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Baudelaire, so bitterly wracked with ambivalence, with rejection and debt, anachronistically repudiated the ideology of capital. His realism would recognize the spiritual complexity of dispossessed lives. He undoubtedly projected his aesthetic emotions on those outsiders cursed by Haussmann’s city ; he loved actresses, street singers, old women, acrobats, and prostitutes. He loved Jeanne Duval. He reconstructed the baroque city he required in Le Spleen de Paris, a city whose equivocity could enfold both pleasure and doubt. In Baudelaire’s cosmos, bizarre beauty was necessarily striated with irony, anger, and refusal.

The old pleasure had been lost, and the new had not yet been made. Jeanne’s body was not her body ; it was the field of an aesthetic proclamation and its withdrawal. Her body was the ground for the refracted self-identity of these bohemian cadets. Carmine-bronze-violet-tinted-blue-black, they described her to one another ; they recognized each other by means of the screen of her skin. She lived, as I said, on the second floor, facing the court, with her blonde maid Louise. They had no cook and no kitchen, so the two women would go to eat together in restaurants. Their home was open to any who wished to pay a visit, and from these guests she asked for nothing, since the household was entirely provided for by her lover, Baudelaire. Furthermore she was free, said Nadar, to accept any intimate attentions, since at that time their youthful circle regarded monogamy as a sort of crime. In the afternoon, between the hours of two and four only, her door was closed ; this was when Monsieur would visit her, and also every night.

Banville had first met Baudelaire strolling in the Luxembourg Gardens, by means of their common friend, the journalist Privat d’Anglemont. ‘Tiens,’ Privat d’Anglemont said to his companion, at the sight of the approach of the young poet through the foliage, ‘c’est Baudelaire’: Baudelaire, with his little pointy beard, nipped-in black velvet smock, and silver-headed walking stick, who seemed to have stepped from a van Dyck. And then the three men spent the entire night walking together in the city.

In the morning we had more whisky, and chocolate. I was puffy and slick and my lips were kissed raw, and I went to vomit behind the plastic curtain. Magnificent. There was no need for modesty. This is what beauty was for in some songs. Some say they only flirted, but my song was not that one. Later he asked if I would care to be prostituted. No, I said.

If he could pimp, I could write.

Lisa RobertsonThe Baudelaire Fractal Coach House2020p. 75–76