… the works written in full shelter from this drama, that participate neither in its gravity nor in its seriousness, that are striking by artifice or formal assurance, all that he wrote, dreamed of writing, failed to write, all that he did, his concessions to the world, his timid man’s revolts, his sad academic aims, all that is transformed by the tragedy of the last moment and accepts from it the meaning of an accomplished fate …
… It was not only in relation to the pharisaical wisdom of his time that this marginal man failed and weakened. Certainly, for Villemain, even for Sainte-Beuve, just as for Ancelle or his mother, he was nothing but a failure, a half-maniac, dishonored by his debaucheries and justly punished by his horrible end. But he failed more profoundly, for he failed in front of himself. His existence was not unfortunate because it featured a ridiculous failure in front of the Academy, under the supervision of people whom he despised, and poverty, indifference, and sterility, but much more for having desired academic fame, having drawn pride from the false praises of a Sainte-Beuve and having sought the world’s protection, in face of which he claimed to assert himself in the solitude of an uncompromising independence.
… The “gaps” of life had for Baudelaire the importance of an ordeal, trifling in its nature but major in its effects, essential especially because it helped him, indirectly and without his even knowing it, to experience the value of work. Dandyism as a means of emancipation is the poorest of alibis, and he was not fooled by it. No more was he fooled by his “free” life. We know that “the artist commonplace in demeanor and conduct” always seemed despicable to him. “I would like a neologism to be created, a word made destined to condemn this kind of cliché. … Have you not often noticed that nothing is more like the perfect bourgeois than the artist of concentrated genius?” Misconduct, laziness, the life of disorder that he led (or thought he led) did not stop weighing on him, far from seeming an aesthetic ideal or admirable moral to him. Because of his secret conformism? Perhaps. But this is what actually happens: into this existence that he dreads, he sinks down more and more, this life of lost time, wasted work, fatal to his literary activity; the more it overwhelms him and holds him prisoner, the more it finds him compliant and makes him feel the approach of the abyss in which he fears he will be lost.
… If he had liked nothing but dreaming, if, from the start, aware that language is abyss, he had believed that silence is closer to authenticity than the most beautiful poems, he would have managed very well with his laziness and his impotence. But — thanks perhaps to his conformist weakness — it was precisely the finite he could not do without. Poetic demand always remained for him the demand for a ruled, ordered, studied, thought-out language, one that was as lucid as possible; pure dream never succeeded in concealing from his eyes the fault that made it possible or the illusion it represented.
… Thanks to the disquiet that carried him into solutions that were both impracticable and fertile, routine work and absolute passivity, he arrived at desperate moments whose poetic signification is great. He discovered the mysterious, unknown impulses that carry the horror of action over into action. “It is a kind of energy that sparkles with boredom and daydream,” an energy by which, he says again, man becomes capable of provoking, of tempting fate, experiencing the extremity of life while risking it and playing with it. It is experience in the most profound sense of the word, that, because of its character, not systematic but spontaneous, with a man little capable of spontaneity, has perhaps as much value as all the experiences of Rimbaud’s derangement (dérèglement). “The Bad Glazier” foretells the Notes from the Underground.
… Baudelaire’s debacle, his struggle in the last months with words that tricked him, all the anguish that thousands of unknown sick people, afflicted with the same disease, share with him without affecting literary history, seems the heroic end of the questioning in which, for a few seconds, the all is abyss of language and the sure, calm, and beautiful poems that carried it are united; it is the final sacrifice by which the poet, who knows nothing of it, is led to lose himself in order to realize and make present poetry always to come, always to do.
And the strangest thing happens then: it is that the works written in full shelter from this drama, that participate neither in its gravity nor in its seriousness, that are striking by artifice or formal assurance, all that he wrote, dreamed of writing, failed to write, all that he did, his concessions to the world, his timid man’s revolts, his sad academic aims, all that is transformed by the tragedy of the last moment and accepts from it the meaning of an accomplished fate, because questioning the end did not fail him. Is this just? That is not the question. Now that Baudelaire is dead in the glory of final shame, his least papers, the least acts of his life are lit up with a new light that changes them, and everyone learns to read them backward, to decipher them behind the silence that stretched upon them a definitive effacement.