« Aujourd’hui, 23 janvier 1862, écrit Baudelaire sur son carnet, j’ai subi un singulier avertissement, j’ai senti passer sur moi le vent de l’aile de l’imbécillité. »
“En 1863, le Figaro insère, en extrait, une violente attaque de Pontmartin contre Baudelaire. En 1864, le même Figaro condescend à publier une série de Poèmes en prose. Seulement, après deux publications (7 et 14 février), Villemessant met fin à cette fantaisie et voici la raison qu’il donne sans ambages à l’auteur, pour expliquer la mesure prise : « Vos poèmes ennuyaient tout le monde. »
- La Vie doloureuse de Baudelaire, by Francois Porche
I recently re-read one of my favorite books of the nineties, James Buchan’s Frozen Desire, an essay on money that gives as much weight to paintings of Judas, the life of Baudelaire, and Raskolnikov (the final dire dialectical figure at the end of laissez faire) as it does to Adam Smith, Keynes and Simmel – and of course it ignores the horrid Milton Friedman, God rest his soul.
About Baudelaire, Buchan quotes Proust’s phrase that Baudelaire sympathized with the poor as a form of anticipation – which is so wholly lovely that it is almost spoiled by going on (which, after all, is what determines, more than voice or rule, the way a line of poetry runs – it is only over when it is over for good – when nothing on that same line could be added that wouldn’t stain or destroy it – and thus the blank is part of the poem - and thus we fall down the poem as we fall down a ladder, rung by rung). Of course, in LI’s me me me way of looking at things, we thought that is exactly our own stance, or was. Of course, now anticipation is instantiation, and we have long had no pity whatsoever for the poor – simply a fanged and competitive attitude. Buchan adds that in the end, as Baudelaire was reduced to rags (but never dirty underwear, according to his biographer Porche), he compiled lists in his last journals. He listed all his friends. They were all prostitutes.
“Here the epoch has arrived of that long haired, graying Baudelaire, his neck enveloped – as per his hypochondria – with a violet scarf; the Baudelaire that was see walking like a shadow, a huge notebook under his arm, in company with the old Guys, at Musard’s, at a casino on the rue Cadet, at Valentino’s. To Monselet who, one evening, in one of those low dives where workers danced, asked him what he was doing there, he replied: I’m watching the death’s heads pass by (« Je regarde passer des têtes de mort. »).”
In these circumstances, when the old bird has almost molted its last feathers and the street reaches out its arms at night to take back its own, there is a moment of collapse and flight. This is when Baudelaire made his journey to Belgium. A complete disaster. And it is when he encountered an article by Jules Janin about Heine, in which Janin, praising Heine, still reproached him for being unreasonably melancholic at times – a point that Janin extended to all of contemporary literature. Where was the gaiety, the song? Where was that lie that eventually became La Traviata? Let’s have a little happy art, for a change. And of course, lets have no unexplained irony – irony is always being chased out of the city, fed hemlock, and in general fucked in the ass and thrown in the gutter – it is the dread of the Janins of the past, just as it is the dread of the Janins of the present – James Woods, for instance, to name a comparable contemporary critic. Baudelaire wrote Janin a letter – which he never sent him. It is a fantastic document, one of those texts in which something blazes out that … it is unfair to call prophetic, as though it were high praise that someone in the past anticipated our moo cow and nukes culture. What blazes out, just as what blazes out of Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, is the world within the world of the sibyls of modernism …
Okay, I’ll translate some of the letter in another post.