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The Modern and Post Modern – Nietzsche and Baudelaire


From Struggle to Intensity

In this module we looked at Nietzsche and Baudelaire who are two very different thinkers. What they have in common is they are both concerned with intensity which replaces morality. They are outside the tradition hierarchy of anti foundationalism appropriated by post modernists.

From dissection to permeation

For Flaubert the dissection of the bourgeoisie was revenge. He shows them in all their horrid banality. The filtering out of vitality and strength in Madame Bovary was a reflection of Flaubert’s view that you needed to break through conventions to fully live. He thought that  the bourgeois conventions were the enemy of life.  this dissection was the antidote to stupidity.

Baudelaire sought to break through these foundations. For him this could be achieved and enacted through poetry

Nietzche dissected life in another way. For him we denied our animal nature to fit in, to be a part of society.   He wished to attack the foundations of society such as conventions and control.

Control, convention and mediocrity are the enemies for Flaubert, Baudelaire and Nietzche.

Charles BaudelaireParis Spleen

Charles Baudelaire, in the later, “metaphysical” phase of dandyism defined the dandy as one who elevates æsthetics to a living religion.  “These beings have no other status, but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons, of satisfying their passions, of feeling and thinking …. Contrary to what many thoughtless people seem to believe, dandyism is not even an excessive delight in clothes and material elegance. For the perfect dandy, these things are no more than the symbol of the aristocratic superiority of his mind.”The Painter of Modern Life”.

He wanted intensity and not conventionality, anything that you could do for intensity would lead to real art.  He was willing to get infected, he plunged into the crowd into drugs sex and art.

Baudelaire was coming of age in the middle of 19th century. He was torn by affection for his mother and hatred for his step father who was an army officer. Baudelaire totally rejected authority and conventionalism such that he was thrown out of school. His parents put him on a boat to Calcutta, India. He jumped ship and returned to Paris joining in the revolution. There is a popular story about him trying to lead a group of youths to  kill  Lieutenant Colonel Jacques Aupick (his step-father). This didn’t happen and in frustration he shot a clock. To stop the clocks, the symbols of constraint was symbolic.

 Baron Haussmann’s  huge project from 1853 -1870 of reconstructing Paris turned the city into a new place. New people came into the city which gave Bordelaire new material for his poetry. On his return to  Paris he became known as a Dandy  and a flâneur he wanted to see and be seen. He also like the anti conventionalism of the bohemian and sometimes shifted between the Dandy and the Bohemian. He, like his work, was a hybrid.

The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world – impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito. The lover of life makes the whole world his family, just like the lover of the fair sex who builds up his family from all the beautiful women that he has ever found, or that are or are not – to be found; or the lover of pictures who lives in a magical society of dreams painted on canvas. Thus the lover of universal life enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy. Or we might liken him to a mirror as vast as the crowd itself; or to a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life (The Painter of Modern Life)

The spleen of Paris is a book of prose poems that also breaks through conventions. Here are some quotes from some of these writings that display the  Bauderlarian ethos.

 ‘What is an eternity of damnation compared to an infinity of pleasure in a single second’  The Bad Glazier – poem 9.

‘So here is a superb country where bread is called cake and is so rare a delicacy that it is enough to start a war, literally fratricidal!’   Cake -Poem 15

‘…..all history and mythology pandering to gluttony’ – impermeability of thought and communication – I looked into her eyes and saw nothing that I expected – we slide off one another – we are impermeable to each other.” The Eyes of the poor  -poem 26-

This poem more than the others gives a feel for the changing city where people bump into each other all the time but never really connect.

‘What oddities one finds in big cities when one knows how to roam and how to look! Life swarms with innocent monsters.’  unconventional twisted perverse but innocent  – have pity on mad men and mad women.” Miss Beatury – poem 47

Baudelarie sought out the people who most others preferred to ignore. He thought people had become so ordinary and conventional. These rejections of society were the stuff of art of creativity. He marvelled at the unexpected encounters that society brings us.

Baudelarie was a poet of modernity because he embraced the unusual. He did not look for something under the change or difference bur rather embraced multiplicity without recourse to authenticity. Rousseau said we should strip away our disguises, Baudelaire said we should  put on a disguise. If the disguise attracted attention then it had worked.

‘Un passant’ a poem about the modern city sums up his feelings “you will see someone and catch her eye and then she has gone.” He describes this moment of spark and desire where the unexpected pleasure makes life beautiful

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, essay 2 

Nietzche Wikimedai

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher, poet, composer, cultural critic, and classical philologist. He wrote critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony, and aphorism.

 “‘Guilt’, ‘Bad Conscience’, and ‘Related Matters”

He explains his view that forgetfulness is an active ability to repress. In this way we can forget painful things and also forget promises that we have made without feeling guilty.

Nietzche argues that bad conscience, when it develops into feeling guilty, is a sort of self-punishment. He thought this was especially true when it came to religious beliefs and  Christianity. His view was that humans derive  pleasure in inflicting suffering even to themselves.

He describes bad conscience as a sickness but only in the same way that pregnancy is. This theory is expanded to the debtor and creditor relationship.

I don’t believe that this text can be read in isolation. He describes the psychological processes of guilt using the master / slave equation that he outlined in the first essay. He says that ‘bad conscience  arises when “the instinct of freedom is pushed back, repressed, incarcerated within itself and finally able to discharge and unleash itself only against itself . For a slave this would mean that when their “will to power” or instinct to free themselves is driven back the “bad conscience”  turns into guilt and shame. As they have no power to retaliate the slaves find “all instincts that do not discharge themselves outwardly (like guilt) turn inwards – this is what I call the internalization of man; thus it was that man first developed what was later called his soul.” Neitsche describes the benefits that punishment gives humanity. One benefit that is lacking is remorse  Punishment of prisoners “makes hard and cold; it concentrates; it sharpens the feeling of alienation”.

Whilst researching this I came across this book The Philosophy of Joss Whedon  which examines Whedon’s plots and characterizations to reveal their philosophical takes on the limits of personal freedom, sexual morality, radical evil, and Daoism. In this book there are illustrations of how Neirzsche’s views on the developmental of guilt can be seen as a driving source in the TV series that Whedon creates. I have never seen the series ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ or ‘Angel’ but if you are a fan this book might interest you particularly the chapter on Neizsche.

Neitsche was an anti-modern modern. He is best known for one sentence  ‘God is dead‘ but what did he mean by this?  It is key concept like” I think therefore I am”. For Neitsche there is no ideal, no standard,- no divinity, nothing against which we can measure ourselves and our creation. There is no ideal to which can aspire, we must live in a world without such a standard. Ideals are excuses to keep us from living with our strength with intensity.  This is his radicalism.

“What really arouses indignation against suffering is not suffering as such but the senselessness of suffering.”

He used the creditor debtor framework, when we violate some rule we are in debt. Religion keeps us in debt to God to the code. We are not in liberation to live as we choose. For him society is the ultimate creditor, toleration of transgression is a sign of strength and the feeling of owing keeps us in line, keeps the strong from expressing their strength. Morality is the power that the week use to protect themselves from the strong.

“Today it is impossible to say clearly why we really have punishment – all ideas in which an entire process is semiotically summarized elude definition – only something which has no history is capable of being defined

Punishment exists to create a memory to inhibit a future action, it takes away our wildness. Conscience is an illness. Neitsche thinks we still have the wild insticist and by denying our instincts we force them into other channels. These instincts eat awayand ideals are a symptom of our pshchological sickness.  He didn’t sketch out a process for change he just tells us that we could leave it behind



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