"Machinery will have so much Americanized us, progress will have so much atrophied our spiritual element, that nothing in the sanguinary, blasphemous or or unnatural dreams of the Utopists can be compared to what will actually happen."
That statement was written 150 years ago by Charles Baudelaire in an unfinished work published posthumously in 1887, 20 years after his death, and translated by Richard Howard in a little book called Intimate Journals. Merely change the word "machinery" to "technology" and it sounds fairly accurate.
Compare it to this contemporary aphorism by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Lebanese, educated in French schools in Lebanon and at the University of Paris as well as in the U.S.) from his recent aphorism collection The Bed of Procrustes:
"The book is the only thing left that hasn't been corrupted by the profane: everything else on your eyelids manipulates you with an ad."
I only realized how strong the pull of the marketplace is when even I was tempted to allow ads on my personal blog Whirlwind in order to make some money. Thus far, I have resisted the call.
I came to France (and the Basque Country) to continue my work on aphorisms. And, of course, I felt I should read some collections by the French, especially since it seems, according to Alfred Corn, that the French were the ones who began to treat aphorisms as witty, pithy statements.
The problem I have with some of Baudelaire is that he is so often interested in shocking us out of our bourgeois propriety. And that is the most dated and least shocking thing about him. As when he starts off on the first page, declaring:
"Love is a liking for prostitution. There are no pleasures, not even noble ones, whose origin cannot be traced to prostitution. . . . What is art? Prostitution."
Are you beginning to yawn?
"Commerce is essentially satanic."
Only a deeply religious man could seek to offend the pious by talking of Satan. (moi)
[Though, now, since I have had a night without internet service and thus time to ponder, I wonder if Baudelaire wasn't right after all: that even my contemplation of allowing ads on my site wouldn't be a kind of prostitution. . .]
In a future post, I'll talk about one of my favorite French aphorists, Edmond Jabes, an Egyptian Jew by birth.
I'll leave you with one sketch for an aphorism (an aphorism for me encompassing the personal "horizon," which is part of the etymology of aphorism, as in setting boundaries [see my little essay ])
Today on my bike, I rode by Avenue Monplaisir, but I knew if I stopped, I would not find it. Is that my fate: to knowingly (or, perhaps, unknowingly) be passing my pleasure by?