calasso’s baudelaire


“Modernity: a word that emerges and rebounds between Gautier and Baudelaire in the space of a little more than 10 years . . . between 1852 and 1863. And this was always done with caution, with the awareness of introducing an alien notion into the language. Gautier, 1855: ‘Modernity. Does this noun exist? The sentiment it expresses is so recent that the word may very well not be in the dictionaries.’ Baudelaire, 1863: ‘He is looking for that something we shall be allowed to call modernity; since there isn’t a better word to express the idea in question.’ But what was this idea . . . so recent and feeble . . . made of? The malicious Jean Rousseau immediately declared it was made up of bibelots and female bodies. Arthur Stevens responded to him in defense of Baudelaire, defined on the occasion for the first time as ‘he who is the inventor, I believe, of this word modernity.’ Through painting and frivolity, modernity burst into the dictionary. But it was destined to remain and spread, following progressive campaigns of conquest, accompanied by devastation. Soon no one would remember these frivolous and modest beginnings. In Baudelaire, however, the word remained enfolded as in a mist of perfume and face powder.”

more from John Simon at the NY Times here.