Baudelaire, Vischer, and Self-Transforming Empathy

This article proposes to situate what it will show to be Charles Baudelaire’s bi-directional empathy with objects in relation to his move away from Romanticism towards Modernism. It will show that self-transforming receptiveness to the outside world is at least as central to his aesthetic as any self-projecting transformation of that world. The article will consider the poet’s presentation of identification with objects, in the poems “La Cloche fêlée,” “La Musique,” and “Le Flacon,” in the light of early thinking about empathy by Robert Vischer and others, and then briefly in the light of more recent work on the theme. It will argue that his inscriptions of the confrontation between self and non-self reveal Baudelaire to be an early thinker of a self-transforming kind of empathy, which is central both to his Modernism and to the thinking of the early empathy theorists whose work was so influential for Modernism.

Maria C. Scott
University of Exeter
Volume 50.1–2