“Tell me, my soul, poor chilly soul, how would you like to live in Lisbon? It must be warm there, and you would be as blissful as a lizard in the sun. It is a city by the sea; they say that it is built of marble…”
My soul does not reply.
Now is the time to spill my bile, or spleen…
When I was done with school, I was resolved to get out of this world, the Western world, and so I went on a trip for six or seven months through south-Asia. I wanted to get away from the radio, TV, magazines, advertisements, the culture of “achievement,” and all that was part of my upbringing. Of course, they had it there too, but it was in a language I did not understand, so it was merely interesting.
I was filled with critical theory and radical politics, unconnected with any practical organization or activity, and disgusted with my petty bourgeois, intellectual culture. It was a good trip.
During the ensuing thirty years, I struggled to fit into this society of ours, and did it quite well, being a conformist at heart. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to balance ideas and values that I retained with life in a society that seemed to contradict all of them. Like many of us.
Today, I have never felt so out of tune with the world that faces me (I speak from my very narrow perspective and experience only), and I find that my earlier feelings of disgust are returning. Perhaps its due to the fact that my children are out of the house, and I am free of many practical obligations and responsibilities that children bring, freeing me to return to my untethered philosophical aloofness.
Google, Facebook, billions and billions of dollars! Endless news, speculation, and expectation of the next big thing, i.e., the next great business coup that will reap fortunes for some, and produce more…avenues for buying, selling, and consuming goods and our leisure time for the rest of us. Well, as I have often said, I prefer a world sunk in the intellectual and spiritual doldrums of consumerism to one in which people dream of how to become the Master Race, dressed in smart black uniforms.
There is no escape from culture, from style, from the structure of our society. Once you have asked the question of how to escape, you have proven that you are so much a part of it that it is carried inside you always. And to what would you escape? To a life that is more … real? Gimme a break! Keep calm, and carry on is all you can do.
Here is the complete prose poem, Anywhere Out of the World (N’importe où hors du monde) by Baudelaire, in English and French:
Life is a hospital where every patient is obsessed by the desire of changing beds. One would like to suffer opposite the stove, another is sure he would get well beside the window.
It always seems to me that I should be happy anywhere but where I am, and this question of moving is one that I am eternally discussing with my soul.
“Tell my, my soul, poor chilly soul, how would you like to live in Lisbon? It must be warm there, and you would be as blissful as a lizard in the sun. It is a city by the sea; they say that it is built of marble, and that its inhabitants have such a horror of the vegetable kingdom that they tear up all the trees. You see it is a country after my own heart; a country entirely made of mineral and light, and with liquid to reflect them.”
My soul does not reply.
“Since you are so fond of being motionless and watching the pageantry of movement, would you like to live in the beatific land of Holland? Perhaps you could enjoy yourself in that country which you have so long admired in paintings on museum walls. What do you say to Rotterdam, you who love forests of masts, and ships that are moored on the doorsteps of houses?”
My soul remains silent.
“Perhaps you would like Batavia better? There, moreover, we should find the wit of Europe wedded to the beauty of the tropics.”
Not a word. Can my soul be dead?
“Have you sunk into so deep a stupor that you are happy only in your unhappiness? If that is the case, let us fly to countries that are the counterfeits of Death. I know just the place for us, poor soul. We will pack up our trunks for Torneo. We will go still farther, to the farthest end of the Baltic Sea; still farther from life if possible; we will settle at the Pole. There the sun only obliquely grazes the earth, and the slow alternations of daylight and night abolish variety and increase that other half of nothingness, monotony. There we can take deep baths of darkness, while sometimes for our entertainment, the Aurora Borealis will shoot up its rose-red sheafs like the reflections of the fireworks of hell!”
At last my soul explodes! “Anywhere! Just so it is out of the world!”
Cette vie est un hôpital où chaque malade est possédé du désir de changer de lit. Celui-ci voudrait souffrir en face du poêle, et celui-là croit qu’il guérirait à côté de la fenêtre.
Il me semble que je serais toujours bien là où je ne suis pas, et cette question de déménagement en est une que je discute sans cesse avec mon âme.
“Dis-moi, mon âme, pauvre âme refroidie, que penserais-tu d’habiter Lisbonne? Il doit y faire chaud, et tu t’y ragaillardirais comme un lézard. Cette ville est au bord de l’eau; on dit qu’elle est bâtie en marbre, et que le peuple y a une telle haine du végétal, qu’il arrache tous les arbres. Voilà un paysage selon ton goût; un paysage fait avec la lumière et le minéral, et le liquide pour les réfléchir!”
Mon âme ne répond pas.
“Puisque tu aimes tant le repos, avec le spectacle du mouvement, veux-tu venir habiter la Hollande, cette terre béatifiante? Peut-être te divertiras-tu dans cette contrée dont tu as souvent admiré l’image dans les musées. Que penserais-tu de Rotterdam, toi qui aimes les forêts de mâts, et les navires amarrés au pied des maisons?”
Mon âme reste muette.
“Batavia te sourirait peut-être davantage? Nous y trouverions d’ailleurs l’esprit de l’Europe marié à la beauté tropicale.”
Pas un mot. – Mon âme serait-elle morte?
“En es-tu donc venue à ce point d’engourdissement que tu ne te plaises que dans ton mal? S’il en est ainsi, fuyons vers les pays qui sont les analogies de la Mort.
– Je tiens notre affaire, pauvre âme! Nous ferons nos malles pour Tornéo. Allons plus loin encore, à l’extrême bout de la Baltique; encore plus loin de la vie, si c’est possible; installons-nous au pôle. Là le soleil ne frise qu’obliquement la terre, et les lentes alternatives de la lumière et de la nuit suppriment la variété et augmentent la monotonie, cette moitié du néant. Là, nous pourrons prendre de longs bains de ténèbres, cependant que, pour nous divertir, les aurores boréales nous enverront de temps en temps leurs gerbes roses, comme des reflets d’un feu d’artifice de l’Enfer!”
Enfin, mon âme fait explosion, et sagement elle me crie: “N’importe où! n’importe où! pourvu que ce soit hors de ce monde!”