By Stuart Mitchner
The news isn’t just breaking, it’s running wild.” So began my June 3, 2020 column on Allen Ginsberg’s birthday. That was then. The belief that literature, inspired acting, poetry, and music is always timely, always worthy of interest, has been the motive force driving these pieces week after week, year after year. When terrorists attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January 2015, I brought in Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, and Daumier; when they shot up the Bataclan that November, I connected by way of Henry Miller, Rimbaud, and the Velvet Underground. Four years later when Notre Dame was burning, I brought Balzac, Swinburne, Hugo, and the Mueller Report on board.
Three Giants at 200
I’m setting the last column of 2021 in Paris because three bicentenary literary giants — Feodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), and Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) — were there at roughly the same time, in summer-fall 1862. Since there’s no evidence I can find that the author of Crime and Punishment got together with the author of The Flowers of Evil, or with the author of Madame Bovary, I’m bringing them together with the help of quotations, observations, and occasional imaginary conversations, thanks in part to The Arcades Project (Harvard 2002), the compendium Walter Benjamin mined from the printed depths of 19th-century Paris. The 1,070-page volume is described in the translators’ foreword as the “blue-print for an unimaginably massive and labyrinthine architecture, a dream city, in effect.” more