir de ces epoques nues," lost youth is retrieved through a transparent eye that helps youth to spill over everything like running water:
  --A la sainte jeunesse, a l'air simple, au doux front,
  A l'oeil limpide et clair ainsi qu'une eau courante,
  Et qui va repandant sur tout, insouciante
  Comme l'azur du ciel, les oiseaux et les fleurs,
  Ses parfums, ses chansons et ses douces chaleurs!

The second axis consists of a shimmering light that dazzles the viewer. These two types of vision do not represent a binary or dichotomy as much as they work as partners within the same system; they can both lead to a displaced gaze that helps manipulate, transform or create an image. In so doing, they aid in making Baudelaire's theory match his practice. (34) The poem "Ciel brouille," like "Reve parisien," demonstrates methods by which distance is established between a landscape and the poet's eye. The techniques of constructing this representation--displaced vision, memory, and metaphor--precede any details of the landscape itself. In the poem, the landscape described comes first not from the poet's eye but from the woman's gaze:
  On dirait ton regard d'une vapeur convert;
  Ton oeil mysterieux (est-il bleu, gris ou vert?)
  Alternativement tendre, reveur, cruel,
  Reflechit l'indolence et la paleur du ciel.

In the first stanza, the poet does not see the landscape of a muddled sky, but the reflection of a pale horizon in his lover's eye. This "representation," which is no longer a landscape but a reflection of one, makes the "real" object looked upon, the eye, disappear into mystery. At the same time that the image of the landscape distances from the landscape itself by becoming a reflection, this reflection also creates a haze that obscures the eye that is supposedly looking at it. This eye is so clouded that its color is no longer discernable: "est-il bleu, gris ou vert?" The vehicles of sight gloss over: the poet looks at the hazy reflection of a landscape which bemists not only the landscape, but also the very object of his direct gaze--the woman's eye.

In the second stanza, it is memory that constructs the landscape as the woman reminds the poet of hazy days. The first line contains the only physical description of this stanza, as the description of the emotions the memory of the landscape provokes takes the place of scenic details: "Tu rappelles ces jours blancs, tiedes et voiles / Qui font se fondre en pleurs les coeurs ensorceles / Quand agites d'un mal inconnu qui les lord / Les nerfs trop eveilles raillent l'esprit qui dort." The third stanza arrives at metaphor and substitution and the woman not only recalls the landscape to memory, she resembles the scene itself: "Tu ressembles parfois a ces beaux horizons / Qu'allument les soleils des brumeuses saisons." The next two lines contain the only direct, unmediated descriptions of the scene: "Comme tu resplendis, paysage mouille' / Qu'enflamment les rayons tombant d'un ciel brouille!" The more direct description, not as self-referential of its status as representation as the descriptions that preceded it, reverberates with the vision--deflector from the art criticism: the shining, glimmering light that fascinates because it renders the viewer partially blind. (35) The poet starts with displaced and more indirect forms of representation (reflection, memory, and metaphor), and when he arrives at direct description, the gazed-upon landscape's glitter evades any fixed or unfettered view of the scene. This bedazzlement not only aids an emphasis on rendering the natural world supernatural, it also reflects a reality in Salon painting in the nineteenth century. Art critic Emile de Lavaleye reported in the Revue des deux mondes in 1866 "le defaut de l'huile pour la composition monumentale est le miroitement qui empeche le spectateur de saisir l'ensemble de l'oeuvre." (36) Baudelaire implies in the Salon de 1846 that in fact the effects of miroitement can help in eliminating for the viewer the disagreeable aspects of a painting: "la couleur de M. Faustin Besson perd beaucoup a n'etre plus troublee et miroitee par les vitres de la boutique Deforge." (37)

Victor Hugo also remarked on the capabilities of a miroitement. (38) In an alleged conversation with Arthur Stevens, Hugo recounts a meeting with Delacroix during which Delacroix shows Hugo his painting l'Assassinat de l'eveque de Liege. Hugo admits that he admired the painting, but that he pointed out one of the figures that puzzled him and asked "qu'est-ce qu'il tient done a la main? ... on ne s'en rend pas tres bien compte." Delacroix responded, "j'ai voulu peindre I'eclair d'une epee." (39) This effect of an object without its referent initially shocks Hugo: "or, peindre 1'eclair d'une epee sans l'epee, ce n'etait plus de son art, mais du notre!" (40) He then recalls a painting in the Saint-Etienne du Mont church in Paris, which he believes to be by Albrecht Durer, called Decollation de saint Jean-Baptiste. (41) In this supposed Durer, Delacroix's goal of the representation of the gleam of a sword is achieved:
  ... on a I'impression du flamboiement du coup qui tombe et de je ne
  sais quoi du fulgurant qui tourbillonne, qui va s'abattre et qui va
  faire voler une tete. L'eclair est formidablement trouve. On regarde.
  L'epee est minitieusement rendue. C'est une large et forte lame
  carree par le bout, avec une garde du XVIe siecle, aussi artistement
  ouvragee que solide en main. (42)

The viewer first sees the flash of light as an impression filled with mystery ("je ne sais quoi de fulgurant") but that nonetheless gives clues to the movement of a sword through space, capable of stealing one's head. The gleam of metal is what is at first found by the viewer's eye, and then, after this initial discovery, is when the "real" sword appears: "on regarde. L'epee est minitieusement rendue." Despite the miniaturization of the representation, and because of the light that came before it and at first blocked its view, the details of the sword become visible, right down its sixteenth-century hilt. Hugo goes on to recommend this sort of glittering light, not just in the plastic arts, but in literature as well:
  si, maintenant, peintre, sculpteur ou ecrivain, vous ajoutez, dans
  votre oeuvre, a la perfection d'expression et de beaute une idee de
  progres; si votre chef-d'oeuvre est un chef-d'oeuvre utile; s'il
  n'apas seulement pour effet d'eblouir, mais d'eclairer; s'il n'est
  pas seulement le beau, mais le vrai, ce qui est atteint alors, c'est
  l'ideal de l' art.(43)

In addition to demonstrating the utility of art, this citation also reveals a dazzling light that leads to a clear one; that the eye must submit to partial blindness in order to reveal some kind of truth.

Baudelaire, though he may have disagreed with Hugo's remarks on progress and the utility of art, still creates texts that recognize that, to make his theory of art work, a period of blindness is required. At the same time, there is the implication that all human sight entails, to some extent, a measure of sightlessness. The light that glimmers returns one hundred years after Hugo and Baudelaire in the writings of Jacques Lacan when he recounts an incident from his youth. While boating off the coast of Brittany, Lacan's eye is caught by a box of sardines: "elle flottait la dans le soleil ... elle miroitait dans le soled." (44) The young boy with Lacan, Petit-Jean, remarks, "tu vois cette boite? Tu la vois? Eh bien, elle, elle ne te voit pas!" (45) Petit-Jean is amused by his own comment, while it leaves Lacan uneasy. The split between the eye and the gaze (I'oeil et le regard) embodies for Lacan yet another example of lack in the constitution of the subject. The ability that light has to both blind and reveal acts as a metaphor for this lack and at the same time for the nonetheless ceaseless re-establishment of the subject that it makes possible:
  dans ce qui se presente a moi comme espace de lumiere, ce qui est
  regard est toujours quelque jeu de lumiere et l' opacite. C' est
  toujours ce miroitement qui etait la tout a l'heure au coeur de ma
  petite histoire, c'est toujours ce qui me retient, en chaque point,
  d'etre ecran. de faire apparaitre la lumiere comme chatoiement, qui
  le deborde. (46)

The gaze remains inaccessible, but the miroitement makes the subject keep trying and insures our efforts at a reconciliation between the eye and the gaze. For, as unattainable as the gaze is, a picture nevertheless emerges: "ce qui est lumiere me regarde, et grace a cette lumiere au fond de mon oeil, quelque chose se peint." (47) Something is painted, a representation of the self is possible, but only as part of a representation, both inside the eye and projected onto the canvas:
  ... je ne suis pas simplement cet etre punctiforme qui se repere au
  point geometral d'ou est saisie la perspective. Sans doute, au fond
  de mon oeil, se peint le tableau. Le tableau, certes, est dans mon
  oeil. Mais moi, je suis dans le tableau. (89)

The same light that fascinates and insures attempts at representation also creates opacity and closes off any direct access to the gaze. Shimmering light does for the subject in Lacan what it does for the Salon art that does not correspond so agreeably with Baudelaire's aesthetic theories--it displaces both and deflects any hopes for imitation or the "real." This resembles the very definition of "miroiter" and "miroitement." They both should have been mirrors, "miroirer," but, through an irregular derivation, the "r" disappeared and they became only like a mirror. (48) Cloaking and blinding light are certainly not part of an absolute aesthetic claim on the part of Baudelaire, but they do represent something to be gleaned from how Baudelaire's more overt statements in the art criticism resist the art of his time. In the end, Baudelaire's lexicon of light helps to explain how the relationship between Baudelaire's poetry and art criticism tells us less about the mid nineteenth century, and more about why and how Baudelaire came to be associated far less with the Salons he viewed and much more with the art he did not live to see. (49)

University of Richmond


(1.) A discussion of all of these paradoxes and contradictions would take me too far afield. A few examples: Baudelaire frequently insists that relationships between literary texts and paintings should occur spontaneously without the preconceived will of the artist, and yet his favorite artist. Delacroix, makes overt reference to the literary inspiration of many of his images. Baudelaire also urges that art should be completely new, with no representational lineage, yet the art of his time was steeped in allusion to "past masters." I have discussed these contradictions and others in a previous article, along with references to other critics' readings of the paradoxes of Baudelaire's art criticism. "Managing Imitation: Translation and Baudelaire's Art Criticism." Nineteenth-Century French Studies Volume 33 (numbers 3&4), Spring/Summer 2005.

(2.) See "Managing Imitation."

(3.) David Carrier has asked, "Is it appropriate to seek a sophisticated argument in Baudelaire?" "Baudelaire's Philosophical Theory of Beauty." Nineteenth-Century French Studies 23:3-4 (Spring/Summer 1995), 384-96.

(4.) Charles Baudelaire, Oeuvres completes, Paris, Editons du Seuil, 1968, 255.

(5.) There are far too many instances to mention, but here are a few examples: "Daumier est doue d'un bon sens lumineux" (Ibid., 393). "M. Heroult est de ceux que preoccupent surtout la lumiere et 1'atmosphere. Il sait fort bien exprimer les ciels clairs et souriants et les brumes flottantes, traverses par un rayon de soleil" (Ibid., 255). These terms are sometimes used to critique, implying that the light effect is pivotal in determining a painting's quality: "C'est le malheureux defaut de la peinture anglaise, transparente a 1'exces, et toujours douee d'une trop grande fluidite" (Ibid., 249); or La plupart des chapelles executees dans ces derniers temps, et distribuees aux eleves de M. Ingres, sont faites dans le systeme des Italiens primitifs. c'est-a-dire qu'elles veulent arrive a l'unite par la supression des effects lumineux. (Ibid., 236)

(6.) The interpretation of this poem has gone through many phases. It was first read as an example of Parnassian beauty, linking Baudelaire to the adoration of classical sculpture in Gaurtier's Emaux et camees. That view was challenged first by critics who saw in "La Beaute" not only sculpture but the figure of woman who invokes the pain and damnation of the poet. In this way, woman (or "Beauty") is a fleur du mal. See P.G. Castex, "La Beaute, Fleur du Mal," Revue des sciences humaines (July-September 1959), and Antoine Fongaro, "La beaute, fleur du mal," Studi francesi (1960), 489-93. More recently, critics have doubted a straightforward allegorical interpretation and argued instead for the presence of irony. (See Francis S. Heck. "La Beaute': Enigma of Irony," Nineteenth-Century French Studies (1981-1982 Fall-Winter). 85-95: and Paul Allen Miller, "Beauty. Tragedy and the Grotesque: A Dialogical Esthetics in Three Sonnets by Baudelaire." French Forum 18:3 (1993 September), 319-33.) My own reading will be more in line with an ironic interpretation. I too will argue that we should not take the poem too seriously, but I will take the reading in a different direction. The appropriation of antique sculpture is. in a sense, hollow, but I will argue that this is due to a manipulation of the image that is specific to the art criticism.

(7.) The first two quatrains are as follows:
Je suis belle, o mortels! comme un reve de pierre,
Et mon sein, ou chacun s'est meutri tour a tour,
Est fait pour inspirer au poete un amour
Eternel et muet ainsi que la matiere.

Je trone dans l'azur comme un sphinx incompris;
J'unis un coeur de neige a la blancheur des cygnes;
Je hais le mouvement qui deplace les lignes,
Et jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris. (Ibid., 53)

(8.) I have made this argument elsewhere about the difference between painting and sculpture in Baudelaire, but in support of a different argument. See "Managing Imitation: Translation and Baudelaire's Art Criticism" article (note I).

(9.) Ibid., 419.

(10.) Ibid., 419.

(11.) Ibid., 419.

(12) Ibid., 256.

(13.) Ibid., 256. Color and light are very closely related, and there are, of course, many instances when Baudelaire could be referring to both light and color, or to light as an effect of color. I do not have the space here to address color, though extending the study to include color would be interesting. I am satisfied that there are enough instances where Baudelaire is clearly only talking about light (or privileging light over color) to warrant a separate study. In fact, Sonya Stephens has noted how many times Baudelaire uses vocabulary related to light (Stephens notes 353 instances just in Les Fleurs du Mal, citing Leon Bopp's Index statistique des Fleurs du Mal). See Stephens for further discussion of light imagery in Les Fleurs du Mal: "Langage et Lumiere: Les Illuminations de Baudelaire." In Graham Falconer, Andrew Oliver, Dorothy Speirs, editors. Langues du XIXe siecle, Toronto, Centre d''etudes romantiques Joseph Sable, 1998, 233-246. For more on color see Bernard Howells's "Baudelaire in Light of Chevreul's Theory: Color, Contrast. Analogy, and Abstraction," Rivista di letterature moderne e comparate 47:4 (Oct-Dec 1994), 355-80. For a discussion of the intersection of color, light, and death in Beudelaire see Derayeh Derakhshesh "Baudelaire, la mort: couleurs ou lumiere," College Language Association Journal Volume 38, number 3 (March 1995), 342-351.

(14.) Ibid., 416.

(15.) Ibid., 249.

(16.) Ibid., 402.

(17.) Ibid., 402.

(18.) Ibid. 417.

(19.) Ibid., 417.

(20.) Ibid., 417.

(21.) Ibid., 417, my italics.

(22.) It is just after Baudelaire's discussion of Boudin that he writes of Charles Meryon, an artist who had done many drawings of Paris. Baudelaire had in fact envisioned a collaboration with Meryon for which Baudelaire would have provided the text, but he became exasperated with Meryon's insistence on exactitude. J. A. Hiddleston writes,
  ... the project came to nothing, because Meryon, whose mental
  equilibrium was far from stable, would not agree to a text that was
  anything other than factual, with precise historical information
  about the buildings and monuments depicted. It is clear from his
  correspondence that Baudelaire was as much exasperated by this
  eccentric (J.A. Hiddleston. Baudelaire and the Art of Memory, Oxford,
  Clarendon Press, 1999, 192).

Like he had done with Boudin, Baudelaire describes Meryon by stacking image on top of image, from various perspectives, in a long list:
  les majestes de la pierre accumulee, les clochers montrant du doigt
  le ciel, les obelisques de I'industrie vomissant contre le firmament
  leurs coalitions de fumee, les prodigieux echafaudages des monuments
  en reparation, appliquant sur le corps solide de I'architecture leur
  architecture a jour d'une beaute si paradoxale, le ciel tumultueux,
  charge de colere et de rancune, la profondeur des perspectives
  augmentee par la pensee de tous les drames qui y sont contenus, aucun
  es elements complexes dont se compose le douleureux et glorieux decor
  de la civilisation n'etait oublie.(Ibid., 417)

Baudelaire then quotes Victor Hugo's "Ode a l'Arc de Triomphe" and claims that Hugo would have been happy to find echoes of his poem represented by Meryon. Through his art critical text, Baudelaire removes Meryon's exactitude and replaces it with a literary reference, which corresponds to his ideal because it was not intentionally provoked by the artist.

(23.) The poem may have been based on a painting Baudelaire may have seen at the Exposition Universelle of 1855, and could have various literary inspirations. See Rosemary Lloyd's Baudelaire's World, Ithaca, Cornell University Press. 2002, and Rosette Lamont, "Baude laire's 'Reve parisien': A Space/Time/Dream Poem," Centerpoint 2:3 (1977), 41-49.

(24.) Charles Baudelaire, Correspondance II 1860 - 1866, Paris, Gallimard, 1973, 10.

(25.) Ibid., 552.

(26.) Ibid., 553.

(27.) Ibid., 556.

(28.) Ibid., 563.

(29.) Baudelaire makes Guys's image perform this exchange without the aid of the mirror or the artist self-portrait that caused the same ceaseless rotation in Velasquez's picture for Michel Foucault:
  ... accueillis sous ce regard, nous sommes chasses par lui, remplaces
  par ce qui de tout temps s'est tronve la avant nous: par le modele
  lui-meme. Mais inversement, le regard du peintre adresse hors du
  tableau au vide qui lui fait lace accepte autant de modeles qu'il lui
  vient de spectateurs: en ce lieu precis, mais indifferent, le
  regardant et le regarde s'echangent sans cesse. Nul regard n'est
  stable, ou plutot. dans le sillon neutre du regard qui transperce la
  toile a la perpendiculaire, le sujet et l'objet, le spectateur et le
  modele inversent leur role a l'infini. (Michel Foucault, Les Mots et
  les choses. Paris. Gallimard, 1966, 20-21).

Isabelle Daunais has argued that this exchange of position (between critic and artist) is a crucial aspect of the genre of nineteenth-century art criticism. See "La reversibilite" des arts: litterature et peinture au cofluent de la critique (Zola, Huysmans)." Etudes francaises 33:1 (1997).95-108.

(30.) Just like Boudin, Guys is capable of absolute reproduction, Baudelaire notes, "nous pouvons parier a coup sur que, dans peu d'annees, les dessins de M.G. deviendront des archives precieuses de la vie civilisee" (Ibid., 565). Here, Guys resembles an archivist; his paintings become a tool of reference for the historian, a trace of proof to represent the period. Elsewhere. Guys's war drawings are "tableaux vivants et surprenants, decalques sur la vie elle-meme" (Ibid.. 556). In this instance, Guys traces life onto paper. The many passages involving glittering light imagery in Le Peintre de la vie moderne help to highlight the artifice in Guys, rather than his imitative exactitude.

(31.) "Que leur arrive-t-il? Autrement dit, de quoi Dieu les punit-il en donnant son nom, ou plutot, car il ne le donne a rien ni a personne, en clamant son nom, le nom propre de 'confusion' qui sera sa marque et son sceau? Les punit-il d'avoir voulu construire a hauteur de cieux? d'avoir voulu acceder au plus haut, jusqu'au tres-haul? Peut-etre, sans doute aussi, mais incontestablement d'avoir voulu ainsi se faire an nom, se donner a eux-memes le nom, se construire eux-memes leur propre nom ... il les punit d'avoir ainsi voulu s'assurer, d'eux-memes, une genealogie unique et universelle." (Jacques Derrida, Psyche: Inventions de l'autre, Paris, Editions Galilee. 1987-1998, 206)

(32.) The fourteenth stanza of the poem: "En rouvrant mes yeux pleins de flammes / J'ai vu I'horreur de mon taudis / Et senti, rentrant dans mon ame / La pointe des soucis maudits'" (Ibid., 106. my italies). Note that the poet's eyes are still glimmering ("mes yeux pleins de flammes").

(33.) " ... vous pourriez verifier par memoire 1'exaclitude des observations de M. Boudin. La legende cachee avec la main, vous devineriez la saison, 1'heure et le vent. Je n'exagere rien. J'ai vu." (Ibid., 417)

(34.) In the art criticism and the poems, pure light is usually associated with an eye that can look without reservation (usually because it is already looking at the "new" or the "imaginative.") The glittering light is more often associated with a displaced gaze, but there are exceptions.

(35.) In "Les Yeux de Berthe," the other's eyes wash over the poet's with dark gloom: "Beaux yeux, versez sur moi vos charmantes tenebres." The image again appears of a cleansing of the eye with a blindness or shadow through which the poet discovers a new world, never seen: "Grands yeux de mon enfant, arcanes adores / Vous ressemblez beaucoup a ces grottes magiques / Ou derriere l'amas des ombres lethargiques / Scintillent vaguement des tresors ignores."

(36.) Emile de Laveleye. "Antoine Wiertz-Un peintre belge contemporain." Revue des deux mondes (15 December 1866), 829-47; 842.

(37.) Ibid., 243.

(38.) Hugo's mentioning of miroitement in connection with art is recounted by Charles Hugo in Victor Hugo en Zelande, published with Michel Levy in 1868. Maurice Tourneux remarks in Eugene Delacroix devant ces contemporains,

L'auteur de ce tres curieux petit livre. Charles Hugo, dit qu'il a a peu pres stenographic cette conversation dans son souvenir: on peut donc croire que nous avons ici 1'expression exacte du grand poete sur le grand peintre [Delacroix]. (Maurice Tourneux, Eugene Delacroix devant ses contemporains, Paris, Jules Rouan, 1886, 31-32)

(39.) Maurice Tourneux, op. cit., 34.

(40.) Ibid., 34.

(41.) The church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont in fact never contained a painting by Durer. The painting to which Hugo most likely alludes is Martyre de saint Jean-Baptiste. a seventeenthcentury painting by an anonymous French artist. Tourneux, op. cit., 35.

(42.) Ibid., 34.

(43.) Ibid., 34.

(44.) Jacques Lacan, Le seminaire livre XL. Les quatres concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1973, 89.

(45.) Ibid., 89.

(46.) Ibid., 89-90.

(47.) Ibid., 89.

(48.) The Littre defines "miroite" as "rendu semblable a un miroirer" and lists the etymology "miroir, par une derivation irreguliere ou I'r a disparu; ce devrait etre miroirer."

(49.) It is well documented that Baudelaire's aesthetic writings have become an important precursor to theories of modern art, and I would even say to theories of'post-modernity. There are a myriad of examples; I will restrict myself to two important anecdotes: works that use the title of Baudelaire's most famous aesthetic essay and thus ally him with modernity and turning points in Western art: T.J. Clark named his landmark study of Manet The Painting of Modern Life, even though Baudelaire did not live long enough to champion Manet's most famous paintings (The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers,. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1984). Similarly, John Richardson links Baudelaire to modern art in the title of the second volume of his Picasso biography: A life of Picasso Volume II: 1907-1917-The Painter of Modern Life, New York, Random House, 1996.
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