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New Undergraduate Course Supplement 2020


FREN 50.07 Baudelaire/Flaubert: Reading Modernity for Filth

It is by a fortuitous, if strange, twist of literary fortune that two publications from the winter of 1857—both of which would later come to be regarded as uncontested masterworks of high modernism in the French literary canon—saw their authors hauled before Second Empire courts and put on trial for obscenity: Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal. This course will pursue a perhaps inadvertent insight made during the trials against these two core figures in French – and world – literature: namely, that the so-called crimes (of shocking moral corruption, of prurience and obscenity, etc.) of which Baudelaire and Flaubert were accused have much to do with the formal complexity and aporias that one finds in their works. What one finds there, in other words, is less “filthy” material per se than a stylistics that opens up space for dangerously unruly sociocritical readings; that brings into visibility and legibility desires and subjectivities typically confined in the nineteenth century to the grisaille silencieuse of “History’s” margins; and that seeks to bring out into representation repressed historical and political traumas occasioned by the “shocks” of modernity (Benjamin). One finds, in other words, in Baudelaire’s poetry and in Flaubert’s novels a distinct literary politics; a critical use of literature against the abuses of the present order of things. A way of reading modernity for filth

Distributive and/or World Culture

Dist:LIT; WCult:W

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