Les raids du MAL

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The FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago is featured in the news this morning,– and also of course on Twitter, with the difference that many tweets abbreviate "Mar-a-Lago" as "MAL" or "MaL", e.g.

This reminded me of Baudelaire's poetry collection Les fleurs du mal, and more obscurely, of the epigraph on the title page of the 1857 edition:

The source is an epic poem about the religious wars of 16th-century France, by Théodore Agrippa d'Aubigné, first published in 1616. The passage from Les Tragiques continues in an interesting way beyond Baudelaire's selection:

On dit qu’il faut couler les execrables choses
Dans le puits de l’oubly et au sepulchre encloses,
Et que par les escrits le mal resuscité
Infectera les moeurs de la postérité :
Mais le vice n’a point pour mere la science,
Et la vertu n’est point fille de l’ignorance.
Elle est le chaud fumier sans qui les ords pechez
S’engraissent en croissant, s’ils ne sont arrachez,
Et l’acier des vertus mesme intellectuelles
Tranche et destruit l’erreur et l’histoire par elles.
Mieux vaut à descouvert monstrer l’infection
Avec sa puanteur, et sa punition.
Le bon père affriquain sagement nous enseigne
Qu’il faut que les Tyrans de tout poinct on depeigne,
Montrer combien impurs sont ceux-là qui de Dieu
Condamnent la famille au couteau et au feu.

In Jesse Zeldin's English translation:

It is said that we must pour execrable things
Into the wells of forgetfulness and into sealed tombs,
And that evil, revived by writing,
Will corrupt the ways of posterity:
But the mother of vice is not wisdom,
And virtue is not the daughter of ignorance;
Ignorance is the warm dung under which filthy sins
Fatten and grow if they are not torn out,
And the steel of even intellectual virtues
Guts and destroys error, and history does so by them too.
It is better openly to show the infection
With its stink and its punishment.
The good African father wisely teaches us
That tyrants must be painted in all their parts,
To show how impure are those who condemn
The family of God to the sword and to the fire.

As Zeldin points out in a footnote, "the good African father" is "either Saint Augustine or Saint Cyprian".

For whatever reason, the epigraph from Les Tragiques is omitted from the title page of Baudelaire's 1861 edition.

But both editions start with the poem "AU LECTEUR", which also deserves to be read in today's context — especially the final three stanzas:

Mais parmi les chacals, les panthères, les lices,
Les singes, les scorpions, les vautours, les serpents,
Les monstres glapissants, hurlants, grognants, rampants,
Dans la ménagerie infâme de nos vices,

Il en est un plus laid, plus méchant, plus immonde!
Quoiqu'il ne pousse ni grands gestes ni grands cris,
Il ferait volontiers de la terre un débris
Et dans un bâillement avalerait le monde;

C'est l'Ennui!—l'oeil chargé d'un pleur involontaire,
Il rêve d'échafauds en fumant son houka.
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
—Hypocrite lecteur,—mon semblable,—mon frère!


And yet, among the beasts and creatures all—
Panther, snake, scorpion, jackal, ape, hound, hawk—
Monsters that crawl, and shriek, and grunt, and squawk,
In our vice-filled menagerie's caterwaul,

One worse is there, fit to heap scorn upon—
More ugly, rank! Though noiseless, calm and still,
yet would he turn the earth to scraps and swill,
swallow it whole in one great, gaping yawn:

Ennui! That monster frail!—With eye wherein
A chance tear gleams, he dreams of gibbets, while
Smoking his hookah, with a dainty smile. . .
—You know him, reader,—hypocrite,—my twin!



  1. Ed Rorie said,

    August 10, 2022 @ 8:27 am

    The final line from "Au Lecteur” is quoted in T. S. Eliot's “The Waste Land,” in which sterility and malaise are implicated in the decay of civilization.

    [(myl) How about boredom? Tom Jones, "President Trump said media ratings would tank without him. Was he right? Maybe.", Poynter 3/23/2021.]

  2. chris said,

    August 11, 2022 @ 12:57 pm

    I've already seen the resulting "grand MAL seizure" somewhere, though sadly I forgot to save a link. I don't think googling it would be all that helpful unless it's possible to force case sensitivity.

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