Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Literature Every Lolita Should Know: Baudelaire

I'm very excited about this sub-series! I've been wanting to translate my English major into this blog for ages, but I couldn't figure out just the right way to do so. This is a branch of my Literary Lolita series that hasn't gotten much love in far too long.

Charles Baudelaire was born in 1821 in Paris. He is regarded as a poet, critic, and essayist; his best-selling collection of poetry, Les Fleurs de Mal (The Flowers of Evil), was first published in 1857, though it was revised many times both before and after his death. It was quite the scandalous read, touching on topics like lesbianism, erotica, vampirism, and the macabre, which were very taboo at this time, and was one of the many forerunners to the Modernist movement. It caused such an uproar that he, the publisher, and the printer were all fined heavily for creating an offense against public morals, and called for the suppression and removal of six of the raunchiest poems. As well as being a critic and essayist, Baudelaire also translated Poe into French very prolifically; it is said that he alone was responsible for making the American writer accessible to Europe.

In my opinion, Baudelaire is the quintessential poet for gothic lolitas to know. He's absolutely perfect for those interested in the macabre- I mean, the man wrote a love poem about a dog carcass, for crying out loud. Common themes in Baudelaire's work include the natural vs. the man-made (he's in favor of the latter, which was crazy for his time), boredom as the ultimate agony, lost innocence, drugs, and the oppressiveness of modern living. Anyone who knows Modernism knows that these are hugely common in works of that genre.

One of Baudelaire's opinions that I find fascinating (because it's the polar opposite of my own) is that of the natural being evil and the man-made being the only good. For example: crime is natural, he says, and it is only the imposition of laws and morals that allows society to function- otherwise, we would only live by our natural urges. Nature disgusts him; he sees no reason why it should be regarded at all, let alone emulated. Another example he sites is make-up, he says that he only approves of it if it is outlandish and unnatural; natural make-up to enhance one's features is something he cannot stand. This fits well with lolita- gothic black eyeliner, sweet rhinestones and stickers under the eyes, for example. He also believes that boredom is the worst pain one can feel, but that it is only born in city-dwellers. He posits that it is only through excessive over-stimulation that boredom hits, and that because those who live in cities are so constantly bombarded by stimulation, they are also subject to a ennui more potent than anything felt by country mice. This boredom, and the many uses of doing away with it, is another big theme in his work.

Required reading:
Now, while one of the main themes in these pieces is the macabre, those of us with weaker constitutions shouldn't be scared away. I wouldn't describe myself as skittish, exactly, or weak-stomached, but I definitely dislike any of the many things that I classify as "distasteful;" unchecked eroticism and detailed descriptions of decomposition rank highly among those. Despite that, or maybe because of it, I find Baudelaire intoxicating. His word choice is beautiful, even to the point of transcending the errors of translation (though on more than one occasion I considered brushing up on my French, just to read the originals), and his imagery is absolutely spot-on to creative the exact emotion he intends. Anyone in my shoes should start with the first on this list, To a Passerby, which is a very short, poignant love poem that is still one of my favorites I've read- potentially ever. As an avid reader of poetry, that comes as quite a recommendation!

    No comments:

    Post a Comment


    Related Posts with Thumbnails