Edmund White’s The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris (2001); or, another night of insomnia, another short book

511krl1ZVELEarly on, White offers a hostage to fortune when he quotes Loius Sébastien Mercier:

Like a true flâneur, Mercier found his ‘research’, disorganized and fragmented as it might be, endlessly absorbing. As he put it, ‘I haven’t been bored once since I started writing books. If I’ve bored my readers, may they forgive me, since I myself have been hugely amused’. (35)

However, White knows how to create the impression of flattering his reader when really he is flattering no-one but himself. Describing Théophile Gautier’s attendance at a monthly meeting of Le Club de Hachichins, who basically ate huge lumps of jellied hash, he writes:

All the signs of being totally, deliriously, even dangerously stoned, so well known to my readers, were already familiar to the arty denizens of Hôtel de Lauzun. (132)

He then goes on to quote the position Baudelaire, who likely only took hashish once or twice, in the great wine vs. hash debate that raged through probably very few fashionable salons:

he compared hasish  unfavourably to wine, which he thought was more ‘democratic’ because more cheaper and more widely available… To be precise he praised both wine and hashish for promoting ‘the excessive poetic development of mankind’, but he pointed out that ‘wine exalts the will, hashish annihilates it. Wine is a support to the body, hashish is a weapon for suicide. Wine makes people good and friendly, hashish isolates. One is hard-working, so to speak, whereas the other is essentially lazy. … Wine is for those people who work and deserve to drink it. Hashish belongs to the category of solitary pleasures; it is made for the unhappy idle. Wine is useful, it produces fruitful results. Hashish is useless and dangerous.’ (133-4).

And to end on a bitchy note, after several pages snarkily but not inaccurately lambasting the lifeless artworks of Gustave Moreau, he concludes the chapter:

Moreau once declared: ‘I love my art so much that I’ll be happy only when I make it for myself’. His wish came true. (144)

With luck I’ll sleep tonight…




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