Only Style Survives: On Chateaubriand

Lisa Robertson at The Paris Review:

Chateaubriand says that the pleasures of youth revisited in memory are ruins seen by torchlight. I don’t know whether I’m the ruin or the torch.

Montaigne was dead at fifty-nine—kidneys; Baudelaire at forty-six—syphilis, probably. Rousseau died at sixty-six of causes unconnected to his lifelong urethral malformation, described so exhaustively and enticingly by Starobinski; Lord Byron died of fever at the age of thirty-six in the Greek War of Independence in 1824, the year of Baudelaire’s birth. After a final visit to his mistress, Madame Récamier, he by then blind and she paralytic, Chateaubriand died at the age of seventy-nine, in 1848, the year of the third revolution and its failure and of Baudelaire’s grand political disillusionment. The attribution of causation to human behavior is generally a work of fantasy. Birds will speak the last human words, Chateaubriand says. Each one of us is the last witness of something—some custom, habit, way of speaking, economy, some lapsed mode of life. He says only style survives.

more here.