Roberto Calasso

from la folie

according to baudelaire “almost all our originality comes from the stamp that time impresses on our sensibilities.” For him, that “stamp” became a figure intricate as a Maori tattoo and brutal as the brand on a steer in Texas. He could not write a line without one noticing its presence. Perhaps for this reason, too, although he abhorred much of the new that the period incessantly produced, Baudelaire chose nouveau as the last word of Les Fleurs du mal.

“The writer of nerves”: Poe defined by Baudelaire. A definition he could also have applied to himself. With the certainty of being recognized, Baudelaire stepped forward beneath the mask of the “nervous man and artist.” But the insistence on physiology went even farther, all the way to a word that had not yet been admitted into the poetic lexicon: brain. No longer the Idéal, no longer the Réve, no longer the Esprit (with or without capitals), now the brain seemed irresistibly to attract the sobriquet “mysterious.” There was even talk of the cerebellum. “In the cramped and mysterious laboratory of the brain”...The mysterious adventures of the brain”...In the generation of all sublime ideas there is a nervous shock that makes itself felt in the cerebellum.” The cerebral mass is inhabited. Not only by the traditional “people of Demons,” but by creatures already inspired by Lautréamont: “Silent, foul spiders / Spin their webs in the base of our brains.” Almost at the same time, Emily Dickinson wrote, “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain.” But it was not metaphysics that became physiology. Rather, physiology had made a pact with metaphysics. And poetry would respect that.