Collective creativity: negotiating canonicity through adaptations of Baudelaire

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Baudelaire was ‘canonised’ in the Pléiade editions published by Gallimard in 1931. This important step in the reception history of a major nineteenth-century French poet was part of an ongoing process of interaction with Baudelaire’s work. As this article contends, musical adaptations play a significant part in Baudelaire’s global reception history, from the 1860s onwards. This article argues that as the adaptive process moves beyond the ‘one author, one adapter’ model, into a more collective creative process, it both alters the poetry for good and contributes directly to the ongoing canonisation of the poet’s work. The interplay of different artists using combinations of media formats (word, music, and moving image), crossing into different languages and updating for contemporary audiences, brings about collective responses which radically nuance understanding of (male) authorial privilege. A detailed analysis of two songs with moving image created by the Chicago-based theatre collective Theater Oobleck in their seven-year-long Baudelaire in a Box project (2010–2017) reveals the importance of gendered individuation in collective works, and how this operates to break down the dominant position of the male author. The article concludes with a critique of how live music performance genres have typically masked the diverse makeup of a collective creative process (which individuates) in favour of an overarching collaborative vision (which generalises). It contends that the re-use of an established literary source continues to complicate the non-hierarchical vision of a collective creative response, giving rise to a genius paradox. On the one hand, the ‘ethic of rarity’ (Heinich 1996: 11) dictates that the modern artist is hailed as a unique figure. On the other, the collective inputs that have shaped the work remain an essential part of the creative process. Casting light on collective musical adaptations of Baudelaire thus invites a reconsideration the value premiums we place on canonical works and their authors.
Original languageEnglish
Article number16
Number of pages20
JournalModern Languages Open
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2019


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