The poet Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867) has been labeled the very icon of modernity, the scribe of the modern city, and an observer of an emerging capitalist culture. Seeing Double reconsiders this iconic literary figure and his fraught relationship with the nineteenth-century world by examining the way in which he viewed the increasing dominance of modern life. In doing so, it revises some of our most common assumptions about the unresolved tensions that emerged in Baudelaire’s writing during a time of political and social upheaval.
Françoise Meltzer argues that Baudelaire did not simply describe the contradictions of modernity; instead, his work embodied and recorded them, leaving them unresolved and often less than comprehensible. Baudelaire’s penchant for looking simultaneously backward to an idealized past and forward to an anxious future, while suspending the tension between them, is part of what Meltzer calls his “double vision”—a way of seeing that produces encounters that are doomed to fail, poems that can’t advance, and communications that always seem to falter. In looking again at the poet and his work, Seeing Double helps to us to understand the prodigious transformations at stake in the writing of modern life.