Félix de Azúa returns to Baudelaire. It has never left its territory. Come back to him like someone who takes refuge. In 1978, already in full Transition, he published ‘Baudelaire and his work’, a cultural update aimed, above all, at the student audience. In 1992 he recovered that work and added a new essay dedicated only to the aesthetic dimension of French, which was published as
‘Baudelaire and the artist of modern life’. Of that volume Debate now publishes a new expanded and commented edition by Andreu Jaume.
All progressivisms sound old to Félix de Azúa (Barcelona, 1944), and for a long time. Philosopher, poet, essayist and novelist, he entered the Royal Spanish Academy of the Language in 2017.
In a society where the poet is no longer the voice of the tribe, who better than him to add a rereading of one of his main contributions to artistic thought, precisely about Baudelaire, the canonical figure from which modernity is built. Azúa does not make concessions, he has never made them, much less now.
When he wrote those first pages dedicated to the author of ‘Las flores del mal’, Félix de Azúa was a fundamental actor in the cultural Barcelona of the seventies and eighties, the same city from which he left in 2011, when the wave of secessionists broke , unstoppable, in the daily life of citizens. At that time, it supported and supported the emergence of Ciudadanos and the Free and Equal platform. He also further sharpened the dagger of his literary output. Neither then nor now did he step back. He continues to participate in the intellectual debate as an uncomfortable voice for any kind of stubbornness.
In this new edition of ‘Baudelaire and the artist of modern life’ that today summons readers, Azúa has revised the entire text, correcting it and adding reflections whose sharpness and relevance recreate a synthesis of his intellectual evolution, a portrait of what the A writer has always been: a man of letters interested in his time and the one that preceded him. Hence his introductory words are illuminating: “There is no reason for hope, only for resistance. Our obligation is to endure the fetid winds of idiocy and rot in the world, “he writes.
The acrimony should not exempt others from seeking the beautiful. From his pessimism Baudelaire extracted, “like a bleeding matron putting her hands in the entrails of Good”, the greatest poetry of his century, writes Azúa in a text that warns and unravels the artist’s meaning. Citing Faulkner when speaking of the poet’s voice, Azúa reveals the meaning of the human being, above all because of his ability to inhabit destructive times with the perspective not only of surviving them but of prevailing them. “That remains the task of writers and artists in times of misery, ‘to endure and prevail’.”
—We have to go back to Baudelaire as Hölderlin turned to the Greeks when he saw the society that was falling on him. Is such a thing possible in a time when the poet is no longer the voice of the tribe?
—The current inhabitants of the West have no choice but to return, because we are historical beings. We are eaten by history. None of the things that interested us, we can taste them if they do not tell us that they belong to the 11th century or 1950. We are always returning and we have to go back to the ancestors more fortunate than us, those who inhabited societies where the weight of the State was not so great , of political parties, unions, or football teams. We have to go back to people who could still be an individual.
“When did the individual end?”
—They have been fading, because the power of social technification is enormous. It is hard to resist it. When you ask someone what he is like, he says: ‘I’m from Athletic, I vote for Podemos, I have studies but it is as if I didn’t have it because it is useless and I believe in money, the little that I can earn.’ Then there are those with some quirkiness, like scuba diving in the Maldives, but it doesn’t go much further. In order to become an individual, there is no choice but to speak with the dead: with Baudelaire, Cervantes, Hölderlin with Faulkner, or with Rilke… closer and closer it is more and more difficult. Anyone who knows a little about culture, art or literature, knows that individualities are increasingly rare to find.
—Because the State wins, it is winning. He is victorious, whether he is in the hands of an immoral person like Pedro Sánchez or a poor man like Pablo Casado, it doesn’t matter. They are focused on who loses the next Civil War. In those circumstances it is very difficult to be an individual.
—In the presentation of this edition, he affirms that there is no hope, only resistance, and, quoting Faulkner, he emphasizes that the role of artists is to prevail. Can Azúa only prevail by himself?
– All my life I have tried to remedy everything bad that I did before the 40 or 50 years, and that is what I tell in the book ‘Story of an idiot’. I have been an idiot until very late, because I have believed in happiness until very late. In the beginning, happiness was a worker’s paradise; then it was sex, drugs and rock and roll and later, building democracy. Until the first government of Felipe González, I believed all the advertisements and bought all the products.
-And what happened?
– From there I realized that if I wanted to prevent dying an idiot, I had no choice but to investigate on my own and flee from the state, the government and the massive. So I began to correct myself. My friends also realized, as late as I did, that they were being scammed. What interests the parties is that you obey them, because with that they win a vote and these people kill each other, commit suicide and murder if necessary, for one vote. One way to correct that is to read Baudelaire.
—He wrote the genesis of this Baudelaire essay in the Barcelona of the Transition, it took its final form in 1992 and is now expanding it. Why do you always come back to this book?
“It’s a reminder of talent and individuality.” Baudelaire is an individual who never obeyed the power of the state. Being young he was a bit of an idiot. He participated in the Commune, but then he realized that he had made a mistake by being part of that Revolution that called on the masses to assassinate General Aupick, his father. ”Azúa laughs. Baudelaire was the last individual. In the twentieth century there were, Faulkner was. In the XXI there are a few left.
“Was Baudelaire ahead of his time or primitive of ours?”
“Both, because it falls in the middle of two things.” It arrives at a point where the old has died, but the new has not yet been born. That happened to Diderot. In Baudelaire’s case, romanticism is dead. Some critics describe him as the ultimate romantic, but the truth is that he kills romanticism, but has not started the modernity that he discovers. Modernity is equivalent to the avant-garde, he realizes that the romantic has ended, but the avant-garde has not yet emerged. In fact, Baudelaire is a contemporary of Manet.
—For the modern poet, nature is dead, the city is the center …
—The birth of the city is ancient, but the development of the technical city takes place in the life of Baudelaire. He lives the transformation of the Paris that still has medieval parts and that walks towards the technified city. While that happens, the city is with the guts to the air. That influences his poetry and prose, and his wonderful texts. What happens is that simultaneously the English are not only building a technified city, but they are also technifying the entire world through the railroad.
Is that comparable to the hyperconnected world of the 21st century, in which everything fits on a mobile phone?
“We can’t compare.” We live in a world that is already technified and in which that technification is digital and therefore absolute. The city in which we now live is not the habitable place, but the gigantic city built by the networks. What will that world be like? I have no idea. I do not consider myself a pessimist, I am an absolute optimist. I suppose it will be a good and bad world, like all times, but I know that the inhabitants of that world are going to find it increasingly difficult to escape the dictatorships of the State, to be individuals.
—The past is not a manual, but it provides ideas. Why do populisms succeed today with promises that have already failed in the past? What, then, do memory and history prevent us from?
“We only have that shelter left.” In a way we are returning to a society very similar to medieval society. There are absolute powers: the nobility, the aristocracy and the king. That is, there are political parties, the government, unions and the media, which is the aristocracy; then the people, the peasants, who are us, because we can no longer be called proletarians, we do not even enjoy that dignity.
“What do you mean?”
—Because it is an immense mass of people without any rights and to whom it is very easy to buy with various types of bottles. For example, the university bottle, which is very cheap. There is another type of bottle, that of workers, such as football or the generalized bottle, which is sex. Escaping those powers of the State seems to me that it is going to be increasingly difficult. Some will get away. In the Middle Ages the monks who were copying the books of Greece and Rome were spared. We have to do the same: read Baudelaire, Hölderlin, Rilke … If possible, now that the state has decided to kill her, then philosophy. Everything that the state prohibits must be very interesting. They are building a high school for the illiterate, because they have to learn on their own. Educate yourself, because state education is useless, they only want one vote. If you want to save yourself, you just have to do it on your own.
—You lived against Franco and against the nationalism of the Pujol …
“That’s where we who are saved are saved.” I am not pessimistic. Before Franco it was the civil war, that was horrible. But before that, the previous three with daily murders and the subsequent three, with daily murders. He who has a talent for saving himself will be saved.
– What do you think of the cultural federalism that Picasso’s La dama de Elche or ‘Guernica’ proposes to return?
—As long as we have a government like the current one, they live by votes… In exchange for a vote, these people are able to sell their mother. It is a band, a clan of cynics who do not believe anything, how can they believe in culture, art, literature, philosophy? How can they not believe in power, not to do anything for others, but to abuse that power? If you put Iceta as Minister of Culture, it is as if you put Lola Flores or Chiquito de la Calzada as Minister of Culture. Miquel Iceta is there to fulfill what they send him and buy votes. The return of La dama de Elche, we’ll see if she gets it, is one of the most characteristic things of this government: the representative of Nazi Germany gave it to Franco and now the representative of useless Spain is going to give it to him. Whoever it is, whoever is able to win the most votes with. As long as this government exists, culture will be a commodity in the hands of cynical people. You have to go back to Franco to get ministers like these.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism