Artificial Paradises by Charles Baudelaire

Originally published in France, in 1860, under the title ‘Les Paradis Artificiels’ (Artificial Paradises); Charles Baudelaire’s classic of drug writing is a blend of personal insight, translation, and morality discourse. The edition used by this review is the 1996 Citadel Press book, translated by Stacy Diamond.

The Citadel Press edition includes On Wine and Hashish (1851) and Artificial Paradises, which includes The Poem of Hashish, Baudelaire’s revised version of the aforementioned text and An Opium-Eater, which is an adapted translation of Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821) and its sequel Suspiria De Profundis (1945, published in fragmentary form). This review we will concentrate on Baudelaire’s writing on hashish and wine in order to elucidate the author himself more clearly as opposed to unpinning his reaction/translation of De Quincey, which is a separate project in itself.

Charles Baudelaire was an early precursor to the French symbolist movement of the late nineteenth century. The literary movement was a reaction to realism and placed a lot of emphasis on the power of dreams and the imagination as tools for communicating ideals through symbols. Synaesthesia was one the great tools of the symbolists and Baudelaire wrote of hashish: “By graduations, external objects assume unique appearances in the endless combining and transfiguring of forms. Ideas are distorted; perceptions are confused. Sounds are clothed in colors and colors in music.” (Baud 50). Baudelaire utilised the dream as the symbolic ground of the drug experience, which in the case of this edition of Artificial Paradises incorporates wine, hashish and opium.

For instance, he discusses the existence of two types of dreams. The ‘natural dream,’ which is connected to the individual memory and the ‘hieroglyphic’…“which has no bearing on, or connection to, the character, life and passions of the dreamer” (Baud 39). Hashish intoxication, he contends, belongs to the former. One need only take a quick glance at LSD writing from 100 years later to see that this very distinction is retained and expanded into psychological terminology; the ‘personal unconscious’ and the ‘transpersonal’. Further intertextualities will also be explored later in this review.

“What man has ever known the profound joys of wine? Whoever has had a grief to appease, a memory to evoke, a sorrow to drown, a castle in Spain to build—all have at one time invoked the mysterious god who lies concealed in the fibers [sic] of the grapevine. How radiant are those wine-induced visions, brilliantly illuminated by the inner sun” (Baud 5)

The above quote, taken from On Wine and Hashish perfectly illustrates the symbolic dynamics of drug intoxication that Baudelaire employs. On the one hand, you have the drug of which the author says therein inhabits a god. There is much recourse to Bacchus and Orpheus in his discourse on wine, which conjures images of an ancient lineage and romantic embodiment. On the other hand, you have the individual’s “inner sun” that can perhaps be read as symbolic of a soul and it is the interaction of these two ethereal elements, as character, that produce the experience of intoxication.

However, while wine is treated as an equal to humanity, with its own distinct historical aura and cast as having a personal relationship with its drinker, hashish is portrayed in a much darker light. Hashish, unlike wine, is “anti-social” and he spends much more time examining its disadvantages and describes the hashish experience, rather than as a personal relationship, as an “invasion”. In the revision for Artificial Paradises’ The Poem of Hashish, Baudelaire introduces the idea of the “the Spirit of Evil” as possessing the individual and writes: “If the Spirit of Evil is allowed to grasp but a single hair, it will lose no time in carrying off the whole head.” (Baud 33). Yet, while this seems a million miles from modern cultural (though perhaps not legal)  understandings of hashish, Baudelaire at other times seems very astute: “The simplest words, the most trivial ideas, take on new, bizarre appearances; you are even amazed at having previously thought them so simple. Incongruous connections, coincidental resemblances, interminable puns, and comic sketches provide endless delight.” (Baud 42). But it is his personal moral ascription to hashish that highlights these facets in a negative light; for Baudelaire hashish is solitary and thus anti-social, having a disastrous effect:

“But alas, the morrow! The terrible moro! When the feebleness of your body, the nerves worn thin to the point of breaking, the irritating urge to cry, the weak state of both mind and body—to the point you are incapable of attending to any duty—tell you that you have played a forbidden game” (Baud 71).

Baudelaire outlines stages of the hashish intoxication. Firstly, words and ideas take on bizarre new meanings: “Then the hallucinations begin. External things, forms and images, swell to monstrous proportions, revealing themselves in fantastic shapes as yet unimagined. Instantly passing through a variety of transformations, they enter your being, or rather you enter theirs” (Baud 19). Interestingly, this raises an important question. Very similar motifs are used in psychedelic literature, empathetic identification with external objects, but are elements of the two experiences the same? Or, perhaps, is it a restrictive model of language that is unable to break out of certain modes?

There seems to be a general disagreement as to whether hashish should be classed as a psychedelic; however, using literature as a tool for asking the question, it appears to clearly class them together. Baudelaire even recognises the importance of ‘set and setting’, the great psychedelic mantra, as he recommends hashish should be taken “in the most favourable circumstances and in pleasant surroundings” (Baud 16). Not to mention his repeated emphasis on time distortion. And also: “Objectivity, which has produced a number of pantheistic poets and all of the great actors, assumes such force that your confused perceptions cannot distinguish your own being from that others” (Baud 20). Is this what LSD researcher Stanislav Grof might call an expansion of consciousness? The explanation of the mechanics differ, from a realignment of perception to an expansion of consciousness, but the result is categorically similar.

In the climatic stage: “All philosophical problems are resolved” (Baud 21) and “All contradiction is resolved. Man becomes God.” (ibid.). He argues that one is filled with a sense of power, and not love, and a superiority over the others around you, for they can’t understand where you are: “I would bear up with fortitude, I resolved, and disguise the overpowering impulse to succumb to total sedentariness. All of the carriages in my neighbourhood were taken, so I steeled myself for a long walk through the streets, surrounded by the discordant din of carriages and the stupid conversation of passers-by, a whole sea of triviality” (Baud 48). This is a fascinating connection. By reaching the point of contradiction resolution, which is more recently explored as a divine experience in psychedelic literature, Baudelaire saw it through hashish as being anti-social. However, a degree of separation between the individual and his fellows underlies both perspectives; the two take on the same division.

According to Baudelaire the paradises are artificial because using drugs is like replacing real gardens for scenery painted on canvas. However, he writes: “If the production of wine were ever to cease, its absence would create a void, a vacuum more terrible than all the excesses and offences for which it is blamed” (Baud 8). And, on the other hand, he believes no state should endorse hashish precisely because he believes it is anti-social. Baudelaire’s discourse is very statist and, for all his beautiful imagery and exquisite use of language, one cannot escape his own pervading sense of moral and social boundary. His skill, however, lies in elucidating the dream quality of the hashish experience while maintaining his own perspective; the text never allowed to be taken over by “the Spirit of Evil”.

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3 Responses

  1. January 29, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Drug Equality, PsypressUK. PsypressUK said: Literary Review: 'Artificial Paradises' by Charles Baudelaire – The great French poet on wine, hashish and opium – […]

  2. May 14, 2012

    […] anthology – Artificial Paradises – is taken from the nineteenth century French poet Charles Baudelaire’s own work of the same name. Published in 1860 Baudelaire’s work is largely concerned with wine, […]

  3. September 8, 2015

    […] Charles Baudelaire was one of the most influential poets of the nineteenth century. He was not only an acclaimed poet but also was “distinctive in French Literature”and known as “one of the major figures in the literary history of the world”(Poetry Foundation). “Paradis Artificiels” or “Artificial Paradise” was one of Baudelaire’s major works published in 1860. It highlights the effects of drug intake such as opium, hashish, and wine. Baudelaire’s writing was influenced and regarded as a response to Thomas De Quincy’s “Confessions of an English Opium Eater” published in 1821 (Psychedelic Press UK). […]

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