Writing of C.G., (Constantin Guys) writing of his art, Baudelaire
substitues the expression "homme du monde" for the word "artiste". Artists,
in this formulation, remain restricted held in place by having the
mentality of the village, the hamlet. In contrast to this placing there is
the "citoyen spirituel de l'univers". It will be in terms of the geography
the Baudelaire will introduce curiosity:
Ainsi pour entrer dans la compréhension de M. G.
preneznote toute de suite de ceci : c'est que la
curiosité peut être considérée comme le point de
départ de son génie. (794)
In this complex passage, and thus in how curiosty comes to be worked out in
Le Peintre de la vie moderne, speed has to be taken as a point of
departure. (Baudelaire's own formulation demands it; "prenez note toute de
suite.") Curiosity is neither deliberative nor intentional. Whatever
complications may be introduced by the term "génie", its real force lies in
its opening up the space of immediacy. Curiosity will be an already present
relation to the world.
It was not knowing how not to look. Fascination was a holding of the eye
that forced it there.
My eye. What ever had made it mine, what power the possesive may have
had, slipped away. Mine, though no longer mine.
The eye, in being held, is a limited presence. Here the eye can no longer
exert an absolute hold. Even in the depth of seeing, within fascination,
the eye's work remains partial, necessarily, productively, incomplete.
Partiality could have been a limit to have been overcome or effaced. The
eye could have needed to have been opened or, and this would the other
possibility, its closure recognised. Within this setting blindness would
have to have been seen for what it was. And yet, it is here that the eye
has a different opening. Fascination and curiosity displace this setting.
They will force a repositioning of the eye; freeing it by holding it to
another form of vision.
Writing in the same text though this time of Poe, Baudelaire charts the
project - the speficity of a particular "recherche". The temptation will be
that the search for an unknown individual ("un inconnu") must retain that
state of being. The unknown cannot come to be known. Describing the actions
of the observer, the coming participant - the "man" of L'Homme des foules -
Baudelaire describe his compulsive decision in a way that draws upon having
to secure the status of the unknown.
... il se précipite à travers cette foules à la recherche
d'un inconnu dont la physionmie entrevue l'a, en un clin
d'oeil, fasciné. La curiosité est devenue une passion
fatale, irrésistible. (794)
Insisting here are questions to do with the body, the interplay of time and
speed (en un clin d'oeil), of an inherent partiality of seeing and the
necessity to hold to the presence of an irresistible though nonetheless
fatal passion. How do they come to linked to curiosity and fascination?
Initially they seem to be placed within the ambit of death. And yet, here
the fatality of passion, breaks the hold of death - the interdictions
yielding retribution - by linking fatality to a form of release. A hold
will have been broken, as the hold of the irresistible takes over.
Curious in the place of death.
I cannot help but look. However in looking my gaze cannot be returned
with any form of full acknowledgement.
The object of curiosity - equally that which fascinates - will complicate
alterity. Demanding a different other will be the demand that it sets in
There need not have been a response. I could have been drawn - my hold
held - by that which would otherwise have refused being seen. Part of the
complexity at work within fascination is its link to what could have been
abject. Once curiosity and fascination are drawn together then the abject
potential inhering within fascination can be named, not just as curiosity's
other dimension, but as its potential. The mark of the curious is the place
of the unsettled, the unsettling, the aberrant, that which resists
assimilation, what will endure as the curious. With enduring time figures.
To be curious, to be fascinated is to have been positioned. What
fascinates, what engenders curiosity, positions. Between the positioned and
that which positions a space will be held open. Time and space come to be
linked. Enduring is as much a spacial relation as it is temporal.
Baudelaire's own fascination with Poe should not be the central concern.
And yet within the continuity of his writings on Poe - two major pieces
between 1852 and 1855 - there endures a complex consideration of Poe's own
aesthetic. Poe and Guys, were creators of the minor. With Poe it was la
Nouvelle. The force of this work, in part linked to its size, lay in its
capacity for intensity. ( .. sa brièveté ajoute à l'intensité de l'effet.
(595)) The limit of la Nouvelle lay in the link Baudelaire will establish
between rhythym, beauty and truth. With it, poetry emerges as superior. (In
1860 Baudelaire signed a contract for four books. One was to be entitled
Curiosités esthétiques. )
The presence of intensity is maintained within the pursuance of the
l'inconnu within (perhaps also as) the unmasterable crowd. What will
identify the play of minor is the deferral of beauty because of the
retention of intensity.
.. l'amoureux de la vie universelle entre dans la
foule comme dans un immense réservoir
Again, it is the lover of la vie universelle who in being held apart from
the artist, allows for the possibility of creating an irreparable opening.
Its consequence might be that Baudelaire's demand that the transitory and
the eternal work together would no longer be tenable. As such Baudelaire's
own conception of modernity will have become impossible. Modernity's
possibility, what defines its presence will come to demand another
enactment and therefore a different description.
With the possible abeyance of the eternal, speed and time may come to
define the place of the modern and thus the work of modernity.
I turn towards that which cannot be assimilated. It is not a question of
whether it could be taken in , or even when it will be, it is positioned
outside, refusing incorporation. Not wanting to look, perhaps wanting not
to look, I continue to turn to that which cannot be assimilated.
The space allowing for distance may be traversed by hand or the fingers.
What fascinates perhaps that which yields to the caress will be an element,
a part. And yet it could never be, as long as it fascinates, part of the
whole. neither metonymy nor universality figure with fascination.
My fingers were held at this opening; this giving forth that will always,
and of necessity be held back. What was held back remained unnoticed, it
did not figure, such is fascinations insistence on particularity.
The particular of fascination is almost self-defined. It need not reach
beyond itself - demanding a form of actual or potential incorporation - in
order that it be what it is. Here particularity will announce itself.
Part of the particular, part of what holds it in place, is space.
However, the space in question. is not that which would otherwise be
defined as an absence which came to be filled; space as empty. Here, space
is an activity. Spacing is required in order that the unassimilated remain
in a relation of distance. Spacing holds the object in place by defining
and maintaining a place in which fascination can rein.
Spacing allows for fascination. Curiosity demands the impossibility of a
completing knowledge. Completion can be defined as an elimination of a
productive and sustaining spacing.
Speed has been given in relation to the eye: "en un clin d'oeil". The eye
will come to open up. Curiosity and fascination arise. They cannot be
summoned. Poe did not gradually become fascinated. Fascination - for Poe's
man in the crowd - was not the consequence of reflection. It was
irresistible; thus a fatal passion.
Not to be able to resist; is not passion tout court. Not being able to
resist defines passion in terms of time. Immediate passion. Equally, it is
defined in terms of speed. Speed and time are intertwined. That relation is
announced thus - "en un clin d'oeil."
Modernity, for Baudelaire, will have become the constant interplay of the
eternal and that which designates the place of the present. The transitory
and the fugitive - the two defining qualities of the presentness of the
modern - have to endure otherwise all that would be left is the emptiness
of abstraction. What has to be retained is "la mémoire du présent". What
form, however, will this memory have? Baudelaire will have already
addressed its necessity.
.. preseque toute notre originalité vient de l'estampille
que le temps imprime à nos sensations. (798)
The impression of time will have to be set against beauty. Writing in Notes
Nouvelle sur Edgar Poe Baudelaire has to distance the concerns of Poe from
the activity of poetry. The latter has only one end, namely, the idea of
beauty. Rhythm is essential in order that this idea be attained. Poe had
language. However for Baudelaire such resources were almost the repudiation
of poetry and the refusal of beauty. Rhythm remained necessarily absent.
And yet, it may be that another way of construing rhythm will have fallen
within the province of Poe.
There will have been a type of continuity. Once the moment had begun,
there was a withdrawal, something no longer pertained. Addressing this
absence does not demand the recall of the structure of melancholia. What is
absent is the hold of discrimination.
I encounter that which repels. I am held by repulsion.
Allowing what would otherwise have caused the eye to close - otherwise if
it had been a written or spoken explanation, "this is what you will see" -
now, with the hold of sight, there is the demand that the eye no longer
Be it mere object, or the insistent presence of the abject, an almost
fatal fascination will continue to endure.
What held Baudelaire, what allowed for the hold of the minor, may have
been the instability of the eternal. It may have been, moreover, the
growing impossibility of linking rhythm to the poetic act and only to that
act. Crowds move. They may allow for their own rhythm. Not rhythm as the
stirring of the soul but the irregular changing of place - the
disappearance and the reappearance - that marks the hold of the crowd.
Once intensity began to play a determining role, once speed, the brevity
that heightened the place of writing and thus the grip it exercised,
figured as that which introduced the possibility of other literatures,
there will have been an opening. Furthermore, once it becomes possible to
link speed and time to the placing and thus the unfolding of the body
within the crowd, then its written equivalent will force aside the place of
the eternal because of its - the eternal's - insistence on the very
movement of process and thus of writing. In other words, as the eternal
takes place in writing its hold on eternality begins to slip because of its
presentation in and as writing.
The eternal - Baudelaire's "idea of beauty" - must resist the hold of
abstraction; the reduction to pure beauty at the expense of the modern.
Pure though impoverished. Moving from the place of abstraction will demand
having to introduce that which the eternal may not be able to control.
Countering the place of the eternal - its playing itself out in the
movement of poetry - is intensity.
Intensity will have become another way of identifying the particularity
of fascination and with it the hold of curiosity.
The threat will have already been there. What will have to be maintained
is a certain harmony - the shocking harmony - and an admiration for eternal
beauty. Maintaining it will occur at the same time as the tumult of "la
liberté humaine" begins to exercise its own pressure. One must be seen in
the other. On the one hand there would be the threat of pure chaos if they
- the eternal and the transitory - were not located in relation to each
other. And yet, on the other hand, there is the possibility that once the
tumult is allowed its place, then what will vanish is its counter
positioning to the eternal. The tumult will have been freed. Electricity,
its rhythmic power will have dictated another possible order; perhaps, a
How could this possibility have been excised? Any answer will need to
commit itself to the necessity of writing to secure the eternal: to have
become its home. Writing, the practice that will be at work in poetry, may
bring a rhythm and an intensity into play, which rather than securing the
eternal will, in fact write it. The idea of beauty, Baudelaire's continual
site of return - a site in which the presence of the eternal controls by
orchestrating all activity - may be there because of the activity of
writing. What it tried to control is that which in inscribing, placing, its
presence rids it of control by giving it the object of control. Eternality
would emerge therefore as having been stripped of the counter measure of
the transitory by having become the result of writing.
Eternally written; the transitory place of writing.
Might there have been a reason restricting the play, the movement, of
that which fascinates? Is there a morality that will check its hold? Will
it come to restrict the place of curiosity?
With the question of morality both curiosity and fascination may well
have been checked. Once the nature of the object - of that which holds the
eye - arises as a question; once it becomes possible to delimit the
object's quality; once it is necessary to identify that quality thereby
restricting its force and loosening its hold - the eye fades - then, rather
than the determining hold of the moral being central there will be the
possibility that curiosity and fascination could come to exercise the own
hold on the question of morality.
What must be questioned is the place of curiosity and fascination. With
that questioning space and time will return. Arising with that return is
the difficult problem of linking the necessity of space - spacing as the
precondition for curiosity and fascination - time, enduring as that which
is produced by spacing, and the emergent obligation of having to attribute
a specific quality to the object.
At first glance the attribution of quality will close the incision
yielding fascination and curiosity.
Freedom as given by a response to an object where the response while
owned shakes itself free of the hold of real possession. A freedom from
which another, this a time a different freedom will have emerged. Freedom
will have come into contact with the possibility of anonymity. Not the
anonymity of freedom but freedom as the release of the anonymous.
Once possession begins to lose its hold - my eye though no longer
strictly mine - I maintain myself but in its - this my - dispersal into the
practice, the activity of seeing.
I will have reached back - attained myself - by allowing for a
repositioning in which my having been dispersed - lost, lingering within
curiosity - will itself have been lost. This second loss is intentional.
The former could never have been. Freedom as having become free. Again the
complex presence of differing types of freedom.
Poe, even within the setting provided by Baudelaire, had given to the
"man in the crowd" a type of freedom. It was not the freedom that would
have absolved him from responsibility; an unfettered - though only
putatively - freedom to act. It was the more complex freedom in which the
loss of control - the release of the controlling mine - engendered the
freedom into which he was given. In giving himself - releasing himself from
himself was his becoming enmeshed within fascination. He has become subject
to it; thus he had become its subject.
Release, here, - the subject of fascination - has become the correlate
to the threat that will work away at the eternal.
Freedom is connected to the unknown; thus to what cannot be known.
Accepting the determining place of anonymity enjoins the necessity to hold
to a distance in which the unknown can figure. Allowing for distance and
thus the role of an ineliminable spacing is to yield to the place of
writing. Writing fascinates to the extent that spacing is maintained.
Baudelaire's own fascination with Poe generates such an aesthetic. Poe
endures not as the unknown but as the writer of a the unmasterable;
allowing writing to be guide of, to be guided by, the necessity to maintain
the unknown. Known yet unknown will have become the practice of writing.
Writing out the eternal by stripping it of its necessity even if its place
- the eternal's place - is subsequently written back in. What is subsequent
- its quality - enacts the eternal's presence.
The eternality of writing practices the eternal not as idea, but as the
constant interplay of the finite within the infinite; thus as writing.
Freedom; my having been dispersed. As a part of what is mine, apart from
what is mine, my presence is constructed by the hold of curiosity and by
the lines of fascination. Having been freed from myself another obligation
holds sway; it is still mine.
Allowing for spacing, holding distance in place, opens up the insisitent
reality that my presence, thus my own possibility, is no longer merely
mine. Being held yields a me that is not just mine.