Baudelaire by Calasso

By: Daniel Céspedes Góngora

La Folie Baudelaire
La Folie Baudelaire

Writing is that which, like eros, makes the limits of the self oscillate and porous. Every style is formed by successive campaigns –with squads of raiders or with entire armies– in foreign territory.

Roberto Calasso

“Today, the right place for Baudelaire is a track for fast traffic”, has written the Italian writer Roberto Calasso in one of his books full of references, Renaissance, where prose does not lose its appeal compared to his willingness to take what little and much to gather according to an end or at least to its central object of study: the author of The flowers of evil, The artificial paradises, The spoils … La Folie Baudelaire1 has key ingredients so that it is not a best seller, but a classic premature that will continue to assert itself in that category over time.

The term folie as it is exposed in the chapters (I. The natural darkness of things; II. Ingres the monomaniac, III. Visit to Madame Azur, IV. The dream of the brothel-museum, V. The labile feeling of modernity , VI. The violence of childhood, VII. Kamchatka) corresponds to the characteristic name of the eighteenth century for certain pavilions intended for leisure and pleasure. The book tries and manages to answer how that so-called pavilion of the poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire was formed, of the frustrated dandy –not par excellence as some have pointed out–. It is about that orb that continues to exert influence in the 21st century and that was perhaps anticipated before his own birth in 1821 (April 9). Indeed, Baudelaire, Aryan like Leonardo da Vinci and Rafael Sanzio, honored his sign. An enlightened stroller, the eccentric flâneur, contributed to the definition of a cursed poet until he was embraced by her. Difficult sometimes in some poems but always provoking from them and in his prose; his prose as a dwelling place for the incentive of vocation. Without disregarding the poet at all (see the section “Violence in childhood”), Calasso prefers the art writer.

Calasso conceives a fragmented structure about the life of “Dante from a decadent age”. But it is not of interest now – perhaps nor in future – to biograph the use. Be that as it may, the reader accesses a familiar Baudelaire and one recovered as imaginable, thanks to an already astonishing rarity, the one that begins with the meddling in all existing sources and to have. That meddling is a substitute for curiosity. She is put at the service of an essayistic complacency. The author of it narrates in a big way when he takes advantage of the allegorical constellation generated by Baudelaire.

There are the quotes, the fragments of letters and diaries, snippets of his art criticism, the poem of others influencing his own. Here is Baudelaire exposed like never before, because the man shows the artist and vice versa … Calasso alludes when he wants to, but in principle his thing is to detonate the data and then go to the investigation of him. He knows that the recovery of the antecedent implies a more complex personal demand: to reconquer with justice the fragments of the other in a determined swing between past and present. Review that it is a monopoly, prudence that discards, generous appropriation. Play as Mary Shelley to successive authorship, since fiction bundles reality, enriching it. Playing as Victor Frankenstein’s frame is risky, but Calasso brings to life an erudite, bold, beautiful monster.

On the cover of the book you can see Table with a Nude Woman Lying Down, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, a work of 1852, one of the four daguerreotypes found in a drawer of the artist’s secretary. The image is discussed in Chapter II. Perhaps it is precisely that, called “Ingres the monomaniac”, one of the least apparent in appearance the central man of this book. Baudelaire is mentioned a couple of times at the beginning. When the text is heading to its closure and to reveal by mistake a clandestine independence, Calasso takes up the figure of the critic, the reason for his preference for Delacroix over Ingres. Beyond breaking down the isolation that his reflections on the author of The Turkish Bath might suppose, the forty-four pages represent a master lesson for any historian and art critic.

In the prologue to the reissue of Baudelaire and the art critic (Editorial Arte y Literatura) had only pointed out the name of Diderot without developing the correspondences between the two illustrated ones, considering how much the author of Salons, critiques de arte (1759-1781) influenced in whom he would continue and make very personal the state of boredom that also began. Calasso in the first section of La Folie… helped me by writing:

But what was there in Diderot to attract Baudelaire? It was certainly not ‘the cult of nature’, that ‘great religion’ that united Diderot with Holbach and was completely alien to Baudelaire. Above all, the attraction was due to a certain course of thought, a certain capacity for psychic oscillation in which – as Baudelaire wrote of a Diderot theatrical character – “sensitivity is linked to irony and the strangest cynicism.”


In the chain of insolence, impertinence and immediacy that links Diderot’s Salons with Baudelaire’s, there is an intermediate link: Stendhal’s Historie de la peinture en Italie. Printed in 1817 for a practically non-existent audience, this book must have seemed to young Baudelaire like a precious viaticum. Not so much because of the painters’ understanding, that he was never Stendhal’s strong suit, but because of his carefree, expeditious, light manner, as if he is willing to do anything but get bored while he writes ”.

This year, when we celebrate the bicentennial of the author of The Spleen of Paris, La Folie Baudelaire is surely one of the most ambitious and accomplished books in a long time on the great Frenchman. Ω


[1] Roberto Calasso: La Folie Baudelaire, translation by Edgardo Dobry, Editorial Anagrama, Barcelona, ​​2011.

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