“Now I am well and truly damned: I have cut off my wings.”
“Ach, Baudelaire, do not say such things. I have come with champagne to celebrate the miracle of your being alive. Come, we have survived a few ‘campaigns of the cork’ together, and now you alone have survived a ‘night of the knife.’ Think of how much closer you will be to those desperate characters of the streets now that you have demonstrated your own definitive desperation. You are now one of those characters whose infernal hymnal you compose both day and night.”
“Bonadventure, you are an ass.”
I was then set straight on the ‘sensibility of the critic,’ and the idea of a credible ‘correspondence’ between all of the arts, as among the various senses. In essence, a mysterious train network runs between subjects and senses, but we perceive this network only incompletely, or indirectly, or as various sensual apprehensions. I must admit, this lecture reminded me of my first memories of Catholic school. When the nun spoke of deserts and date and palm trees and their connection to our own young souls and to the life everlasting in Christ, it all seemed quite mysterious. At least the nuns put that gobstopper of a word in the center of it all: God.
Baudelaire had no such anchor. Only an ineffable trust in the poet’s sensibility, which he swore the critic required as well. Baudelaire’s nonsense word was ‘Infinity’–which stands as well for God, since we poor mortals can know just as much of the one as of the other (i.e., very little indeed–not even the extent of our ignorance, honestly).
Baudelaire gave a frigid shiver of disgust–a cold thought had seized him.
“Imagine, the crass hands of that sticky cretin, Gerard, saving me. And entirely without my permission! I’d rather be poisoned and pinned by a pack of avid lepidopterists. Better crucified by men of breeding than saved by craven like that Gerard. I wouldn’t have that ape pick a crumb from my cravat, let alone paw my sorely torn person.”
“He was sent, and you were saved. ‘Bounce in, bounce about,’ as your Mother might say.”
Baudelaire tilted his second champagne to its dregs, and his eyes began to evince a pleasanter shine. He still hoped to add a rosy tinge to his financial picture through successful art-reviewing for the larger-circulation magazines. He was a trend-setter when it came to praising and panning each year’s new set of painters, and he was excited to tell me why he was able to hold this priviledged position in society. His reasons, if rational, were hardly enviable. Who would pay the ferryman’s fee he described so enthusiastically, whatever the bonus in discernment accrued?
“The salon of 1849 is on the horizon and fast approaching, my wicked shipmate! Artists will be banging on the critic’s door, hoping to infect him with their beauties. The great conversation between the viewer and the viewed is beginning a new season.” Baudelaire was now exulting in a prospect of still-wet hues and nudes for his eyes, and some critic-writer’s coin for his pocket. “Many and varied have been my thoughts on both the essence of the critical mind, and the critic’s place in the bourgeois scheme of things as I lay here these past few weeks–outside the orbit of it all, and almost beyond the oblique oval of life itself. Almost, I have been a mirror without a face. Have you heard the Romanian folk tale of the vampire? Very interesting. They flit through the night, beyond it all, yet condemned to a death-in-life and a life-in-death. The vampire is the supreme critic, perhaps, were it not that he also needs the blood of living victims to go on with his half-existence. Personally, I feast upon my own heart, as my injuries attest, and I am sick to regurgitation with its rotten cornucopia. As for the blood of others, I much prefer this refined distillation of champagne. Ah, life’s liquid breath! My compliments, Bonadventure.”
At this point Manet stepped through the door unannounced.
“Manet! Welcome to my funeral!” Baudelaire crowed. “Won’t you drink some of Bonadventure’s excellent champagne?”