Baudelaire and the Alibi of Productive Expenditure

Niamh Sweeney


This article focuses on how Charles Baudelaire's experience of the abstract conditions of emergent capitalism registers on his work. Whereas, to date, critical discourse around Baudelaire's experience of capitalism has tended to emphasise the centrality of the 'concrete' form of the commodity, I consider, rather, how his debt-relations, and particularly his understanding of reliance on debt through the optic of his readings of Proudhon and Joseph de Maistre, determine the rhythm of his later artistic output: this is characterised more by periods of non-production (despite declarations of his resolve to work/write), than of active creativity. Concentrating particularly on his letters to his mother, editors, agent and financial guardian from 1858, I argue how his reliance on debt resonates with the Saint-Simonian principle of productive expenditure then deployed to undertake to transformation of Paris, which brought the city to the brink of bankruptcy at the end of the Second Empire.

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New Readings — ISSN: 13597485


Published by: Cardiff School of Modern Languages