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The Frenchman with the nice details below the waistline

Nowadays, if you want to be thought of as a courageous anti-establishment rebel, someone who defends artistic freedom to the max, simply write a song that uses as many words from the human genital area as possible.

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The Frenchman with the nice details below the waistline

Nowadays, if you want to be thought of as a courageous anti-establishment rebel, someone who defends artistic freedom to the max, simply write a song that uses as many words from the human genital area as possible. The rest will take care of itself: The Woken will demand a ban because of the degradation of women – and warn concerned citizens who consider themselves conservative, looking to the left, of the dangers of cancel culture (“re-education!!!”).

Nobody has yet been able to explain what is supposed to turn songs into art whose only unique selling point are terms related to copulation, but the threats of bans are as serious as their rejection. The only amusing thing is that everyone involved imagines that something new is happening here. In truth, such debates have a long tradition: there have always been people who wanted to ban the work of painters, sculptors, musicians, journalists and writers, as cultural history teaches at first glance.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) occupies a special position in the series of great names who suffered repression. The lifestyle of artists like Oscar Wilde may have been their undoing - for the French it was his writings around the middle of the 19th century, and here not prose, but poetry. The volume 'Les Fleurs du Mal' ('The Flowers of Evil') contained six poems that - Attention! – not at all liked by conservative guardians of morals and decency. Baudelaire had described Paris in his verses in the darkest of colors, and the work was simply filled with scents of corruption that even the ruler in heaven could do nothing to stop.

The lines were written starting in 1840, and the first edition of the collection went on sale on June 25, 1857 in an edition of around 1,100 copies. After that, things happened very quickly: less than two weeks after the start, the public prosecutor's office got in touch and initiated criminal prosecution for blasphemy and insult to public morals. Apparently, the authorities of Emperor Napoleon III. At that time, he was particularly interested in the literary scene, accusations had already been leveled against Gustave Flaubert in February of that year: his novel “Madame Bovary” had dealt with the relationship between little men and women a little too profoundly.

In the case of Baudelaire, on August 20, 1857, the court sentenced the author to a fine of 300 francs for insulting public morals. His preferred publisher, Auguste Poulet-Malassis, also had to pay a fine. Apparently, he also could not have imagined that someone could be prosecuted for describing Paris as what it was clearly at that point in time: a place full of narrowness, dirt and despair, where only very few people were to eke out a halfway tolerable existence.

In addition, Baudelaire's character would not have placed him in a position to make Employee of the Month anywhere. He came from a wealthy family, but then as now, that didn't guarantee a straight career. Be it out of boredom or out of incompetence - the young Charles was surprisingly incapable of handling himself in the classroom, was considered grumpy and depressed and managed to be expelled from school for disobedience shortly before graduating from college. In 1839 he caught up on his degree, enrolled in law school, failed, got stuck between bohemianism and red light and contracted syphilis, then an incurable sexually transmitted disease.

In 1841 his mother and stepfather sponsored a voyage that took him to Mauritius, and the following year the hated man died at his mother's side, leaving Baudelaire 75,000 francs. At that time, a miner was paid 550 francs a year, so Baudelaire could have used the money to retire. But he decided to live his life as a dandy from now on, with all the drug and tailoring bills that that entails.

His new lover was only too happy to support him with the program "Always away with the cash": Jeanne Duval was an actress whose extravagances were just as much a topic of conversation in the artistic scene as her beauty, and together the couple plastered half of the inheritance in 18 months, but the author practiced poetry by writing verses to his beloved. In 1845 he translated into French the works of his colleague Edgar Alan Poe, another writer less concerned with the happy side of life.

In 1848 there was another revolution in Paris, Baudelaire was there with great enthusiasm, he switched from dandyism to socialism, but was not happy either. The incriminated volume of poetry bears eloquent testimony to this. Translating the lines is a pointless exercise, no matter how meritorious the attempts may be: French and German work quite differently, so there is no need to quote them. But in Baudelaire man is always inclined to give in to the temptations of evil, not to resist the temptation, which naturally also brings astonishing details to light below the waistline.

The authorities objected to six poems “because of obscene and immoral passages”. When a second edition of the "Fleurs" appeared in 1861, with an additional 35 new poems, they could no longer be found. Only in Belgium did they reappear in two editions in 1866 and 1869. Baudelaire died a sad death in 1867, exhausted from drugs, depression and syphilis.

France did not lift the ban until 1949. But there is still a huge difference to the bang-and-bang poets whose works one has to grapple with today just because some woken want to live out their power rush: Baudelaire's texts translate the torments of their creator into language, which is why he inspired entire generations of poets after him; evidence for Arthur Schopenhauer's thesis that real creativity is often not recognized by contemporaries.

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