The Violence of Modernity: Baudelaire, Irony, and the Politics of Form (review)


“We live in an era of trauma and terror,” begins Sanyal, provocatively. Situating in this way her concerns with respect to our own political climate, she delves into a study of modernity and its legacy, choosing as our guide that “exemplary bard” of the modern (1). In the figure of Baudelaire, we find the somewhat elusive relationship between the historical conditions of postrevolutionary France and its aesthetic counterpart, the “crisis of representation” which—we have been told— is the cultural symptom of the “trauma” of the modern era. By rethinking this framework for understanding our modern condition, Sanyal hopes to recover a sense of writers’ engagement with their historical moment as well as to question our role as readers. Rather than mere victims of “trauma and terror,” writers and readers should be thought of as active participants in the conflicts of their time, suggests Sanyal.

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