Sans cesse à mes côtés s’agite le Démon;
Il nage autour de moi comme un air impalpable;
Je l’avale et le sens qui brûle mon poumon
Et l’emplit d’un désir éternel et coupable.
Parfois il prend, sachant mon grand amour de l’Art,
La forme de la plus séduisante des femmes,
Et, sous de spécieux prétexte de cafard,
Accoutume ma lèvre à des philtres infâmes.
Il me conduit ainsi, loin du regard de Dieu,
Haletant et brisé de fatigue, au milieu
Des plaines de l’Ennui, profondes et désertes,
Et jette dans mes yeux pleins de confusion
Des vêtements souillés, des blessures ouvertes,
Et l’appareil sanglant de la Destruction!
–Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
The Demon is always moving about at my side;
He floats about me like an impalpable air;
I swallow him, I feel him burn my lungs
And fill them with an eternal, sinful desire.
Sometimes, knowing my deep love for Art, he assumes
The form of a most seductive woman,
And, with pretexts specious and hypocritical,
Accustoms my lips to infamous philtres.
He leads me thus, far from the sight of God,
Panting and broken with fatigue, into the midst
Of the plains of Ennui, endless and deserted,
And thrusts before my eyes full of bewilderment,
Dirty filthy garments and open, gaping wounds,
And all the bloody instruments of Destruction!
(Translated by William Aggeler)
The French expression avoir le cafard means “to feel low, to be down in the dumps, to be depressed”–yet literally, it means “to have the cockroach.” The word cafard, which probably comes from the Arabic kafr, means several things: “a person who pretends to believe in God,” “a tattletale,” “a cockroach,” and “melancholy.”
It was Baudelaire (in the poem quoted above) who gave cafard that last connotation of having the blues. And what characterizes depression more than that sense of being completely alone, completely separate from every other being on earth–whether that separation is caused by the magnitude of one’s perceived failures or at the thought of one’s total helplessness? The “Demon” leads the way “into the midst/Of the plains of Ennui, endless and deserted.” In the end, the Demon “thrusts before my eyes full of bewilderment,/Dirty filthy garments and open, gaping wounds,/And all the bloody instruments of Destruction!” It’s a psychological House of Horrors that makes emotional pain into physical torment.
I’ve been depressed. My blog started out with a shuffle, not a bang. I haven’t written for a week. Who is listening anyway?
And there is that sense of being totally alone in one’s pain.
I can’t stop thinking about Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died alone with a needle in his arm…yet how dare he? How dare he act like someone separate and disconnected from every other living creature? How dare he ignore his connection to everyone and everything that loved him? (Even if he existed for most of us on a movie screen?)
And isn’t that the sickness of humanity now? Seeing ourselves as alone and separate instead of parts of a whole and elements of an ecosystem? Drilling, pillaging, raping the earth as if it had nothing to do with everything we are?
What really depresses me is hearing the journalist and social critic Chris Hedges on Truthdig (http://www.truthdig.com/avbooth/item/chris_hedges_crisis_zones_collapse_and_the_antidote_to_defeatism_20140210) talk about the “magical thinking” of the Native Americans who thought that with ghost dances, they could bring back their warriors and the herds of buffalos…when in fact their despair had just reached epic heights and they were simply unable to effect the environment or the world around them.
Chris Hedges’ book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle had a big influence on my (half-joking) novel about celebrity culture. The novel is a satire–not a damning work of social criticism. Yet, now it is clearer that it ever was before.
It’s clear that we have “an uninformed public” that is “mesmerized by electronic hallucinations.” It’s clear that “the media isn’t doing its job.” It’s clear that “climate change is an emergency” and that we are almost helpless at this point as we face “the forces of unfettered capitalism.”
So what is this blog? A ghost dance?
We must resist–physically, psychologically, and spiritually–by insisting that not one of us is alone. We are all connected to one another. This is the secret that will topple the giant corporations, unveil the forces of imperialist greed. We will turn “electronic hallucinations” into flesh and blood. We will resist the cockroach and loneliness and Destruction. And we will lead one another in a dance for the living.