Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Modern Languages and Literatures (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Gerard Aching

Second Committee Member

William Rothman

Third Committee Member

Maria Stampino

Fourth Committee Member

George Yudice


This study inquires about the aesthetics of reality at the edge of modernity, through different media and from a traveling perspective. Based on a definition of the journey as an experience of reality and a "decentering" of the mind, it examines the works of three subjective and Parisian realities and proposes a comparative media analysis, ranging from the preface to the Spleen de Paris, written in 1861, to the release of Chronique d’un été in 1961. Through a close analysis of Baudelaire’s poetry, Atget’s photography and Rouch’s cinematography, I approach these narratives as textual and visual productions that foreground the dual process, cultural and aesthetic, travel accounts encompass. More specifically, this study reflects on the dynamic dialectic involving a spatial and physical practice with a representational one, and thus questions the enunciation of the natural world through a sensory body by looking at the relationship between the world and the texts on the one hand, and between different modes of languages on the other. I contend that a semiotic body, and its corporeal trace, stands as the matrix for both relations. First, on a vertical level, it mediates, in an indexical and contiguous way, the experience of traveling with that of its representation, allowing conversely, an access to the context via the text on a reinforced basis. Second, in a horizontal way, it conjoins the three semiotic modes under consideration, for this semiotic body is the common rooting to any kind of mediation. Central to this study is the fact that travel narratives, which are usually the domain of literary scholars, are nevertheless also ethnographic documents. Consequently, it articulates internal and external determinations of an interdisciplinary object, and it carefully combines resources of semiotic theory with cultural anthropology, without giving way to a temptation of contextualization that would bear the risk of distorting textual immanence. The body of this research consists of an introductory chapter in which I revisit the interpretation of travel writing throughout the academic discourse of the postmodern era. I insist on the role of the medium, thus putting emphasis on representation and referentiality, and finally rethink the way of doing comparative media studies. The three subsequent chapters follow the diachronic logic of these journeys taking place in the modern city of Paris in three particular moments: Baudelaire discovers the city on the eve of its dramatic changes caused by Haussmann’s intervention during the Second Empire; Atget explores the surviving fragments of a pluri-secular capital during the Belle Epoque; Rouch, along with Morin, meet with a few Parisians to sound out the post-war atmosphere, in the middle of the Trente Glorieuses. Although the three chapters inquire about the literary, photographic and cinematic representations in a separate way, they do it with a similar concern for the dual process mentioned earlier. They also articulate the structural invariants of any journey, moving from the self, through the space, towards others. These three elements meaningfully correspond to three types of semiotic prints described in the concluding section, which detects in the end the fundamental attitude of the three travel authors: by contrast with the flâneur, they explore reality just as a prowler will look for its prey.


Travel; Baudelaire; Atget; Rouch; Semiotics; Cultural Anthropology