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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: August 2006

12 - Baudelaire’s place in literary and cultural history


Among Baudelaire's French contemporaries, only the novelist Gustave Flaubert has had a comparable impact on literature and culture. Beginning with Realism, Symbolism and Naturalism in the second half of the nineteenth century, Baudelaire's influence is international and interdisciplinary. The legacy of his poetry, prose, criticism and translations can be discerned throughout the verbal and visual arts, and in the disciplines devoted to the study of literature and culture.

The poet's interpretations of the arts and of modern life have shaped the understanding of modernity as a trajectory that leads from Baudelaire's times and places to our own, and from Paris as the capital of the nineteenth century to the modern world of the twenty-first century. Throughout the twentieth century, literature and culture were rich with Baudelairean influence; his works continue to speak to his readers with an unparalleled immediacy.

Like a magician, Baudelaire conjures up a set of figures and images that come to life in his literary works: poetry, prose poetry and stories; in his critical works on literature and art; and in French translations and critical adaptations of works written in English. These figures and images inform Baudelaire's world - as well as his modernity as an artist, a critic and a translator. He explores the experience of the self and the other through a singular vision of poetry: time, memory, pleasure, love, suffering and evil are the major elements of this exploration. Throughout Baudelaire's works, the separation of mind and body informs his perspective on original sin, laughter, comedy and the human condition. He formulates the intensity of imaginative vision in literature and in the connections among the arts.

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