Existential Baudelaire in Fondane, Benjamin, and Sartre
This dissertation reconstructs a philosophical trialogue that might have been expected to take place between Jean-Paul Sartre, Walter Benjamin, and Benjamin Fondane over their philosophical readings of Charles Baudelaire, an exchange preempted by the untimely deaths of two of the interlocutors. Their projects are motivated by the perceived problem of 20th century nihilism’s imbrication within the fabric of mental life. Despite decades of attempts to relegate existential nihilism to obsolescence, we remain within Nietzsche’s projected two-century window in which nihilism was expected to be paramount as the motif within cultural history. To draw out ways in which the experience of existential nihilism threatened to annihilate the conceptual tools of the 20th century, I analyze this trialogue’s key images for nihilism: the abyss, the flâneur’s turtle, the eternal return, the fall into freedom, and the dandy’s church.