112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Laughing in the Face of Trauma: Satirical Caricature in Haussmannized Paris

Jennifer Pride, Florida State University

I argue that satirical caricature mediated the trauma of Haussmannization (1853-1870) by commenting on and undermining the socio-political changes that occurred as a result of this rupture. These satirical images comprise irresolvable binaries regarding the positive/negative impact of Haussmannization and helped 19th century Parisians to laugh at the foibles of modern life by replacing everyday annoyances and problems with comical scenes.

Proposal: 

Art Historians consider the destruction and reconstruction of Paris by Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann and Napoleon III during the mid-19th century as the rupture that thrust visual culture into the modern era and enabled a discourse on modernity.  What has been overlooked is the more immediate satirical discourse of Haussmannization as trauma that developed in visual culture from 1853 to 1870. I argue that satirical caricature mediated the trauma of Haussmannization by commenting on and undermining the socio-political changes that occurred as a result of this rupture.  As used here, cultural trauma involves a lived event that shatters and fragments social cohesion.  Cultural trauma demands distance, mediation, and representation.   The satirical caricatures in the popular press news journal, Le Charivari, functioned to mitigate the visceral experience of trauma through satire.  At the same time, these satirical images were a visual representation of real trauma generated by urban renewal. In Le Charivari, caricatures combineimage and text to reveal social anxieties regarding the loss of old Paris, the irony of new problems such as traffic congestion and accidents in the evolving city, and the character and conduct of Haussmann, himself.  Satirical caricatures by Honoré Daumier provide social critique during this time of urban upheaval that ultimately undermines power relations (Haussmann is dismissed amid controversy in 1870). Such satirical images are a paradox of modernity itself in that they comprise irresolvable binaries regarding the positive/negative impact of Haussmannization.  These humorous and anecdotal caricatures helped 19th century Parisians to laugh at the foibles of modern life by replacing everyday annoyances and problems with comical scenes.  Thus, Daumier’s satirical caricatures in Le Charivari document the confusion and anxiety inherent in the ongoing erasure and remarking of the city’s physiognomy and, consequently, social and cultural traditions.

In this paper, I corroborate Daumier’s visual representation of trauma with Charles Baudelaire’s contemporaneous poetry since, as I argue, both artists provide first-hand accounts of cultural trauma. Both Baudelaire and Daumier spent their entire lives in one small city that, for twenty years, was undergoing constant, grand-scale reconstruction.  Just as Daumier’s satirical caricatures provide a visual record of the ironic distance needed by a culture experiencing the continual shocks of urban transformation, Baudelaire’s poetry articulates the same tropes: loss, nostalgia, confusion, alienation and cognitive dissonance.  In The Swan and The Crowds, Baudelaire grapples with the evolution and decay of Paris.  Using Daumier’s caricature and Baudelaire’s poetry, I will show how a verbal-visual dynamic of trauma emerged through the use of satire during Haussmannization.

Topic Area: