Sunday, June 12, 2005

Irresponsible Translations, Issue 3

More from the wonderful Spleen de Paris. This time, Baudelaire illustrates, better and smarter than the original, Poe's "Imp of the Perverse." (I've got a whole theory about why Americans and Europeans understand Poe differently, but that will have to wait for another time.)

After the fold, Baudelaire's extraordinary prose-poem #9, "Le Mauvais Vitrier," in a reckless translation.

The Bad Glazier [Le Mauvais Vitrier]

There are some temperaments, purely contemplative and totally indisposed to action, which, however, in the throes of a mysterious and unknown impulse, sometimes act with a rapidity of which they would have thought themselves to be incapable.

That man who, fearing getting into a new argument with his concierge, walks up and down for an hour in front of her door without daring to enter it; he who keeps a letter for fifteen days without opening it or only resigns himself after six months to start some paperwork that for a year has been necessary—they sometimes feel themselves brusquely precipitated towards action by an irresistible force, like an arrow from a bow. The moralist and the doctor—who claim to know everything—cannot explain how such a crazy energy comes so suddenly to these lazy and voluptuous souls, and how, incapable of accomplishing the most simple and most necessary things, these people find at a certain moment a luxurious courage to execute the most absurd and often the most dangerous acts.

One of my friends, the most inoffensive dreamer possible, once set fire to a forest to see, as he said, whether the fire would spread as quickly as was generally claimed. Ten times in a row the experiment failed; but, on the eleventh try, it succeeded only too well.

Another will light a cigar next to a barrel of powder, to see, to know, to tempt fate, to compel himself to prove his capability, to play at gambling, to know the pleasures of anxiety, for no reason, out of caprice, out of idleness.

This is a kind of energy that springs from boredom and daydreams, and those in whom it shows up are in general, as I said, the most indolent and the most dreamy of creatures.

Another, shy to the point that he lowers his eyes even at the glances of men—to the point that he has to call up all his pitiful will to go into a café or to walk up to a box-office where the ticket-takers seem to him to have the majesty of Minos, [Éaque], and Rhodamante—threw himself suddenly around the neck of an old man walking by and enthusiastically kissed him in front of a suprised crowd.

“Why?” Because...because that physiognomy seemed irresistably kind to him? Perhaps. But it makes more sense to think that he himself didn’t know why.

I have been more than once the victim of this sort of crisis and excitement that permit us to believe that malicious Demons can slip into us and make us perform their most absurd wishes without our knowing.

One morning, I woke up sullen, sad, tired of leisure, and compelled, it seemed to me, to do some glorious, some brilliant action; and I opened the window--alas!

(I beg you to observe that the spirit of mystification, which, in some people, is not the result of work or conspiracy but rather of a fortuitous inspiration, has much to do, be it only by the heat of desire, with that humor—hysterical according to doctors, and satanic according to those who think somewhat more carefully than the doctors—which compels us, unresisting, toward a multitude of dangerous or inconvenient actions.)

The first person I perceived in the street was a glazier, whose piercing, unharmonious cry rose up to me through the heavy, dirty Parisian atmosphere. It would be impossible for me to say why I was taken towards this poor man with a hatred as sudden as it was tyrannical.

“Hey! Hey!” I yelled for him to come up. I thought—not without some joy—that, as the room was on the seventh floor and the staircase was extremely narrow, the man would have some trouble ascending and that his fragile merchandise would catch in many of my staircase’s angles.

Finally he appeared. I examined curiously all his windowpanes, and I told him: “What? You have no colored glass? pink glass, red glass, blue glass, magic glass, glass of paradise? Impudent man! You dare to walk around in poor neighborhoods and you don’t even have glasses that helps one see the world as beautiful?” And I pushed vigorously him toward the stairs, to which he stumbled, grumbling.

I approached the balcony, and I grabbed a little flowerpot. When the man reappeared at the doorway, I dropped my bomb perpendicularly onto rear edge of his frames. As the shock knocked him over, he managed to break under his back all his portable fortune, poor as it was, which made the glorious sound of a crystal palace shattered by thunder.

And, drunk with my folly, I cried furiously to him: “The world in beauty! The world in beauty!”

These nervous jokes are not without danger, and they can end up being rather costly. But what does an eternity of damnation matter to one who has found, in a second, the infinitude of ecstasy?

Paracritical notes: first published in La Presse, 26 August, 1862, my translation taken from the GF-Flammarion Edition, 1987.


Blogger benoit:

Hello, l've just stumbled on your blog (no l am not a spambot believe me ! ;) ) l'm from Paris and l'm a huge fan of both Poe and Baudelaire : could you tell me more about why Americans and Europeans understand Poe differently why Americans and Europeans understand Poe differently ? Sounds interesting ! (Hope you still check your blog :) ).

12/23/2013 08:47:00 AM  

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