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  • 19 Sep 2016 at 3:38 am #8568

    Greg S.

    [The search function doesn’t seem to be working. I skimmed the Early Novels threads for a place to drop this off but didn’t see anything.] I found this passage on Baudelaire’s Ragpicker and its symbolism in the excellent biography of Walter Benajamin by Eiland and Jennings. The first part is highly theoretical, but I didn’t want to leave out the context of their discussion of Benjamin’s perceptions about the conspiratorial nature of the bohème in Paris (as opposed to being simply “artistes”). Seems to fit well with a comparison to Suttree’s gang of misfits.

    “Baudelaire’s poetry is likewise distinguished by ‘the enigmatic stuff of allegory’ and ‘the mystery-mongering of the conspirator.’ This sociophysiognomic approach to the poet has reference not to a poem where such a sinister physiognomy flashes up at the reader-one might think of “Satan’s Litanies,” with its apostrophe of Satan as the ‘Prince of exiles, exiled Prince who, wronged/yet rises ever stronger from defeat’-but rather to the poem “Ragpicker’s Wine,” with its evocation of the labyrinthine milieu in which the conspirators operated, a series of cheap taverns outside the city gates. This composite of gestural aspects of a particular intellectual physiognomy within the spaces in which it arises is basic to Benjamin’s method in his work on Baudelaire. In the figure of the ragpicker we find a highly charged concatenation: ‘From the littérateur to the professional conspirator, everyone who belonged to the bohème could recognize a bit of himself in the ragpicker. Each person was in a more or less blunted state of revolt against society and faced a more or less precarious future.’ As this quotation from “The Paris of the Second Empire” suggests, the ragpicker was a recognizable social type. Yet with Baudelaire the ragpicker is also a figure for the poet who sifts through the detritus of his society and finds uses for what that society discards. At the same time, the ragpicker is a figure for Benjamin himself, for the critic and historian who assembles his critical montage from largely inconspicuous elements extracted with surgical precision from a body of evidence. Here and throughout Benjamin’s studies of Baudelaire, we find a considered identification with the poet: with the social isolation, with the commercial failure, with the recourse to a ‘secret architecture’ in writing, and in particular with the fathomless melancholy that suffuses every page.” (P. 612, emphasis added)

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