I’ve been thinking about the Symbolist and Decadent movements of the fin-de-siecle life more generally (which makes Gordon’s recent post timely in a sidelong way; this is the other side of France’s enshrining of Reason, the aesthetic Avignon). Obviously, there is more than a superficial resemblance between Europe on the cusp of the 20th century and the United States on the cusp of the 21st, but there is something else going on, too. Beneath the parallels in situation, there is an inheritance. We aren’t just ‘repeating’ the decline of fin-de-siecle Europe, in part because we are encountering it with the legacy of fin-de-siecle Europe available to us.
I don’t read as much as I used to, but over this holiday season I have been taking pleasure in the translation of Walter Benjamin’s work on Baudelaire, The Writer of Modern Life, and acquainting myself with Les Fleurs du Mal (I know, embarrassing that I haven’t done so before this, right?). I’m glad to have a bilingual edition of the latter–while Robert Howard’s English translation is poetically appealing, it elides Baudelaire’s singular and discomfiting French.