How does Francoise Meltzer interpret Baudelaire's concept of "modernity" and his idea of "the painter of modern life"?

Francoise Meltzer shows the complexity of Baudelaire's attitude to modernity and to modern art, which expresses modernity at the same time as resisting it. Baudelaire both describes and embodies the contradictions of Modernist thought in relation to modernity.

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Two of the key disputes about Modernism concern its relation to modernity and its relation to the past. The most simplistic popular view is that the Modernist expresses and endorses modernity while rejecting the past, but this is clearly not true of most major Modernist thinkers, including Baudelaire. In her 2011 study, Seeing Double: Baudelaire's Modernity, Francoise Meltzer proposes a more subtle reading of Baudelaire's attitude to modernity. In Meltzer's view, Baudelaire both describes and embodies the contradictions inherent in modernity. He rejects the immediate past as sentimental and derivative but, like the giants of twentieth-century Modernism (Proust, Joyce, Woolf and Eliot), was much more willing to go far back in the past for models and inspiration.

One of the principal contradictions in Baudelaire's attitude is his constant emphasis on the modern era as a time of crowds and mass culture, which he both celebrates and rejects. Baudelaire again anticipates such Modernists as Joyce by writing about the triumph of the common man in an idiom which no common man would understand. The great artist should immerse himself in the crowd, but he is never quite one of them, and if he were, he would cease to be a great artist. By examining these contradictions, Meltzer shows how Baudelaire influenced the paradoxical ideas which were to define Modernist thought.

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