August 2007


The pleasure which we derive from the representation of the present is due not only to the beauty with which it can be invested, but also to its essential quality of being present. . . . It is still possible today for the spectator’s imagination to give a stir and a rustle to this ‘tunique’ or that ‘schall’. . . . Without losing anything of its ghostly attraction, the past will recover the light and movement of life and will become present.

Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life” 1863. In Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays. Jonathan Mayne, trans. (London: Phaidon, 2006), pp. 1-2.

In whatever attitude it may be running, a carriage, like a ship derives from its movement a mysterious and complex grace which is very difficult to note down in shorthand. The pleasure which it affords the artist’s eye would seem to spring from the series of geometric shapes which this object already so intricate, whether it be ship or carriage, cuts swiftly and successively in space.

Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life” 1863. In Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays (London: Phaidon, 2006), p. 40.

Behold a universe so immense that I am lost in it. I no longer know where I am. I am just nothing at all. Our world is terrifying in its insignificance.

– Bernard de Fontenelle quoted in Edward Robert Harrison. Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos. 2nd ed ed. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003: 101.

When, with a poet’s will, the sun descends

into the cities like a king incognito,

impartially visiting palace and hospital,

the fate of all things vile is glorified.

Translation of excerpt from Baudelaire’s “Le Soleil” by Michael W. Jennings. For other translations and to see the entire poem visit fleursdumal.org’s “Le Soleil” page.

Adorable spring has lost its fragrance!

And Time engulfs me minute by minute,
As the immense snow a stiffening corpse;
I survey from above the roundness of the globe
And I no longer seek there the shelter of a hut.

Avalanche, will you sweep me along in your fall?

– Excerpt from Charles Baudelaire, “Le Goût du Néant”. 1861. From William Aggeler, trans., The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954). To read a complete version in both French and English go to fleursdumal.org’s “Le Goût du Néant”. Or hear some of his other poems in French at fleursdumal.org.

The art of flying is hardly yet born. It will be perfected and some day people will fly up to the moon. Do we pretend to have discovered everything, or to have brought our knowledge to a point where nothing can be added to it? Oh, for mercy’s sake, let us agree that there is still something left for the ages to come!

Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle quoted by Emanuel Swedenborg in 1714. See: Flying Machine (Swedenborg) in Wikipedia.

If all the energy and passion … that are expended every year at Europe’s gambling tables … were stored up, an entire Roman people and Roman history could be created from them. But this is precisely the point. Because every man is born a Roman, bourgeois society seeks to de-Romanize him, and this is why there are games of chance, as well as parlor games, novels, Italian operas and fashionable newspapers.

– Ludwig Borne, c. 1830s, quoted in Walter Benjamin. “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire.” In Benjamin. The Writer in Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2006, p.194.

Whereas Poe’s passers-by cast glances in all directions, seemingly without cause, today’s pedestrians are obliged to look about them so that they can be aware of traffic signals. Thus, technology has subjected the human sensorium to a complex kind of training. There came a day when a new and urgent need for stimuli was met by film. In a film, perception conditioned by shock was established as a formal principle. What determines the rhythm of production on a conveyor belt is the same thing that underlies the rhythm of reception in the film.

– Walter Benjamin. “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire.” In Benjamin. The Writer in Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2006, p.191.

Who among us has not dreamed, in his ambitious moments, of the miracle of poetic prose, musical, yet without rhythm, and without rhyme, supple and resistant enough to adapt to the lyrical stirrings of the soul, the undulations of reverie, and the sudden leaps of consciousness. This obsessive ideal is born, above all, from the experience of giant cities, from the intersecting of their myriad relations.

Baudelaire, in his dedication to Arsène Houssaye, in Paris Speen, quoted by Benjamin in his essay, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire.” Benjamin. The Writer in Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2006, p.180.

We must understand that this red under my eyes is not, as is always said, a quale, a pellicle of being without thickness, a message at the same time indecipherable and evident, which one has or has not received but of which, if one has received it, one knows all there is to know, and of which in the end there is nothing to say. It requires a focusing, however brief; it emerges from a less precise, more general redness, in which my gaze was caught, into which it sank, before … fixing it. And, now that I have fixed it, if my eyes penetrate into it, into its fixed structure, or if they start to wander round about again, the quale resumes its atmospheric existence. Its precise form is bound up with a certain wooly, metallic, or porous configuration or texture, and the quale itself counts for very little compared with these participations. Claudel has a phrase saying that a certain blue of the sea is so blue that only blood would be more red. The color is yet a variant in another dimension of variation, that of its relations with the surroundings: this red is what it is only by connecting up from its place with other reds about it, with which it forms a constellation, or with other colors it dominates or that dominate it, that it attracts or that attract it, that it repels or that repel it. In short, it is a certain node in the woof of the simultaneous and the successive. It is a concretion of visibility, it is not an atom. The red dress a fortiori holds with all its fibers onto the fabric of the visible, and thereby onto a fabric of invisible being. A punctuation in the field of red things, which includes the tile of roof tops, the flags of gatekeepers and of the Revolution, certain terrains near Aix or in Madagascar, it is also a punctuation into the field of red garments, which includes, along with the dresses of women, robes of professors, bishops, and advocate generals, and also in the field of adornments and that of uniforms. And its red literally is not the same as it appears in one constellation or in the other, as the pure essence of the Revolution of 1917 precipitates in it, or that of the eternal feminine, or that of the public prosecutor, or that of gypsies dressed like hussars who reigned twenty-five years ago over an inn on the Champs-Elysées. A certain red is also a fossil drawn up from the depths of imaginary worlds. If we took all these participations into account, we would recognize that a naked color, and in general a visible, is not a chunk of absolutely hard, invisible being, offered all naked to a vision would be only total or null, but is rather a sort of straits between exterior horizons and interior horizons ever gaping open, something that comes to touch lightly and make diverse regions of the colored or visible world resound at the distances, a certain differentiation, an ephemeral modulation of this world–less a color or a thing, therefore, than a difference between things and colors, a momentary crystallization of colored being or of visibility. Between the alleged colors and visibles, we would find anew the tissue that lines them, sustains them, nourishes them, and which for its part is not a thing, but a possibility, a latency, and a flesh of things.

– Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The Visible and the Invisible. Alphonso Lingus, trans. Evanston: Northwestern UP, [1964] 1968, pp. 131-133.

Next Page »