St. Charles of the Flowers, 2008
By Thomas Christensen, based on historical photos by Nadar and Etienne Carjat
Digital image, colored pixels
Via the Sleep of Reason
This image of nineteenth-century French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) is part of a set of contemporary hagioagraphic portraits of historical figures that occupies a wing in MoFo’s historical galleries. Known among MoFo staff as St. Stupid’s Corridor, the wing is often recommended to visitors who are agonized by convulsions of laughter, because of its sobering effects.
Baudelaire is best known as the author of Les Fleurs du Mal (variously translated as “Flowers of Evil” or “Crummy Flowers”) and other splenetic and synesthetic collections of verse, but he is also the author of an essay entitled “On Laughter.” In this essay he contrasts satire and farce (which he calls the “significant” and “absolute” forms of comedy).
According to Baudelaire, laughter is commonly linked to the ancient fall of humankind from paradise. Therefore, he says, laughter must express debasement, and consequently it must be satanic. Since it is satanic, it must be human. Since it is human, it must be contradictory.
In short, laughter is “at once a token of an infinite grandeur and an infinite misery,” and the artist who elicits such laughter is a doubled person. This, no doubt, explains the doubled portrait shown here.