Evlyn Gould, University of Oregon
evgould@oregon.uoregon.edu

NCFS 2001 -- University of Wisconsin, Madison

Roundtable on Pedagogical Issues: Experiences and Experiments

Updated: March 14, 2003


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BAUDELAIRE EN EUROPE

Baudelaire en Europe describes a new context in which to engage in an old practice, a close reading or textual analysis of Charles Baudelaire's "L'Invitation au Voyage," verse and prose. This new context is provided by the contemporary impulse toward European integration and by the place of European subject matters on US campuses. On our campus at the University of Oregon, this context initiated a collaborative pedagogical experiment we call "The Idea of Europe." Some twenty faculty from across campus and from our neighboring Oregon State University gather to disclose ideas of Europe shaped by our different disciplines with a view to offering a ten-week course built around guest lectures. Participants have hailed from anthropology, classics, comparative literature, economics, English, French, geography, German, history, Italian, music, political science, religious studies, Scandinavian, Spanish, women's studies, and even Chinese and Latin American Studies, but the course is always team-taught by a historian and a literary scholar. In this context, we are each required to define precisely the tools and rigors of our individual disciplines, in my case, those that demand that we read closely as we in literary studies do, those that make Baudelaire's Europe relevant, even urgent, to our study of Europe today.

Due to its rich interdisciplinarity, the "Idea of Europe" course engages varied interests among varied scholars and students. While this interdisciplinarity is enticing to us as scholarly peers and has helped to build a community of Europeanists on campus, the concept remains problematic. On one hand, for those of us in the Humanities who perceive the decline in enrollments already addressed by my colleagues in previous papers as a crisis, our initial response to the collaboration grew out of our perception that our disciplines are threatened. That is, the collaboration suggests that the destiny of our disciplines is to expand beyond recognition into modes of inquiry so broad-a kind of European cultural studies so general-that the very nature of the disciplines themselves will be radically altered or flattened out, forcing us to reach beyond our individual conceptual expertise. Our first gathering was itself motivated by the sense of crisis within the university on the eve of the millennium. But on the other hand, teaching the course demonstrates the need for the internal specificity of each discipline if students are ever to be able to mine the wealth of the various fields themselves. Over my eleven years of teaching this course, in fact, there is no doubt that it has helped promote enrollments in European languages and literatures generally, and in French language and literature, more specifically. I suspect that this is true because the course provides a forum in which literature appears in all of its seductive glory as a component essential to our understanding of European cultural issues and identities today. "Baudelaire en Europe" proposes, then, a plea in favor of collaboration and pluri-disciplinarity but not necessarily of interdisciplinarity.

Our collaborative work on the "Idea of Europe" began with, and remains centered on, the question of Europe, as Europe itself undergoes profound change. But our endeavor is about more than Europe. It is also about the teaching and learning process, and about the ethical-human dimension of intellectual life in the American university of our new century. Inspired by the dramatic events and institutional developments taking place before our eyes, our Europe unfolds in dialogue with contemporary economic and political transformations. But it surveys a broader canvas, one that views Europe over long historical time in terms of multiple disciplinary perspectives, including literature, art, and music, and of shifting critical methodologies. We thus evoke "changing Europe" as concept or idea in a variety of disciplinary and expressive modes, in several different periods and places of the European experience, and always in a self-critical mode.

As we do so, we do not intend to resolve or to fix an idea of Europe. Rather we seek to pose and maintain Europe as perennial question, contesting unitary notions of Europe with challenges to that very unity. It is this posing of Europe as idea and contestation that grounds the purpose of our enterprise: the facilitating and the nurturing of dialogue, interruptions, and discussions in a passionate encounter of educated, thinking persons. Ours is, in other words, a thoroughly humanistic enterprise, one that views the fundamental openness and incompleteness of teaching in the moment as the basis of an ethical approach to education in our times. This is not an ethics of predetermined values, in other words. Rather, it engages a Levinasian ethics of individual responsibility and unending inquiry leading to unanswerable but unavoidable moral dilemmas. Europe - the changing Europe of the contemporary scene and the Europe of our history and our disciplines - provides, we have found, rich material for such inquiry, replete with implications for both the learning process and the intellectual life of our modern American university.

As we began to collaborate in this course what especially impressed us, teachers of Europe within the modern American university, was the convergence of real-life changes in the socio-politics of Europe with the discourses of cultural difference that assumed enormous importance on our campuses. These new discourses most often found expression in a multiculturalism that set "Europe" -- which meant, in practice, Western Europe, or "the West" -- as the model-type of the ethnocentric, imperialist, phallocentric tradition, in opposition to its others: the ethnic, the peripheral, the marginal. Programs focused on Western Europe were suddenly faced with the necessity of justifying their very existence against the critiques of new scholarship that valued periphery and margins over centers and wholes, and of new generations of students unreflectively prone to anti-European (which, from their perspective, meant anti-Eurocentric) sentiments. Edward Said's Orientalism -- one of the early manifestos of the multicultural critique -- opened the question more generally of Europe casting itself historically as that which was not the "Orient." This broadly defined "Orient" enabled colonial aggression as well as a latent form of postcolonial racism. For many, it is the irrational fear of a dangerous and mysterious Orient that finds itself translated in today's "threat of Islam." Both institutionally and politically "Orientalism" helped shape a new vista for cultural studies that envisioned a rethinking of the European literary canon and of canon formation itself. Though operating in a different, wholly American intellectual arena, Ethnic Studies, in a strange political alliance with "Orientalism," shared in this critique. Reactions to both inaugurated a biting critique of the postmodern university and therefore, unthinkingly, of the burgeoning anti-Eurocentrism of the cultural studies position. The critique assumed that the humanities had gone soft and were unproductively embattled on American campuses. Postmodernists attacked Eurocentrism, while traditionalists indicted anti-Eurocentric postmodernism. Our pedagogical "New Europe" had to be critical of, yet responsive to, both sides.

Those of us working in the tradition of national literatures--the literatures, as has often been said, gathered in the frame of the nation-state-preoccupied ourselves with listening to minority or unpopular voices and attitudes within each literature, and to the ways they reflect upon assumptions we make about the traditional canon. In addition, with respect to the teaching of modern European languages, our Europe project countered a new impetus that risked favoring the imperialism of English by revitalizing the justifications for studying a foreign language beyond simple proficiencies. Studying French, for instance, is also a way of airing Said's original insights insofar as it also means listening to voices of the Maghreb, of the Caribbean, of sub-Saharan Africa, of the Mid-East, as well as to those of any number of disenfranchised writers around the globe-and specifically, in the East--who had used French as a universalistic lingua franca.

For us, this was partly a matter of recovering conceptions of Europe that transcended the delimited, and in retrospect, historically recent conceptions of Europe as predominantly Western. It was also an attempt to re-discover the "then" of Europe in the light of the "now" of Europe's continuous ongoing transformation. Methodologically this led us to bring together the fictive and the factual-the Humanities and the Social Sciences broadly writ--as complementary and evocative modes of reading problems and issues. Our goal ultimately was to revitalize interest in European thinkers (and in their languages), thinkers who themselves give us ways of addressing their own ambiguously pro-and anti-Eurocentric perspectives. This is where Baudelaire takes center stage. With the help of Said or not, Baudelaire's Europe is always in dialogue with its Oriental others in a questioning of value that frequently leaves the poet both here and there: both representative of a certain Eurocentric imagination and yet, quite self-consciously critical of this imagination.

Following a presentation by one of my colleagues in history on Adam Smith's Enlightenment economics, I found myself wanting to teach Baudelaire in whose work the emblematic intersection of economic and cultural impulses remains suggestive and problematic in ways useful to our understanding of European integration today. As a result of this new broader context that beckoned to Baudelaire's understanding, I developed a lecture that sought to demonstrate how his "L'Invitation au voyage" explores the role of imagined travel in enabling the expanding designs of a free-market economy. More precisely, in advertising a splendid and culture-less Orient to be tamed and appropriated from afar by 19th Century European travelers, the poem resonates with Edward Said's notion that France's 19th-century "Orient" only ever represents a European figure of thought. But it also coincides uncannily with Adam Smith's foundational treatise, The Wealth of Nations, and its project to maximize the production of "more enjoyments here at home." Because the dreamy strains of the lyric verse composed in 1855 were to be enclosed, subsequently, in 1857, in a prose poem that "reads" its model with critical distance, however, modern students unreflectively prone to a critique of Europe as "West" are ultimately obliged to wonder whether Baudelaire celebrates or indicts the power of poetry to further the imperial mind-set of mid-century bourgeois travelers and ultimately, colonial incursions into "passive" foreign lands as "multiculturalists" working outside of Europe have contended. While Smith's treatise dates from the mid-18th Century, Baudelaire's poem demonstrates that its economic politics have become firmly if perhaps unconsciously entrenched-in France's endeavor to "beat the Brits"--to the benefit of a colonial French empire rapidly multiplying its "homelands." Reading the lyric verse closely with the students its myriad ambiguities lead us to consider whether the values of the market toward which Baudelaire gestures in the end actually shape cultural programs such as Baudelaire's, or if these programs shape and form the intrinsic values of the market.

Noting that the lyric verse begins with a classic trope of comparison that likens the landscape in a lover's eyes to an evocative but ill defined muggy and potentially tropical "orient", "over there," "la-bas"-but where?-a series of intense ambiguities leads us, inevitably, from translation to original and vice versa. Addressed to an ambivalent interlocutor-a child, a sister whose eyes are provocatively treacherous or unfaithful-Baudelaire's invitation is in fact both an imperative to dream or to imagine and to contemplate what going "over there" to live and die might really mean. Her eyes clearly reflect his erotic thoughts. In a second stanza, Baudelaire maintains the rich contours of these ambiguities in specifying a room full of undulating correspondences and multiplied sensations born of a host of consumable commodities-amber oil, exotic flowers, deep mirrors and polished furniture. Summed up by an "Oriental splendor" that speaks in and to a mother tongue native to the soul, this room may be over there-but, where?-where all is order and calm and also luxurious and voluptuous. It may be in the poet's own Orient, but it may also be right here in Europe, in Paris, in Brussels, where such imported goods may help our focus to deviate away from the tumultuousness and routines of everyday life in the modern industrialized city.

In the closing stanza, our focus shifts again in accordance with that of the private space of our interlocutors as the poet invites us to see or gaze upon an expanding horizon traversed by the potential exports and imports of industrial trading vessels. These "vagabond" vessels put in from the "ends of the earth" only "to satisfy your every least desire"-"pour assouvir ton moindre desire." In other words, desire fuels the dreamy travel--allowing us to appropriate the whole world into the space of a private and intimate consciousness-but it also evokes a market economy that defines the whole world as a landscape that we have the power to possess. Students are both startled and intrigued by Baudelaire's intermixing of the already emblematic European themes of economy and culture.

When I then ask the students to read across the three stanzas, the poem appears to inscribe any number of narrative stories focused on progress and expansion: from youth to a fat and sassy middle age or from a Renaissance portrait to an Enlightenment interior to an impressionist seascape glimmering in the golden light of the setting sun. This latter "story" can be cast as a colonial narrative, especially from the perspective of critics working outside of Europe, a narrative Walter Mignolo or Robert Lafont might understand as evocative of the expanding designs of a progressively more global European market from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Undercut by the strains of a recurring refrain enclosed in the formal structure of a strophic song, the poem encourages us to query repeatedly and with increasing urgency, "there, where?" In the tableaux of a miniature art history, in the scenes of a snapshot biography or Bildungsroman, or in the dreamscapes created by the lullaby of poetry that rocks us into complacency and submissive, self-satisfied delight.

In sketching a geographically uncertain Orient full of commodities designed to satisfy consumer instincts in the West, "L'Invitation au voyage" seems to reiterate the dominant ideology of "free market" imperial expansion and colonial extraction--a "discourse of power" that has inevitably commodified the poet's voice in the lyric poem. Invitations "over there" do indeed help advertise adventurous voyages overseas, the excitement of travel and of the foreignness of other places. Furthermore, because those places are located within the private sphere of our own desires, they may also help justify the opium trade to which seekers of undulating and multiplied sensations were also inevitably drawn: "c'est pour assouvir ton moindre desire qu'ils viennent du bout du monde." This circumscribing of a space of private consciousness to which all products flow may well aid and abet a colonial discourse of power while hiding--or rather, poeticizing--the exploitative realities behind that cultural engagement or the exchange of those commodities. From this perspective, Baudelaire's lyric poem does construct a private space of pleasure for privileged readers--an "oriental splendor" right here at home-one that enables the larger political and economic project, unwittingly.

In this context, we are lead to a reconsideration of Adam Smith's foundational Wealth of Nations. For in asking us to concentrate on the possibilities of "more enjoyments" and on a homeland enriched by foreign imports, the poem seems to evoke the essential lessons of Smith's reasoning. Smith writes, for example:

"Between whatever places foreign trade is carried on, they all of them derive two distinct benefits from it. It carries out that surplus part of the produce of their land and labour for which there is no demand among them and brings back in return for it something else for which there is a demand. It gives value to their superfluities, by exchanging them for something else, which may satisfy a part of their wants, and increase their enjoyments. […] It is not by the importation of gold and silver, that the discovery of America has enriched Europe. […] The discovery of America… gave occasion to new divisions of labour and improvements of art … which should naturally have proved as advantageous to the new as it certainly did to the old continent. […] But rich and civilized nations can always exchange to a much greater value with one another, than with savages and barbarians." (415-417)

The wealth of a nation is based, according to Smith, not in the accumulation of gold and silver by way of colonial extraction-the Spanish obviously erred--but in a balance of trade among the civilized that enriches the two equal partners through a circulation of commodities responding to supply and demand. By increasing demand-for superfluities-nations expand their markets, multiply their enjoyments and encourage new divisions of labor at home. Don't concentrate on the external, Smith explains, but on how the homeland flourishes through the continual opening of ever more extensive markets. This is a paradigm familiar to students to the extent that some version of its logic still structures our global economy today. But Baudelaire reads it backwards, so to speak, from our private enjoyments to an expanding horizon of trade enabled by our insatiable and therefore increasing demands.

One effect of focusing on the homeland is that wealth becomes detached from the effort of peoples who produce commodities for trade; the market is invisible and like God, you have only to believe in it. Another is that enjoyments are linked to the accumulation of exotic products consumed as superfluities rather than for intrinsic needs. In the context of Baudelaire's poem, the more the room accumulates commodities, the more it radiates imaginary, poetic effects (or "Oriental splendor"), the more it fuels fantasies of greater wealth: "Gleaming furniture would decorate our bedroom," the poem seems to say, "if only we were rich and our dreams became realities." In this way, the poem expresses our unspoken fantasies; it also links dreams of wealth to the power of unrequited desire. Though the promise is indeed satisfaction, satisfaction is always deferred, suggesting that the multiplication of pleasure is, as Freud and Lacan have understood, linked to our capacity to demand indefinitely rather than to any need now supplied.

Though Baudelaire's lyric invitation to dream seems to participate, via this reading, in the perpetuating of the dominant discourse of economic power, his invitation in prose appears to disclose this complicity by uncovering and making available to our scrutiny relations between private desires and the imperialist and colonialist ideology of the West. It does this by bringing economic concerns into the world of poetry and by eliminating all signs of seduction, as Barbara Johnson has demonstrated quite convincingly (135-39, 153). In the prose, for example, the "Oriental" room is transformed into an image of an "hotel bourgeois," the home of an "honnete homme," a "working man" who makes a living. "Les tresors du monde y affluent, comme dans la maison d'un homme laborieux et qui a bien merite du monde entier" (OC 89). Instead of an expansionism enabled by the circumscribing of consciousness as a private space, then, the prose links our desire for private possessions, and, for that matter, for the private reading of poetry, to the domestication of "worldly treasures" through hard work. Rather than reinscribing the exceptional status of poetry, its surplus or "high-art" value, and its capacity to exist beyond or outside of the world of banal bourgeois concerns, the prose poem stages the complicity between poetry and the dominant bourgeois culture--the comodification of art as a kind of unconscious ideological support system--and makes it available to our critical consideration.

Time permitting, we investigate the formal attributes of the difficult prose and reflect upon the difficulty itself. I point out that this subversion of an ideology of poetic purity is accomplished formally through the intermixing, rather than the synthesizing, of the generic exigencies of lyric poetry and prose narrative. In this intermixing, the prose poem does not do away with lyric voice but as Dominique Combe points out, looks at it and refers to it with a certain critical distance (103-105). So, for example, the poet's imaginary voyage is addressed, in the third person, to any and all readers-indeed, to the students themselves--who share the dream of "la Cocagne," a "land of plenty" (of milk and honey, of streets of gold) that "goes without saying:" "Il est un pays superbe, the poem opens, "un pays de Cocagne, dit-on, que je reve de visiter avec une vieille amie" (OC 301, my emphasis). The unacknowledged knowledge presupposed by the "dit-on" (the "as we say") in this opening not only identifies this land as a product of social discourse--one, indeed, that only exists in social discourse--it also identifies it as a by-product of an unconscious collective dreaming about the "better life." This attention to the unconscious nature of ideological persuasion provides a new context for the space of desire to which all things flow in the lyric poem by making it into a decidedly public or social space. The intimacy of the private dialogue between the poet and his new old friend is subverted by the social mediation (Johnson 120). In lieu of a private tete a tete, Baudelaire's prose poem now reveals a subject locked in an ideological exchange system according to which "ces choses pensent par moi, ou je pense par elles" ("Le Confiteor," OC 278) ["things think through me or I think through them"] as his "Le Confiteor de l'artiste" makes explicit. In this way, it whittles away at the unconscious force of the discursive cliches, those "voices of the Orient" lodged here inside me, and maps out parallels between ideologically repressive social discourses rampant in the Second Empire (Marx's "Oriental despotism") and the hidden pressures of psychic repression.

From this perspective, it is not surprising that the ideal country depicted in the prose version is explicitly defined as an Orient transplanted into Europe by way of the work of fantasy:

"Pays singulier, noye dans les brumes de notre Nord, et qu'on pourrait appeler l'Orient de l'Occident, la Chine de l'Europe, tant la chaude et capricieuse fantaisie s'y est donne carriere, tant elle l'a patiemment et opiniatrement illustre de ses savantes et delicates vegetations." (OC 301)

In associating the illustrative work of fantasy with horticulture or the growing of vegetation, we could say that whereas the lyric version of this poem merely gives free reign to that illustrative work ("songe a la douceur d'aller la-bas..."[my emphasis] [imagine the sweetness of going over there...]), the prose demonstrates how this work also obfuscates the raison d'être behind our capacity to think an Orient here at home. More precisely, the prose makes us witnesses to the ways in which fantasy taps into an unconscious ideological support system such that it allows our collective dreaming to seem intimate. In so doing, "L'Invitation au voyage" acknowledges what Walter Benjamin, Jean-Paul Sartre, and more recently, Richard Terdiman, see as both Baudelaire's and our own unconscious complicity with dominant social discourses.

As the example of the ideal (discursive) land supposes, "L'Invitation au voyage" also conspires to repeat insistently in modes of address what it only suggests in thematic terms. That is, the image of an Orient in the Occident, a China in Europe, a warm and southern tropical locale in our foggy North parallels the undermining of private dialogue by public discourse. However, the subsequent interaction of a progressive narrative (implicitly addressed in the third person "on" to "us") and a lyric turbulence (the "I/you" dialogue that forms another implicit "us") further dramatizes this undermining by making us both actors in and witnesses to the drama. The lyric turbulence is figured through the infinitely substituted "tu" or familiar "you." No longer an incestuous sister or child, "tu" becomes rather more unwieldy as it signals an empty subjectivity defined only by mobile and shifting promises of an ever-expanding intimacy. The promise of narrative continuity and of a forward moving "plot" is shaped by the three progressively larger settings of the lyric poem: the landscape in a lover's eye, the chamber, the ocean port. These combine with the variable tonality and mobile inhabitants of the lyric "tu" and its turbulence, however, to finish by creating irresolute double binds. We are caught by the poem's inscription of two positions for us and the two kinds of reading strategies those positions imply: that of the private dialogue with the poet or with his persona and that of public communiqués. These two reading strategies force us into a state of mental and, I argue, moral agitation or shuttling because like the two implicit "we's" or "us's" we are led to inhabit, we are both third-party observers and intimate first-person interlocutors. Are we responsible or are we victims? As Barbara Johnson has argued, the result of this duplicity is that the prose poem subverts the intimacy of the "I/you" relationship and compromises the rarefied exclusiveness of poetry by revealing its own social mediation in the triangularity of "I/you/one" (121). But insofar as the "I/you" dialogue characteristic of most of Baudelaire's lyric verse may be a representation not of public communication, not of any actual address to an intimate reader, but rather, one intended to stage the inner dialogues of the mind, the prose also figures the capacity of social discourses to mediate or better, to contaminate, the very movement of thought itself.

Ultimately, then, whereas reading the lyric poem may lead us to indict Baudelaire for creating a dreamy complicity with a bourgeois ideology that encourages colonial incursions into ill-defined, far-off, and poeticized, pacified or domesticated foreign lands, its prose iteration keeps us shuttling between two forms asking us to question as we witness our own sense of ourselves as "deserving the riches of the world." Though Baudelaire may be committed to shuttling compromisingly rather than to taking an ethical stand, our own shuttling beckons us to consider what role the poem itself or the products of art and culture more generally may play in circumscribing a private space of consciousness apparently free to decide its own values, pleasures, and wants, but one surreptitiously shaped by dominant social trends to which we quietly and unwittingly adhere. In reflecting upon these psychological underpinnings of Smith's free market economy as it develops in relation to France's mostly unspoken 19th-century colonial landscape, students may wonder whether the "invisible hand " of the market inspires cultural ideas, like that of Baudelaire's Eurocentric Orient, or whether those very ideas shape and foster the values of the market. In staging the dilemma, but refusing to answer, Baudelaire's "L' Invitation au voyage" seems an ideal tool for promoting an ethical inquiry into France's 19th Century and its legacies for today's "new" Europe. Moreover, when we turn to the project of economic gradualism that defines our contemporary European Union, Baudelaire's poem urges a deep consideration of the projects and products of today's ministries of European culture. In the end… students want more!

Works Cited
Baudelaire, Charles. Oeuvres Completes. Bibliotheque de la Pleiade. Paris: Gallimard,1975.
Benjamin, Walter. Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism. Trans., Harry Zohn. London: NLB, 1973.
Combe, Dominique. Poesie et recit: une rhetorique des genres. Paris: Jose Corti, 1989.
Delanty, Gerard. Inventing Europe: Idea, Identity, Reality. New York: St. Martin's, 1995.
Howard, Richard. Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal. Boston: Godine, 1982.
Johnson, Barbara. Defigurations du langage poetique: la seconde revolution baudelairienne. Paris: Flammarion, 1979.
Lafont, Robert. Nous, peuple europeen. Paris: Kime, 1991.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon, 1978.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Baudelaire. Paris: Gallimard, 1947.
Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Eds., R. H. Campbell and A.S. Skinner. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976.
Terdiman, Richard. Discourse/Counter-Discourse. Ithaca: Cornell, 1985.

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