Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Love, Death, and Travel Through Imagination (Part 1 of 2)

“A Simple Heart”, a short story written by French poet Gustave Flaubert, is considered one of the best stories he had written; it was given excellent reviews and was admirably received. What is intriguing about it though is the fact that the approach to this tragic tale is rather new and is different; you see the story through the eyes of a woman who would not attract you if you passed her on the street, whose life story is not striking or is a subject of controversy. The protagonist, the center of both the story and the events and who readers are invited to see the world from her perspective and through her eyes, is a poor illiterate and humble woman. Her world is simply all about routine and her life is filled with the most boring details. Like the title suggests, the tale is as “simple” as the woman that Falubert describes and chooses to tell the readers about. In all her simplicity, Felicite has a power that most men –and many women- might not have: the ability to love –receiving and giving love- no matter what life brings. Although Felicite suffers the loss of her loved ones throughout the play, she never stops loving. Her love even becomes centered on a parrot, her Loulou, to the extent that she adores him like a god and is extremely devoted to him. Flaubert writing a simple story about love and goodness is something unusual, because it’s not usually one of his themes. In this story many themes are presented, like the theme of death for instance (how the death of Loulou affects Felicite), love and the idea of travel through imagination as a way of escaping reality. These are themes that were used by many poets too; one of these poets is French poet Charles Baudelaire who is called “Father of Modern Criticism”. In my opinion, Baudelaire is one of the most gifted of the French poets. He wrote The Flowers of Evil, a piece which had a lot of Flaubert themes. But despite the fact that these themes were presented differently, they had common thoughts or a common subtle “tone” nonetheless. One of the most interesting commonalities in themes to me was the idea of travel/voyage through imagination to escape the world we live in (a.k.a. Reality).

The theme of Travel/Voyage in Baudelaire’s poems especially “Spleen and the Ideal” is an escape of a world full of pessimistic themes of eviction, perish, decay, sin, pretense and deception that is controlled by the Devil. Baudelaire says that humans either use fantasy and imagination as an escape from all this or are always trapped in the boredom of Modernity/Modern life. According to Baudelaire, Perfection is only present in erotic love, voyages (imagined) and beauty (that is often extracted/ created from evil or the ugly reality). Traveling with your imagination to a mythical world or an ideal universe of one’s own creation will make one reach ultimate happiness, comfort and total perfection which is the poet’s dream (in other words Eden, which means “an ideal harmony of being”). While the latter option seems to be a good one, it’s not real and it’s not even close to reality. “Spleen” symbolizes everything that one doesn’t like in this world like death, loneliness, despair, pain, crime, and physical or psychological illness. It also symbolizes Modernity (the city) invading nature and infecting it with routine and boredom (Ennui).

Baudelaire provides excellent images to accomplish his aim of creating an ideal world to the reader.

“And of an infinite pervasiveness.
Like myrrh, or musk, or amber, that excite
The ecstasies of sense, the soul’s delight” (Correspondences 12-13)

He creates an image that successfully stimulates and arouses the reader’s senses as well as images of lavishness, bliss, comfort and warmth that serves well the description of the “ideal”. The “ideal” is like an escape from the “spleen” and the boredom of cruel reality. It’s an escape from this reality through travel for an example. Travel through imagination is nothing but a fantasy, at the end it is an imagined state of living in an ideal world full of delight and bliss where loss, death and mortality do not exist. Creating a fantasy by imagination and living it urges one to lose the sense of mortality - which is arguably a very illogical escape (or temporary escape) from the fear of death (Spleen) that fills a lot of people. It is a virtual escape from the inevitable, one can say, and a pretence that life’s tragedies do not exist (like putting your head in the sand plus dreaming and fantasizing about what life should or could be as opposed to what it really is). Consequently, Travel shapes the plot in a way that unavoidably leads to a disappointing and sad spleen.


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