Friday Filosophy v.02.10.2023
In Friday Filosophy v.02.10.2023, Ron Slee shares quotes and thoughts for your consideration from the French poet Charles Baudelaire.
Charles Pierre Baudelaire: (9 April 1821 – 31 August 1867) was a French poet who also produced notable work as an essayist, art critic and translator. His poems exhibit mastery in the handling of rhyme and rhythm, contain an exoticism inherited from Romantics, but are based on observations of real life.
Baudelaire was educated in Lyon, where he boarded. At 14, he was described by a classmate as “much more refined and distinguished than any of our fellow pupils…we are bound to one another…by shared tastes and sympathies, the precocious love of fine works of literature.” Baudelaire was erratic in his studies, at times diligent, at other times prone to “idleness”. Later, he attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, studying law, a popular course for those not yet decided on any particular career. He began to frequent prostitutes and may have contracted gonorrhea and syphilis during this period. He also began to run up debts, mostly for clothes. Upon gaining his degree in 1839, he told his brother “I don’t feel I have a vocation for anything.” His stepfather had in mind a career in law or diplomacy, but instead Baudelaire decided to embark upon a literary career. His mother later recalled: “Oh, what grief! If Charles had let himself be guided by his stepfather, his career would have been very different…He would not have left a name in literature, it is true, but we should have been happier, all three of us.”
His stepfather sent him on a voyage to Calcutta, India in 1841 in the hope of ending his dissolute habits. The trip provided strong impressions of the sea, sailing, and exotic ports, that he later employed in his poetry. (Baudelaire later exaggerated his aborted trip to create a legend about his youthful travels and experiences, including “riding on elephants”.) On returning to the taverns of Paris, he began to compose some of the poems of “Les Fleurs du Mal”. At 21, he received a sizable inheritance but squandered much of it within a few years. His family obtained a decree to place his property in trust, which he resented bitterly, at one point arguing that allowing him to fail financially would have been the one sure way of teaching him to keep his finances in order.
Baudelaire became known in artistic circles as a dandy and free-spender, going through much of his inheritance and allowance in a short period of time. During this time, Jeanne Duval became his mistress. She was rejected by his family. His mother thought Duval a “Black Venus” who “tortured him in every way” and drained him of money at every opportunity. Baudelaire made a suicide attempt during this period.
His most famous work, a book of lyric poetry titled Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), expresses the changing nature of beauty in the rapidly industrializing Paris during the mid-19th century. Baudelaire’s highly original style of prose-poetry influenced a whole generation of poets including Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé, among many others. He is credited with coining the term modernity (modernité) to designate the fleeting, ephemeral experience of life in an urban metropolis, and the responsibility of artistic expression to capture that experience. Marshall Berman has credited Baudelaire as being the first Modernist. Baudelaire is one of the major innovators in French literature. His poetry was influenced by the French romantic poets of the earlier 19th century, although its attention to the formal features of verse connects it more closely to the work of the contemporary “Parnassians”. As for theme and tone, in his works we see the rejection of the belief in the supremacy of nature and the fundamental goodness of man as typically espoused by the romantics and expressed by them in rhetorical, effusive and public voice in favor of a new urban sensibility, an awareness of individual moral complexity, an interest in vice (linked with decadence) and refined sensual and aesthetic pleasures, and the use of urban subject matter, such as the city, the crowd, individual passers-by, all expressed in highly ordered verse, sometimes through a cynical and ironic voice. Formally, the use of sound to create atmosphere, and of “symbols” (images that take on an expanded function within the poem), betray a move towards considering the poem as a self-referential object, an idea further developed by the Symbolists Verlaine and Mallarmé, who acknowledge Baudelaire as a pioneer in this regard.
Beyond his innovations in versification and the theories of symbolism and “correspondences”, an awareness of which is essential to any appreciation of the literary value of his work, aspects of his work that regularly receive much critical discussion include the role of women, the theological direction of his work and his alleged advocacy of “satanism”, his experience of drug-induced states of mind, the figure of the dandy, his stance regarding democracy and its implications for the individual, his response to the spiritual uncertainties of the time, his criticisms of the bourgeois, and his advocacy of modern music and painting (e.g., Wagner, Delacroix). He made Paris the subject of modern poetry. He brought the city’s details to life in the eyes and hearts of his readers.[
- A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors.
- Any healthy man can go without food for two days – but not without poetry.
- Genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will, childhood equipped now with man’s physical means to express itself, and with the analytical mind that enables it to bring order into the sum of experience, involuntarily amassed.
- I consider it useless and tedious to represent what exists, because nothing that exists satisfies me. Nature is ugly, and I prefer the monsters of my fancy to what is positively trivial.
- It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. For if, by ill luck, people understood each other, they would never agree.
- It is necessary to work, if not from inclination, at least from despair. Everything considered, work is less boring than amusing oneself.
- Poetry and progress are like two ambitious men who hate one another with an instinctive hatred, and when they meet upon the same road, one of them has to give place.
- The world only goes round by misunderstanding.
- We are weighed down, every moment, by the conception and the sensation of Time. And there are but two means of escaping and forgetting this nightmare: pleasure and work. Pleasure consumes us. Work strengthens us. Let us choose.
- There exist only three beings worthy of respect: the priest, the soldier, the poet. To know, to kill, to create.
The Time is Now.