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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 15 February 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In this non-linear, potpourri of a book, Roberto Calasso meditates on Baudelaire and the post-Romantic emergence of Modernism in the latter half of the nineteenth century in Paris. If you haven't read Calasso before, you should be aware that he's a polymath writer who takes much for granted: this book, for example, assumes we're already familiar with the life and background of Baudelaire as well as with his texts, beyond the famous Les Fleurs du Mal. It also quotes in Latin and French, not extensively, but without translation, and skips blithely along an intellectual arc from Plato to Proust taking in Virgil, Flaubert, Gautier, Mallarmé and Nerval en route.

This isn't biography, or `literary criticism', or even art criticism, though it does combine elements of all of those, and spends some time analysing a dream which Baudelaire wrote down.

There are moments of insight, but also moments of opacity: `For Baudelaire, poetry was not a commando of life... nor was it something unbreathable... For Baudelaire, poetry occupied more or less the same place it had always occupied, as for Horace or Racine' - um, `not a commando'?, `unbreathable'? do we know what `place' poetry occupied for `Horace or Racine' and could it really be the same in C1st CE Rome and C17th France?

Even more confusingly is this oddly under-theorised statement about appropriation from other poets: `by this I do not mean functional plagiarism... but the other kind, based on admiration and a process of physiological assimilation that is one of the best protected mysteries of literature' - given the crucial centrality of intertextuality to poststructuralist/postmodern theories of the text, it can hardly be said to be a mystery.

So this is a book which encourages dialogue, which prompts questions and refutations, rather than a slavish acceptance. Like the Baudelairean figure of the flâneur himself (and gender is important in this book: women are whores and muses, men are artists and geniuses), Calasso takes an excursus around nineteenth-century Paris and leaves us feeling like we've experienced the encounters in our own right.

This probably isn't for anyone new to this period, but is rewarding to those already familiar with the art, literature, and cultural movements emergent in Paris between the Romantics and the fin-de-siècle.

ps. The book is a beautiful material object, weighty and with good colour reproductions.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 April 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In "La Folie Baudelaire", the folly of the title is 'a place of fancies and sensuality like every eighteenth-century folie, but also a sanctuary for people lost in a desolate place where you can be either a shaman or an exile, or both'. Roberto Calasso suggests that Paris was such a folly, with Baudelaire as 'some saturnine guardian'. In his expressionistic and discursive tour Calasso encounters Baudelaire (of course) Ingres, Degas, Guys, Manet, Rimbaud, and Flaubert, among others, discussing their work and lives as if he were on personal intimate terms with them, seeing connections and contrasts, and conjuring up the heady atmosphere of intellectual life in nineteenth-century Paris.

I found Calasso's treatment of various painters the most enjoyable and rewarding. His commentary, accompanied by several gorgeous reproductions of the works in question, enriched my understanding and had me running to the computer to view more examples. Calasso's language is, at times, something to be savoured: his description of Ingres's 'slavish submission to the visible', the way the nudes in 'The Turkish Bath' have 'alighted on the canvas over five decades, like flies on flypaper', and the fact that for Baudelaire 'thought was always a stowaway'.

For every lovely sentence, however, there were also ones which felt clumsy or were just confused, for example, what does "For Baudelaire, poetry was not a commando of life." mean? Or "And why does one always notice an underlying moral dimension in the dispute? Certainly never as in Ingres's pompous apothegms: 'Drawing is the probity of art'-one celebrated example."? And why are Ingres's pencil drawings always 'lead pencil' drawings? This may be a feature of the translation (or maybe me lacking the intelligence to decipher Calasso's meaning), but it did make "La Folie Baudelaire" hard going at times. There were also several examples of French, Latin, and even Greek which were left untranslated, something which is going to frustrate all but the most learned reader.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 27 January 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Roberto Calasso is the kind of writer that Alain de Botton would like to be and this quasi-biography of both Baudelaire and modernist painting is the kind of European intellectual book that leaves one with a new appreciation of the world and art.

It is not easy going, especially for a reader who is unfamiliar with Baudelaire and who has only a passing acquaintance with most of the painters that are its subject. Nonetheless, I found it a stimulating and enjoyable read and it prompted me to try reading Baudelaire, in a dual-language version, no less. It made me itch to visit Paris. And laugh at Baudelaire and some of his pretensions–this dude comes across as the ultimate hipster, worrying that he might look too much like an artist, desperately trying to be uniquely tortured while clinging to his mummy, with some (interestingly explored–or even mocked) Nice Guy ideas about women (he apparently believed that women lacked melancholy). Personal quirks aside, Baudelaire certainly could write (poems–Calasso also showcases what appears to be some embarrassingly bad romantic fiction), and I salute Calasso for writing such a tempting and perceptive introduction to his work. The book itself is beautifully produced, with nice thick paper and gorgeously reproduced paintings–the cover picture is a photograph of a lost Ingres painting, which plays on Ingres's portrayals of the human form–these little details added to the pleasure of reading this book, which at heart is an exploration of the purpose of art and the birth of modernism.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Walter Benjamin saw Baudelaire as the quintessential modern poet, one whose eyes are attuned to the modern world, with its endless arcades and fragmentation in traditional forms.

When we encouter Callaso we encounter a writer whose reputation has grown since the impressive The Marriage Of Cadmus And Harmony and the subsequent catalogue of modern life.

Here he turns to Baudelaire and conjures up a world of the flaneur as urban fakir - if such a thing could exist it existed in the body of poets who felt themselves outsiders able to penetrate the void at the heart of modernity, the emptying of content and meaning, reducing the world to a mound of ash and a chest of money.

Thoroughly recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 18 December 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
My previous encounter with this author was his outstanding and captivating take on Greek mythology The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. This book wanted me through a long warm summer, and reawakened my fascination with the classics in translation. One thing I can't say about the book is it was an easy or particularly relaxing read-Roberto Calasso is an author who makes demands of his readership, and his intellectual achievements take no prisoners. I've been out of touch with his work for some years, and enjoyed the chance of reading and reviewing this book.

In essence, it looks at the figure of Baudelaire as the progenitor of the 20th century modernist artistic and cultural sensibility. If you are familiar with the series and book by Robert Hughes The Shock of the New, this won't necessarily be a surprise to you-what will surprise you is the depth of learning and the impressive case, so brings to bear upon this thesis. But make no mistake-this is a really challenging work of cultural and arts history, but will probably benefit from you having re-read your Penguin classic translation of Baudelaire beforehand. The detail and atmosphere of 19th-century Paris makes it compelling and wholly necessary though. An excellent read, but demanding.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 19 December 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Another classy book from the author of 'The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony' and 'Tiepolo Pink'. In this latest offering Roberto Calasso turns his attention to the writing of Charles Baudelaire - not his poetry, however, but his writing on art.
Baudelaire lived in exciting times, championing the likes of Courbet, Delacroix and Manet in a Paris on the very brink of Impressionism. However, this is not by any means a biography but Callasso informs us with broad, effortless brushstrokes, so the reader becomes subtly familiar with the subject.

'La Folie Baudelaire' is a beautifully produced book with a good selection of illustrations, mainly in colour, scattered throughout the text.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book literally blew me away.

It is not the easiest book to read and i had to look up words a lot, but this was offset by the amazing world that the author takes us into.

19th Century Paris.

There are some rather fascinating aspects on life, for example: "One should always be drunk... Drunk with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue as you please. But get drunk."

And my personal favourite "Every newspaper, from the first line to the last, is nothing but a tissue of horrors."

So true, even in this day and age.

In my opinion whilst this at times is pretty hard going, it is definitely worth the effort.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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Thank God Italy still produces intellectuals, if nothing else; Roberto can dazzle like Umberto. Even if you think you know Baudelaire this may surprise you; it's about Baudelaire the art critic, a role in which he revelled - the Brian Sewell of his day? Sumptuously illustrated (pity Courbet's striking portrait is omitted), the prose is to wallow in; how about 'Chassériau's Esther, the regal archetype of all pimps'? The vulgarity finds an echo in today's art world. Ingres also figures largely (one of the seven chapters, twelve reproductions). Baudelaire preferred Delacroix, maybe not properly appreciated this side of La Manche; after all, we got Romanticism out of our system back in Shakespeare's day. Apart from the romance of battle, which no self-respecting nation would be without. Baudelaire the poet is pitched queasily somewhere between Romanticism and decadence. Baudelaire the prose-writer, however, is à decouvrir

The translator Alastair McEwen, to whom respect, wrestles on the whole successfully with the high-flown, occasionally overwrought prose: Mme Sabatier's 'beatific breath', 'the insolence of happiness', 'the horror of Belgium'(!) Intoxicatingly, infuriatingly erudite (and not averse to obfuscation) Calasso doesn't believe in making things easy. On page 40 alone we meet Hippolyte Delaroche, hesychastic and Evagrius. Even the indexer was fazed. Rachel* is indexed as Rachel, Elisa Félix. Her real name was Elisa Rachel Félix; her stage name was Rachel tout court. Bouvard and Pécuchet appear in the index under Flaubert when he's mentioned dans le texte, otherwise under plain Bouvard! But one can forgive a man much who writes: 'Narcisse Ancelle and General Aupick were the two archons looming closest to Baudelaire. Both shot through with a vein of the ridiculous, in their names alone.' Would probably make Brian's Christmas

April '13
It took Lesley Chamberlain in the New Statesman of 18 Jan to point out what I had failed to spot, that the literal rendition of A celle qui est trop gaie as To she who is too gay is a real clanger, of a kind to which the more grammatically anxious American is prone (eg the British 'they invited my wife and I', whereas no-one would think to say 'they invited I'); To one who is too lively would cover it nicely. Incidentally, sometimes I think all I learned in school was to give 'nice' and 'me' a wide berth. Nice!

* 'possibly France's greatest tragic actress' (how can they tell?), she was born in Mumpf; not a lot of people know that
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 23 March 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The combination of a highly acclaimed and multi- award winning author and magical subject matter - the vivid recreation of Parisian life towards the end of the nineteenth century cannot disappoint.

The book as written through the eyes of the visionary Baudelaire – a writer critic and poet in his time – encompassing the era which becomes ‘the Modern’.

It is a rare find, is unexpectedly conversational and sincere in its readability - and a rare experience.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 September 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
'Beauty is never, it seems to me, any more than a promise of happiness.' The author quotes Charles Baudelaire. It is the kind of quotation that keeps me engaged. Found on page eight of this 286 page commentary; it is designed to draw any reader into the mind of Charles and the imagination of Roberto Calasso.

For the writer Baudelaire: 'analogy was a science.' Psychopomp collocated are words found on the author's page. I do like imagination. Yet 'the sensibility of each person is his genius' states Charles. Having sold nearly two copies of my poetry book entitled Not Inside I can only bow to the words of the succeeding scribe.

Names are remembered: 'He found eternal life, Langdon thought, recalling the early Greek philosophers views on fame. So long as they speak your name, you shall never die.' Page 514 of Inferno: (Robert Langdon Book 4). Calasso drops names from a time and place and brings them to life and denies the chance of 'utter negligence' to leave nothing remaining.

I viewed some paintings of Marc Chagall recently. I different time, a different place. But the beauty in his colours. It felt like a promise. Life for all time.
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