Some definitions that may come in handy . . .

"In the end every literature grows bored if not refreshed by foreign participation." Goethe

Intralingual-Translation within a language
Interlingual-Language to language (word-for-word and transfer of meaning from one language to another)
Intersemiotic-system to system (e.g. French into sign language)
Diachronic-Across time
Synchronic-Across Distance

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wine, Women and Song: A Review of Baudelaire's, Flowers of Evil, Fleurs du Mal

Fleurs du Mal:  Flowers of Evil

Henry Miller said if you were going to write about cunt, you should put some hair on it. This is what Charles Baudelaire accomplishes in Fleurs du Mal. If truth is beauty and beauty is truth, then there is a lot that is beautiful in the ugliness of the world one enters in this collection. Beauty is also achieved through the smoking of opium, erotica and drink, a dulling of the harsh reality of existence in a Whitmanesque attempt at transcendence to the ideal from the reality of the spleen.
Like Henry Miller, Baudelaire both reveres and vilifies women in this collection.  Like Whitman, the transcendent move towards the ideal can often be attained through sex, but unlike Whitman, there is a crash towards the end with a Milleresque patina of misogyny.  Women are called both “my glory and my joy” (“Possessed” 4.14), but who could never understand his pain “though it’s as obvious as that smile of yours,” but we never hear from the woman, she is silenced because “you ask too many questions. No more talking now/my prying ignoramus, no more words/however sweet your voice” (“Semper Eadem” 5-10). It seems women are good enough for sexual transcendence, but are resented as the fulcrum from which the author is made aware of his own weakness in seeking them out. He enjoys the beauty of women, even if he casts it as a memento mori,  a sign of the death that awaits us all.
Flowers of Evil, displays a mind obsessed with death. It is almost existential in that we have no free will, but unlike the existentialists, there is a controlling force here in the form of Satan, who leads the speaker to opium and drink “which like a pestilence infects/my soul until it sinks/unconscious on the shores of death!” (“Poison” 18-20). Death, though it is clear the speaker fears it, sometimes seems a preferable option to an existence where one is controlled by sin, by the evil lure of women, and by drink and drugs.
The collection is rife with Catholic iconography which is also the ideology which blames women for the “fall.” Certainly “The Madonna” is where he’ll “forge a silver Footstool from the Moon/I’ll set the Serpent which my entrails feed/under your Heel, triumphant queen from whom/Redemptions flows/ to signify you flout/this monster varicose with hate and spleen” (26-28). Women are to be worshipped, but then one must self-flagellate for one’s uxoriousness and sink afresh into the world of the spleen.
The form of the poems seems formal to this reader, but I realize he is breaking free of the strict metered line,  even though I’m aware he often follows an ABAB or AABB rhyme scheme in the original French. His poems also seem to create movement toward the kind of conflicts being wrestled with in the poems themselves, such as in “The Lid.” You can really see the influence of Edgar Allan Poe in this piece, and also in its movement. Like the “Tell-Tale Heart” we are taken into a world where the “servant of Jesus, Aphrodite’s slave,” (3) moves through the poem to find himself under the “black lid of that enormous pot/in which innumerable generations boil” (13-14). The reader is moved from a “frozen sky” into the boiling pot, a horrific place to find oneself to be sure.
The collection exemplifies the Symbolist’s central tenet of the solitary figure versus a cruel world. Baudelaire is the master of this particular human predicament and Fleurs du Mal is an exhaustive study of it. 
 For More information:

No comments:

Post a Comment