Presentation on theme: "HUM 102 – Baudelaire, Flowers of Evil, Prose Poems Daniel Hoffman-Schwartz."— Presentation transcript:
HUM 102 – Baudelaire, Flowers of Evil, Prose Poems Daniel Hoffman-Schwartz
Charles Baudelaire 1821, Born in Paris. 1839, Graduated from boarding school in Lyon – a talented but undisciplined student; accumulated debts from money spent on clothing and prostitutes. 1841, Sent to Calcutta, India by parents in hopes that he would be reformed. 1845-1846, Baudelaire works as an art critic, writing about French Romantic painting 1848, February Revolution, in which Baudelaire took part. 1848-1852, Translates short stories by Edgar Allan Poe 1851, Elected President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte becomes Emperor in Coup d’état, who begins major renovation of Paris with Prefect Baron Haussmann, the so-called “Demolition Artist” of Paris.
Charles Baudelaire 1857, Publishes his most famous collection of poetry Flowers of Evil, causing an immediate scandal for its transgressive themes and imagery; Baudelaire is prosecuted for obscenity. 1859, Publishes essay Painter of Modern Life. 1861, Second edition of Flowers of Evil is published, with new poems added, but 6 “offensive” poems removed. 1861-1867, Works on Paris Spleen prose poems. 1867, Baudelaire dies after long period of misery characterized by poverty, debt, and ill health. 1869, Posthumous publication of Paris Spleen.
Introduction What place does art (specifically, poetry) have in new industrial-capitalist modernity? Is poetry still possible under such conditions? What can art (specifically, poetry) teach us about modernity?
“Modernity” [La modernité] Baudelaire is credited with coining the term “modernity” [la modernité] in his 1859 essay “The Painter of Modern Life,” on the artist Constantin Guys. The term “modernity” actually emerges in the field of aesthetics or art criticism. It does not refer in the first instance to a period of history that we could date. It refers instead to the awareness of history as such – what we might call ‘historicity’
Introduction of “Modernity” [La modernité] “[Guys] is looking for that something we may be allowed to call ‘modernity,’ for want of a better term to express the idea in question. The aim for him is to extract from fashion the poetry that resides in its historical envelope, to distil the eternal from the transitory.” The poetic is thus NOT the eternal as such (i.e., “timeless beauty”), but the eternal in the transitory. Beginning of modern or modernist aesthetics…
CB’s definition of “Modernity” [La modernité] “Modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immutable.” Why is modernity only ‘one half of art’? Contrast Arthur Rimbaud (1873): “One must be absolutely modern” [Il faut être absolument moderne].
CB’s definition of “Modernity” [La modernité] Art by definition arrests (‘stops’) what it represents, even when it represents that which moves or changes (i.e., ‘the modern’); a fully modern art is impossible. Seneca: “Art is long, life is short.” In other words: “modernity” flees (‘escapes’) from everything, even from (modern?) art. Modernity is so ‘fleeting’ that it can’t be represented, or can only be represented negatively, in its disappearance or ‘flight.’
“Modernity” [La modernité] “You have no right to despise this transitory, fleeting element, the metamorphoses of which are so frequent, nor to dispense with it. If you do, you inevitably fall into the emptiness of an abstract and indefinable beauty, like that of the one and only woman of the time before the Fall.” Baudelaire goes against whole Western theological and metaphysical tradition: embrace of historicity, change (or ‘fallen-ness’), rather than simply the unchanging Idea (Plato) or the eternal afterlife (Christianity).
Comparison/Review 1: Modernity, Historicity, and Change (Marx) Marx (1848): “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.”
Comparison/Review 2: Modernity, Historicity, and Change (Kant) Kant (1784): “When we ask, Are we now living in an enlightened age? The answer is, No, but we live in an age [Zeitalter] of enlightenment.”
Comparison/Review 3: Modernity, Historicity, and Change (Machiavelli) Machiavelli (1513/1532): “It is not unknown to me how many men have had, and still have, the opinion that the affairs of the world are in such ways governed by fortune and by God that men with their wisdom cannot direct them and that no one can even help them; and because of this they would have us believe that it is not necessary to labor much in affairs, but to let chance govern them. This opinion has been more credited in our times because of the great changes in affairs which have been seen, and may still be seen, every day, beyond all human conjecture.”
Flowers of Evil [Fleurs du Mal], 1857 “Flowers” – poems, artfully constructed language, rhetoric. “Evil,” [Mal] – also implies sickness, decadence, “malady.” Link of poet and poetic beauty to the amoral or immoral, as well as to death and decay (historicity/temporality).
“Correspondences”: 1 st Stanza; Verticality? “Nature is a temple where living pillars/Let sometimes emerge confused words;/Man crosses it through forests of symbols/Which watch him with intimate eyes.” “Nature is a temple”: a temple is a place where an invisible or transcendent entity becomes manifest in visible signs – vertical relationship.
“Correspondences”: 1 st Verse; Nature as Logos In other words: “Nature” understood as Logos – Book of Nature or the Word (Word of God). On this model, perception would mean reading and immediately understanding Book of Nature.
“Correspondences”: 1 st Verse; Crisis of Logos “Nature is a temple where living pillars/Let sometimes emerge confused words;” So nature is not immediately readable, is not structured as Logos. In other words: “forests of symbols…”; obscure or dark space, rather than a space of enlightenment or revelation or illumination.
“Correspondences”: 1 st Stanza This starts to sound a lot like the modern city: “forests of symbols” – overwhelming excess of signs and stimuli; Confusion of human and inhuman – “living pillars”; Sensation of being seen – “intimate eyes” (or “familiar looks,” “regards familiers”); “living pillars” plus “intimate eyes” >> shapeless, indeterminate body of the crowd or masses.
Walter Benjamin’s Hypothesis on Baudelaire “The masses had become so much a part of Baudelaire that it is rare to find a description of them in his works. His most important subjects are hardly ever encountered in descriptive form….In Parisian Scenes, the secret presence of a crowd is demonstrable almost everywhere.”
“Correspondences,” 2 nd and 3 rd Stanzas: Synesthesia and the Senses of the City Synesthesia; from the Greek ‘Syn-,’ ‘together’, and ‘aisthesis,’ ‘sensation.’ Sense-experience that combines and mixes the senses; i.e. hearing smells or seeing sounds. “Like those deep echoes that meet from afar/In a dark and profound harmony,/As vast as night and clarity,/So perfumes, colors, tones answer each other. There are perfumes fresh as children's flesh,/Soft as oboes, green as meadows,/And others, corrupted, rich, triumphant,”
“Correspondences,” 2 nd and 3 rd Stanzas Takes confusion and overstimulation of the city – the disorganization of the senses – and gives it poetic order; Fundamental poetic procedure: producing (seeing, finding) likeness (or correspondence) between things that are unlike. Analogy between finding ‘eternal in the transitory,’ ‘likeness in disorder.’
“Correspondences,” 2 nd and 3 rd Stanzas: Synesthesia and the Senses of the City “Like those deep echoes that meet from afar/In a dark and profound harmony,/As vast as night and clarity,/So perfumes, colors, tones answer each other.” Even though this atmosphere is ‘dark’ and forest- like, there is nonetheless a kind of sense or intelligibility: “So perfumes, colors, tones answer each other [se répondent].” But there is no clear hierarchy, only mutual echo or mutual response.
“Correspondences,” 2 nd and 3 rd Stanzas: Synesthesia and the Senses of the City ” There are perfumes fresh as children's flesh,/Soft as oboes, green as meadows,/And others, corrupted, rich, triumphant,” Sensuousness as ‘evil’ [le mal]: “perfumes fresh as children’s flesh” – amoral or purely aesthetic attitude Aesthetics of “corruption”: preference for that which is mixed, impure, and therefore ‘richer.’
“Correspondences,” 4th Stanza “Possessing the diffusion of infinite things,/Like amber, musk, incense, and aromatic resin,/Chanting the ecstasies of spirit and senses.” Smells that cannot be localized in space (in-finite), expand, contract, and move invisibly; Evoke memories of other places and thus virtually ‘dis-place’ the subject. Ending with enumeration; poem could go on endlessly…
“Correspondences,” 3 rd and 4th Stanzas The goal of the poem is ‘ecstasy’ or transport, going ‘outside of oneself’; The infinite things Baudelaire lists are almost all ‘foreign’ (Other, mysterious, exotic) objects and words: “amber, musk, incense, and aromatic resin [benjoin].”
“Correspondences,” 3 rd and 4th Stanzas Amber, from the Middle Persian word ambar, via Arabic 'anbar, Medieval Latin ambar and Old French ambre.’ Musk, from the Sanskrit word for "testicle,” “muṣká.” Benjoin (“aromatic resin”), from Catalan “benjui,” from Arabic “lubān jāwī.” Linguistic reflection of ‘globalization’ (cf. Marx)
“Correspondences”: Conclusions/Questions Is this “ecstasy” or “transport” an escape in the city? Or an escape from the city? Does the poem ultimately emphasize ‘correspondence’ and thus meaning or sense (as in “So perfumes, colors, tones answer each other”)? Or prosaic, senseless enumeration (“infinite things,/Like amber, musk, incense, and aromatic resin”) In other words: is this a poem about possibility of (modern) poetry? Or its impossibility?
“To a Passer-By” [À une passante]: Like “Correspondences,” “To a Passer-By” also concerns what one encounters as one traverses the city and its “forests of symbols”; But whereas the first poem emphasizes correspondence (echo, harmony, ‘meeting up,’ coordination); plural (“Correspondences”) the second poem emphasizes non- correspondence (passage, non-encounter, non-coordination); singular (“To a Passer-By”).
“To a Passer-By”: Mourning Begins with over-stimulation and immersion in environment: “The street about me roared with a deafening sound”; environment in which ‘voice’ of lyric poetry can no longer be heard. Presence of death, worldliness, and temporality: “Tall, slender, in heavy mourning, majestic grief,/A woman passed”; Not only is the woman in mourning, but she is also an object of mourning; she ‘passed by’ (past- tense).
“To a Passer-By”: Mortification She appears in a fleeting, fragmentary way to male poet: “…with a glittering hand/Raising, swinging the hem and flounces of her skirt”; Memory only intensifies this fragmentation; movement becomes stasis, virtual death: “Agile and graceful, her leg was like a statue’s.” Statue [Statue] – mortification; rhymes with end of verse – “pleasure that kills [qui tue].”
“To a Passer-By”: Temporality Mourning, mourned woman becomes emblem or symbol of “modernity,” a representation of that which passes by, a freezing of moment of loss itself: “A lightning flash…then night! Fleeting beauty/by whose glance I was suddenly reborn.”
“To a Passer-By”: Escape? Ending: Compare with “Correspondences”; “Elsewhere, far, far from here! too late! never perhaps!/For I know not where you fled, you know not where I go,/O you whom I would have loved, O you knew it!” Mirror-images: city as space of transport or ecstasy (“Correspondences”) v. city as space of abandonment, hopelessness.
The Swan [Le Cygne] In French, “Cygne,” ‘Swan,’ is a homophone (i.e., ‘sounds like’) for “Signe,” ‘Sign.’ A few years after Baudelaire, Victor Hugo – to whom the poem is dedicated – will write: “Les cygnes comprennent les signes” [“swans understand signs”]. Poem closely related to “To a Passer-By,” but elaborates in much more detail themes of the city, change, and temporality.
“The Swan”: Andromache Opening address – “Andromache, I think of you” – refers back to Iliad and Aenead. Andromache, widow of Hector (himself son of Priam and Hecuba), is also a captive; figure of mourning, exile, and homesickness. Compare “majestic grief” (“To a Passer-By”) and “vast majesty of your widow’s grieving”; mourning woman is like Andromache. But so is the homesick or exiled narrator: “Elsewhere, far, far from here!”
“The Swan”: Change and Memory “To A Passerby”: The speed and intensity of the new city; a problem for perception “The Swan”: The speed of change and “development” within the new city; a problem for perception and memory (or perception- memory). The more rapid and frequent the change, the more there is to remember.
“The Swan”: Carrousel “…Suddenly made fruitful my teeming memory,/As I walked across the new Carrousel./ – Old Paris is no more (the form of a city/Changes more quickly, alas! than the human heart);” Carrousel: Neighborhood in Paris, populated by both the working-class and bohemian artists, abruptly torn down and rebuilt in 1852, after Napoleon III took power.
“The Swan”: Exile So: the speaker is mourning the loss of his old home, from which he feels exiled (like Andromache). Exile in space becomes exile in time; homesickness for the past (“nostalgia”).
“The Swan”: Caesura “– Old Paris is no more” – factual, prosaic historical statement, Followed by more highly poetic (or “romantic”) parenthesis: “(the form of a city/Changes more quickly, alas! than the human heart);” “alas!” – caesura (interruption in meter) signifies “human heart” and its irregularity; stands in for ‘romanticism,’ ‘poetry.’
“(the form of a city/Changes more quickly, alas! than the human heart);” “(la forme d'une ville/Change plus vite, hélas! que le coeur d'un mortel);” “Changes” is made first word of the line for emphasis; key-word for the poem. Capitalization is conventional for first word of line, but it also often implies something eternal or transcendent (e.g., an idea); Typical Baudelairean paradox: “Change” itself as the only eternal or transcendent force in modernity.
“The Swan”: The Swan The speaker recalls having seen a (mythic?) escaped swan in the middle of the Carrousel neighborhood. Why a swan? A bird identified with mourning and poetic lament; according to Greek myth, a swan sings a song before it dies, a ‘swan song.’ In Greek myth, Zeus transforms himself into a swan to impregnate Leda, who will give birth to Helen of Troy.
Leda and the Swan, Peter Paul Rubens (After Michelangelo)
“The Swan”: The Swan “I see that hapless bird, that strange and fatal myth,/ Toward the sky at times, like the man in Ovid,/Toward the ironic, cruelly blue sky,/Stretch his avid head upon his quivering neck,/As if he were reproaching God!” The swan, domesticated or ‘denaturalized,’ cannot quite take flight; In metaphorical terms, no access to vertical or transcendent dimension; impossibility of poetry, poetic transcendence.
“The Swan”: Allegory “Paris changes! But naught in my melancholy/Has stirred! New palaces, scaffolding, blocks of stone,/Old quarters, all has become for me allegory,” Allegory: extended metaphor, or metaphorical story; literally, from the Greek, “allos-,” ‘other or different,’ and “agoreuo,” ‘to speak’; literally, ‘to speak otherwise.’
“The Swan”: Allegory Everything stands for something else; the present ‘real’ world becomes a mere metaphor for past and mythic worlds. Endless chain of substitutions of signs (signes): New Paris>>Old Paris>>Athens-Troy-Rome Andromache>>the Swan (Zeus? Helen?)>>Icarus
“The Swan”: Allegory “And my dear memories are heavier than rocks” – the poet-allegorist, like the swan, cannot take flight – no matter how many exclamation points he uses! The allegory can never end or take on a meaningful final shape; thus the (non-)ending lines: “Of the captives, of the vanquished!...of many others too!”
The Swan: “Elsewhere”? As in “Correspondences,” this homesickness and desire for an “elsewhere” touches upon colonialism, imperialism, and cultural difference; For the displaced “negress” too the New Paris has become an allegory for Africa (which would be concealed beneath the “immense wall of mist”).
The Swan: ‘Dialectic’ of Ancient and Modern Modern Paris resembles all of these ancient cities precisely to the extent that it too is being surpassed by history, becoming a ruin; this is why ancient Rome and Troy and Athens can become visible in Paris. Mourning is thus not for antiquity, but for modernity itself.
Prose Poems/The Spleen of Paris (1869) “Who among us has not dreamed, in his ambitious days, of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without rhythm or rhyme, supple enough and jarring enough to be adapted to the soul's lyrical movements, the undulations of reverie, to the twists and turns that consciousness takes?”
“The Evil Glass-Seller” (Le mauvais vitrier) Begins in the 3 rd person with a theory of a certain kind of temperament (or ‘personality’) that seems to be distinctively modern: “There are people whose temperaments are properly contemplative and altogether improper for action who, nevertheless, under a mysterious and unknown impulse, sometimes act with a rapidity of which they themselves would have thought themselves incapable.”
“The Evil Glass-Seller” (Le mauvais vitrier) “Who…suddenly feel themselves abruptly precipitated towards an action by an irresistible force, like an arrow from a bow” “lazy and voluptuous souls” Crisis of modern subjectivity (exhausted, overwhelmed ‘subject’ of modern city) Either cannot act at all… Or acts uncontrollably…
“The Evil Glass-Seller” (Le mauvais vitrier) Narrator gives us a detached theory of detached action – indifferent aesthetic pleasure in violence and destruction: “One of my friends, the most inoffensive dreamer who ever existed, once set fire to a forest to see, he said, if it would catch fire as easily as is generally affirmed. Ten times in a row the experiment failed; but the eleventh time it succeeded far too well. Another lit a cigar next to a keg of powder, to see, to understand, to tempt fate, to force himself to prove his energy, to gamble, to acquaint himself with the pleasures of anxiety, for reason at all, by caprice, out of idleness.”
“The Evil Glass-Seller” (Le mauvais vitrier) The narrator turns out to be one of the very subjects he describes: “I have more than once been the victim of these crises and transports, which permit us to believe that Demons have entered into us and make us accomplish, unbeknownst to us, their most absurd whims.”
“The Evil Glass-Seller” (Le mauvais vitrier) “The first person I saw in the street was a glass-seller whose piercing and discordant patter rose all the way up to me through the heavy and dirty Parisian air.” “Piercing and discordant patter” – harsh sound of the city, rather than soothing or beautiful voice of traditional lyric poetry. Again, blocking of verticality or transcendent dimension: “heavy and dirty Parisian air”; “the man would necessarily experience some difficulty in making his ascent and would run the risk of catching the corners of his fragile merchandise in many places.”
“The Evil Glass-Seller” (Le mauvais vitrier) “I walked over to the balcony and grabbed a little pot of flowers, and when the man reappeared at the doorway, I let my engine of war drop perpendicularly onto the posterior edge of his hooks holding his rack of glass; and, the impact of this having knocked him over, he succeeded in breaking under his back all of his poor ambulatory fortune, which emitted the explosive noise of a crystal palace shattered by thunder.” “Pot of flowers” as “engine of war” (cf. Flowers of Evil) “Explosive noise…” – dissonant, inhuman noise as poetry of the future, rather than lyrical voice. “of a crystal palace shattered by thunder” – reference to architectural structure that exemplifies 19 th century capitalism
The Crystal Palace The Great Exhibition of 1851 -- London
“The Evil Glass-Seller” (Le mauvais vitrier) “Finally he appeared. I examined all of his window-panes curiously and said to him: ‘– What? You don’t have colored glass? Pink, red, blue glass, magical windows, windows of paradise? How impudent you are! You dare to parade about the poor quarters, and you don’t even have window-panes that would make the world look beautiful!’” Question of ‘aestheticization’ – i.e., of making the world look beautiful, and of ‘mystifying’ economic reality. Ironization of one traditional function of poetry; this points to a different mode or practice of poetry in the prose poems.
“The Evil Glass-Seller” (Le mauvais vitrier) “And, drunk with my folly, I shouted at him furiously: ‘The world through rose-colored glass! The world through rose- colored glass!’ These nervous practical jokes are not without peril, and they may often cost one dearly. But what does an eternity of damnation matter to he who has found in a second an infinity of enjoyment?” Why does the narrator shout ‘The world through rose-colored glass! The world through rose-colored glass!’? Because this is what is lacking? Or because his act is a kind of aesthetic act? Back (almost) to where we started: not the transitory in the eternal, but the infinite in the instantaneous.
“The Evil Glass-Seller” (Le mauvais vitrier) Perhaps Baudelaire goes beyond alternative of ‘aestheticizing’ world and showing us ‘reality’ (leaving the ‘forest of symbols’). Instead: a nihilistic, destructive, anarchic energy… But also: the production of a new, almost incomprehensible ‘poetry’ from the impossibility of poetry in modernity.