An oft-quoted line of Baudelaire’s (born in the same year as Melville, 1819) is:
Dieu est le seul être qui, pour régner, n’ait même pas besoin d’exister.
God is the only being who need not even exist in order to reign.
This is from the first of the ““Fusées” or”Squibs” written in 1867 but only published posthumously in 1887.
For those of you who wonder, what’s a squib?: it’s a small explosive device used in a wide range of industries, from special effects to military applications. It resembles a tiny stick of dynamite, both in appearance and construction, although with considerably less explosive power. (So saith dictionaries.) Basically a firecracker. Anyway, startling, but less than destructive, right?
Do you feel that line above is startling, or perhaps more than that (in 1867)?
What’s not often quoted is the next line:
Ce qui est créé par l’esprit est plus vivant que la matière.
Whatever is created by the spirit is more alive than matter.
You’ll see below that “spirit” is often rendered “mind.” For instance, Hegel’s great Phenomenology (1807) is translated either “of Spirit” or “of Mind.”
Baudelaire found “matter” (nature) vile and “evil” (and, it seems, though this may be arguable, female).
I’d say this first “squib” presents a fairly complete presentation of Baudelaire’s “world view.”
I’d also point out that there’s no reason to only quote one line of this…or maybe say, it’s only because “god” shows up in it that folks think it has more power to resonate (offend?).
But I’m sure many of these might offer a bit of a “pop” to you.
The translation below is by Christopher Isherwood from an edition of Intimate Journals.
Squibs – I
Even though God did not exist, Religion would be
none the less holy and divine.
God is the sole being who has no need to exist in
order to reign.
That which is created by the Mind is more living
Love is the desire to prostitute oneself. There is,
indeed, no exalted pleasure which cannot be related
At the play, in the ball-room, each one enjoys
possession of all.
What is Art? Prostitution.
The pleasure of being in crowds is a mysterious
expression of sensual joy in the multiplication of
All is Number. Number is in all. Number is in the
individual. Ecstasy is a Number.
Inclinations to wastefulness ought, when a man is
mature, to be replaced by a wish to concentrate and
Love may spring from a generous sentiment, the
desire for prostitution; but it is soon corrupted by
the desire for ownership.
Love wishes to emerge from itself, to become, like
the conqueror with the conquered, a part of its victim,
yet to preserve, at the same time, the privileges
of the conqueror.
The sensual delights of one who keeps a mistress
are at once those of an angel and a landlord. Charity
and cruelty. Indeed, they are independent of sex, of
beauty and of the animal species.
The green shadows in the moist evenings of summer.
Immense depths of thought in expressions of
common speech; holes dug by generations of ants.
The story of the Hunter, concerning the intimate
relation between cruelty and love.