BEFORE, BEFORE never... or well, really, continuing within a belief that has been part of my life for more than 50 years: the printed word allows one to overcome the sureness of the grave, for a while or possibly this idea of... allows me to keep on but now closer to the inevitable end as I am and I was even then, back there in Patchogue though if Dalkey Archive keeps on they are to publish ST. PATRICK'S DAY Dublin 1974 possibly in time for that saint's day in 2014 and while JUST LIKE THAT, a book from a beginning and from an end to the so-called 60s, has also been finished as has NOTHING DOING, a book about a man looking for his own grave in the extreme southwest of the United States as he carries on his back a self-exiled Bulgarian psychoanalyst, a defrocked Catholic priest, a man living in Paris who woke up one morning to hear his wife saying she was planning to kill their child and ruin your life, and lastly a man in a wheelchair in the Gadsden Hotel lobby in Douglas Arizona who one day had left New York City...
And at the moment from EMPTY AMERICAN LETTERS:
and good morning. добро утро! G
naydin. Dra dhuit ar maidin.
first there was to be the possibility:
Welcome… but that word is even more ominous as there is the silent
completion of the command: and be gone with you.
My review of
By Roberto Calasso
the Italian by Alastair McEwen
Farrar Straus and
Reviewed by Thomas McGonigle
is more scandalous today than he was over one hundred and fifty years ago. Then, he was an obscure poet with one
partially suppressed book, Flowers of
Evil, an art critic when there didn’t seem to be any major artists and the
translator/promoter of a marginal foreign writer Edgar Allan Poe. Today, the scandal is more evident in sentences
such as: “One should always be drunk…
Drunk with what? With wine, with poetry,
or with virtue as you please. But get
drunk.”(Paris Spleen) or “There are no great men save the poet,
the priest, and the soldier. The man who
sings, the man who offers up sacrifice, and the man who sacrifices himself.” (Intimate Journals) or “Every newspaper,
from the first line to the last, is nothing but a tissue of horrors.” (Intimate
And now there is
the folly of Baudelaire in La Folie
Baudelaire, the latest book from Roberto Calasso, the most riveting and
demandingly suggestive critic in the world today , who established this
commanding position with: The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, The
Ruins of Kasch, Literature and the Gods, Ka, The Forty-Nine Steps, K and most recently, Tiepolo Pink.
The La Folie Baudelaire is no narrow study
of the poet’s work or even worse, a birth-to-death biography, but, rather by
associating the poet with the prominent writers and artists that he came into
contact with, Calasso has created what he calls, “analogical history… an
ever-more-urgent desideratum in an intellectually debilitated epoch such as the
reader is launched into this mysteriously obscure time, just before the
so-called conquest of the art world by
Impressionism, “Baudelaire used to suggest to his mother, Caroline, that they meet
surreptitiously at the Louvre: ‘There
isn’t a place in Paris where you can have a better chat, it’s heated you can
wait for someone without getting bored and what’s more it’s the most
respectable meeting place for a woman,’
the fear of the cold, the terror of boredom, the mother treated like a
lover, surreptitiousness and decency conjoined in a the place of art: only
Baudelaire could combine these elements…”
From this clearly
audacious beginning Calasso will anchor everything upon what he calls
“Baudelaire’s supreme prose work, The Painter of Modern Life marking it as
the single most important article on art ever written for its suggestiveness and
courage and for centering it upon, “an unknown, devoid of an academic protection,
a reporter of images who could not bear to see his name in print: Constantin
Guys. In one stroke, this move… led to the threshold of the new day in the form
of a desire forever unfulfilled: a desire for futility, eros, lightness and a
life that might be adventurous and even a little shady.”
was in expecting to be admitted to the French academy and Calasso quotes Sainte-Beuve
putting the knife into Baudelaire’s back, ”This singular folly with its
marquetry inlays of a planned and composite originality which for some time has
drawn the eye toward the extreme point of the Romantic Kamchatka I call Baudelaire’s
folly. The author is content to have done
something impossible in a place where it was thought that no one could go.” However,
Calasso’s gloss is prescient: “this
self-sufficient sovereign place, [where] little by little like successive waves
of nomads who made their camps in it, there grew up around that folly the
essence of that which was to appear since under the name of literature.”
All the well-known
artists and writers of the “brothel
museum” are here: Ingres,
Delacroix, Manet, Mallarme, Flaubert , even the maybe too familiar Degas nudes
appear. Bbut something startling happens
when we consider the allusive implications of Calasso’s description of an early
historical painting by Degas , "These
women are things that can be disposed of. We don't know why, and no
justification is required. There is no trace of war's fury. The air is frozen,
motionless. No one will witness this; no one will ask why. What is being
experienced here is a new way of killing for which a certain calm is necessary.
The victims form a group but not yet a mass--- and they can make no appeal for
help, in the silence of the countryside. An image that is like a new kind of
subject for meditation. We do not know if the horsemen are soldiers, criminals
With such glancing
hints the deeper purpose of the whole of Calasso’s project can be glimpsed: a
subtle enquiry into how a century of startling liberatory artistic promise and vast
industrial progress, could give birth to the next century defined by: Auschwitz, the Gulag and Hiroshima.
is the author of The Corpse Dream of N.
Petkov and Going to Patchogue and
the forthcoming ST. PATRICK’S DAY Dublin 1974
The version that saw itself into print recently and is likely to be my last published review as there is always the question of money for such and the editor who has read what I have written, as I have worked my way through hinmdreds of reviews for the LATimes, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday and the Village Voice and Bookforum... but who knows though I do know one sure thinks like all thinking people
'La Folie Baudelaire's' scandalous subject
The poet is studied by inquisitive literary critic Roberto Calasso, and the result is a questioning assault on received wisdom.By Thomas McGonigle, Special to the Los Angeles Times
2:00 PM PST, December 6, 2012
La Folie Baudelaire
By Roberto Calasso
Translated from the Italian by Alastair McEwen
Farrar Straus and Giroux: 339 pp., $35
Charles Baudelaire is more scandalous today than he was more than 150 years ago. Then, he was an obscure poet with one partly suppressed book, "Flowers of Evil"; an art critic when there didn't seem to be any major artists; and the translator-promoter of a marginal foreign writer named Edgar Allan Poe. Today, the scandal is evident in sentences such as this one from "Paris Spleen": "One should always be drunk…. Drunk with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue as you please. But get drunk."
And now there is yet further proof in "La Folie Baudelaire," the latest book from Roberto Calasso, the most inquisitively suggestive literary critic in the world today, who established this commanding position with "The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony," "The Ruin of Kasch" and, most recently, "Tiepolo Pink."
"The La Folie Baudelaire" is no narrow study of the poet's work or, even worse, a birth-to-death biography. Rather, by associating the poet with the prominent writers and artists with whom he came into contact, Calasso has created what he calls "analogical history … an ever-more-urgent desideratum in an intellectually debilitated epoch such as the present." A questioning assault upon the received wisdom, it exposes the hollow triumph of Impressionism and its artists, Renoir, Manet, Monet and Degas, over an implacable academy.
Calasso anchors much upon Baudelaire's prose work "The Painter of Modern Life," marking it as the single most important article on art ever written for its suggestiveness and courage, even though it is not centered on the legendary artists one would expect to find — Renoir et al. — but rather an artist named Constantin Guys: "an unknown, devoid of an academic protection, a reporter of images who could not bear to see his name in print."
All the well-known artists and writers of the "brothel museum" are here in "La Folie Baudelaire": Ingres, Delacroix, Manet, Mallarmé, Flaubert, even the maybe too familiar Degas of the nudes appear. But their work, their actual claim upon our attention is always seen from an inquisitorial point of view rather than a podium.
Calasso is not interested in explanations — he has become tired of having things explained to him, exquisitely displayed in the allusive implications of Calasso's description of an early historical painting ("Medieval War Scene") by Degas: "These women are things that can be disposed of. We don't know why, and no justification is required. There is no trace of war's fury. The air is frozen, motionless. No one will witness this; no one will ask why. What is being experienced here is a new way of killing for which a certain calm is necessary. The victims form a group but not yet a mass — and they can make no appeal for help, in the silence of the countryside. An image that is like a new kind of subject for meditation. We do not know if the horsemen are soldiers, criminals or executioners."
With this and many similar descriptive interrogations, the deeper purpose of Calasso's project can be glimpsed: a subtle inquiry into how the 19th century, and the popular description of it as a century of startling liberatory artistic promise and vast industrial progress, could give birth to a next century defined by Auschwitz, the gulag and Hiroshima.