Flowers for Baudelaire: Urban Botany and Allegorical Writing

Since Walter Benjamin’s famous characterization of flânerie as a kind of botanizing on the asphalt, in “Das Paris des Second Empire bei Baudelaire,” critics have often sought to compare Charles Baudelaire to the figure of the botanist, mobilizing the naturalist as a surrogate for the poet-in-the-city. In this essay, I re-cite Benjamin’s initial recourse to the botanist in order to reread it. If Benjamin invites us to consider the activity of the flâneur in terms of (urban) botany, it is perhaps an opportunity to pursue the ways in which botanical praxis and the emergence of a properly modern mode of allegorical writing in Benjamin’s reading of Baudelaire provide each other with representations of the operations that each manages to accomplish. Far from being an inconsequential metaphor, Benjamin’s botanist figure can be seen to harbor a disruptive force that has more to do with an “extractive” and initially violent act of inscription, than with any facile correspondence between “nature” and “poetry.”

Doyle Calhoun
Yale University
Volume 49.1–2