Archive for the ‘baudelaire’ Category
From Baudelaire’s essay “The Painter of Modern Life”:
In this way a struggle is launched between the will to see all and forget nothing and the faculty of memory, which has formed the habit of a lively absorption of general colour and silhouette, the arabesque of contour. An artist with a perfect sense of form but one accustomed to relying above all on his memory and his imagination will find himself at the mercy of a riot of details all clamouring for justice with the fury of a mob in love with absolute equality. All justice is trampled underfoot; all harmony sacrificed and destroyed; many a trifle assumes vast proportions; many a triviality usurps the attention. The more our artist turns an impartial eye on detail, the greater is the state of anarchy. Whether he be long-sighted or short-sighted, all hierarchy and all subordination vanishes.
I wonder what Walter Benjamin made of this passage. Hard not to think of his description of a “perception whose ‘sense of the universal equality of things’ has increased to such a degree that it extracts it even from a unique object by means of reproduction,” although, of course CB is warning against the arrival of such a mode of perception while WB is (with due ambivalence) welcoming its arrival.
Obviously the relationship between literary form and political form is complex – incredibly complex. But it’s nonetheless there, and there more than simply as metaphorical. I’m going to leave this as I’m busy with nothing more than a potential suggestive stub which I’ll hopefully return to soon: linguistic / discursive / narrative forms come and go, and with them ways of seeing or thinking. Avant garde literature at times tries to bring new forms into existence or even into currency.
(One other stub: I might be wrong, but it strikes me that we have only paintings of crowd scenes from Paris 1848-1851 not photographs. We only get unmanned barricades in the latter, as the photographic process at the time demanded long exposures. This to me seems interesting, and almost undoubtedly relative – if tacitly – to what I’m trying to suggest about the quotation above from Baudelaire… See here… And correct me if I’m wrong…)
One other thing from the Paris trip – something I’d rather not get lost unread at the bottom of an overly long photoessay. Just as we were leaving the Jardin des Tuileries, we came upon this, an installation described in more depth here. You can probably guess who translated the Poe bit above. It’s from Baudelaire’s translation of Poe’s “Morella.” But the funny thing is that it’s a mistranslation. The first paragraph of the original goes this way – I’ve bolded the bit that is painted on the wall above:
With a feeling of deep yet most singular affection I regarded my friend Morella. Thrown by accident into her society many years ago, my soul from our first meeting, burned with fires it had never before known; but the fires were not of Eros, and bitter and tormenting to my spirit was the gradual conviction that I could in no manner define their unusual meaning or regulate their vague intensity. Yet we met; and fate bound us together at the altar, and I never spoke of passion nor thought of love. She, however, shunned society, and, attaching herself to me alone rendered me happy. It is a happiness to wonder; it is a happiness to dream.
But wondering and being astonished are two very different things, are they not? I feel like I’ve seen this slippage in translation before, and now am wondering myself whether there’s not something else to this. Baudelaire was actually quite preoccupied with that phrase of Poe’s – the calculation and recalculation of the relationship between astonishment and happiness can be found throughout his work. Here’s one very clear example, where he literally retranslates the passage, from “Salon de 1858”:
Je parlais tout à l’heure des artistes qui cherchent à étonner le public. Le désir d’étonner et d’être étonné est très-légitime. It is a happiness to wonder, “c’est un bonheur d’être étonné” ; mais aussi, it is a happiness to dream, “c’est un bonheur de rêver”. Toute la question, si vous exigez que je vous confère le titre d’artiste ou d’amateur des beaux-arts, est donc de savoir par quels procédés vous voulez créer ou sentir l’étonnement. Parce que le Beau est toujours étonnant, il serait absurde de supposer que ce qui est étonnant est toujours beau. Or notre public, qui est singulièrement impuissant à sentir le bonheur de la rêverie ou de l’admiration (signe des petites âmes), veut être étonné par des moyens étrangers à l’art, et ses artistes obéissants se conforment à son goût ; ils veulent le frapper, le surprendre, le stupéfier par des stratagèmes indignes, parce qu’ils le savent incapable de s’extasier devant la tactique naturelle de l’art véritable.
Baudelaire’s insistence on sticking with this mis-translation here is somewhat remarkable. At least with his version of “Morella,” the reader wouldn’t have the source-text at hand, and thus the license that he’s taking would go unnoticed. I suppose that one explanation would be that he doesn’t realize his mistranslating the phrase – perhaps he’s make a leap from “a wonder,” that is an astonishing thing or occurence, to a verbal form that it doesn’t really fit.
But in the end, whether Baudelaire was aware of what he was doing or not, whether this is a kind of translational parapraxis or intentionally distorting paraphrase, I’m tempted to say that what we see here is something like Baudelaire’s forced modernization of the darkly romantic Poe. He takes the self-involved wondering and jams it outside, transforms it into external shock.
Don’t have it at hand, and it seems to be a bit out of sync with the French version at Gutenberg, so working from (potentially projective) memory… But what was published by New Directions as Baudelaire’s Intimate Journals seemed to be effectively split into two parts, thematically. The first section presents a series of aphorisms and meditations, ever more dark and cynical as CB goes along, about the economics of interpersonal, especially sexual, relationships. That is to say, the darkness derives from the fact that they are economic, endless variations of whoredom and keptness in which either the male or female party can play either part.
The affectual atmospherics of this section, we can imagine, we can smell, were born in CB’s propensity for drink and the way that he arranged his sex life. Hellish stuff, but it only gets worse, as the second section of the book shifts focus from sex to work. A stream of self-chastisements, imploring himself over and over simply to get down to work, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.
One must work, if not from inclination, at least out of despair – since it proves, on close examination, that work is less boring than amusing oneself.
Despairing, neurotic work as the only thing better than the unholy finance of sex. To give this sort of thing space, to fill up pages of a notebook with nothing but promises that the work will be better tomorrow…. Do you see the strange math in the passage? The way that the “proof” works? I suppose one reading would be that close examination of work and amusement reveals that the former is more interesting. But I am feel sure that this is not at all what CB means. Rather, I think it’s the despair itself that settles the accounts – despair is less boring than amusement, in other words. In his rendition, and in the world that he describes, there’s only one general equivalent available, and it’s not money but pain.