Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen (Book acquired, sometime in February 2021)

The nice people at Contra Mundum continue to put out new Charles Baudelaire translations. Paris Spleen is out in a new translation from Rainer J. Hanshe. A little taste:

I wish I could get drunk on virtue. I’ll settle for wine.

Here’s Contra Mundum’s blurb:

In the 1850s, ancien and Haussmannian Paris clash, giving birth to a violent disjunction. At that moment in time, an other present is born, a new history, like Baudelaire’s poet freely abandoning his halo on the macadam. The laurel crown has been discarded; the pastoral poet is dead; classical lyric poetry is dead. The steam-driven, gaslit, electrically-charged poet is born. “Retreat Academic Muse!,” Baudelaire commands, “I don’t care about that old stutterer.”

With Paris Spleen, we move toward a new rhythm, a rhythm born of the pace, speed, and reality of a metropolis hitherto never seen or experienced. It is the rhythm of the street, of the swift-moving eye, of overloaded senses and hyper-perception, of newspapers and optical devices. Baudelaire’s life spans the essential birth of whole new forms of technology, including steam locomotives, gas light, and electricity, not to speak of the typewriter and the Daguerreotype. The dandy sees and moves with the coming speed of light. His life is one lived in the midst of illumination, mechanics, and simulacra.

Baudelaire’s Paris is a place of experience, a metropolis that spawns unique and particular realities, a kaleidoscope of visions and mirror of alternative societies. The grist of his poems is not ancient Greece or the Renaissance. As he stated in the so-called preface to Paris Spleen, it is especially from frequenting great cities, from the crossroads of their innumerable relations, that the haunting ideal of the prose poem was born. Our flâneur wanders swiftly through crowds, in contact, but anonymous, extracting from the city material to forge his new ars poetica, like a bricolage artist.

The future is called forth. The street is the new Olympus; the phantasmagoric city is a big harlot whose infernal charm continually rejuvenates the poet. The ironic, infernal beacon is the totem of the new age: the age of dissonance, the age of artificial paradises. “I love you, O infamous capital!” the poet exults.

Here is Paris Spleen, an invitation to voyage, to have the entirety of Baudelaire’s Paris enter into our flesh and for us to undergo contagion, if our spleens can handle it.

4 thoughts on “Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen (Book acquired, sometime in February 2021)”

  1. Paris has been going under for a hundred years. More than a hundred years. Since Napoleon III gave Baron Haussmann the wrecking ball. Central Paris? A sterile urban wasteland. And it continues to disappear as I write this. Is it too early to see the journey to the end of night? The long night. The big sleep. The museums? The catacombs? A half-smoking Notre Dame covered in scaffolding? Galeries Lafayette? Upscale dim sum and iPads? For 30 years. Longer. It is the outlying areas – La Goutte d’Or – Barbes – the African Quarter – that still breathe Parisian life. (The Algerian version) Not Sacre-Coeur. Is it too early to see the depredations of COVID? By the time I get back to Lutece – if I can ever get back – the pandemic will have upended the city in a way that Haussmann never imagined.


  2. Have you and/or your children watched the series “A Series of Unfortunate Events (Lemony Snicket’s) on Netflix? The children’s surname is Baudelaire, and I can’t help but smile when I see that name. If you haven’t watched it, you are missing out on some of the most fun and clever writing and watching you will ever enjoy. Watch it together!


    1. We watched it, and the kids liked it very much! We actually read the books to them when they were little (although with both kids, they ended up reading the last few by themselves, so I’ll admit I had to watch the show to learn how the whole thing turned out).


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