No man is a ward unto himself

by Arran James

Life is a hospital in which every patient is possessed by the desire of changing his bed. One would prefer to suffer near the fire, and another is certain he would get well if he were by the window. – Baudelaire.

It is easy to detect here the haughtiness of a spiritual aristocrat who has realised the folly and absurdity of the majority of our unfortunate species. But that would be a misreading. Baudelaire doesn’t say that life is like a hospital or that human beings treat it as such. He says that it is such. Should we risk ontologising metaphors? Is the hyperbole of lyricism warranted? Where would that lead us? Only to the stupefying recognition that this is the condition of our life. Indifference to sex, to revolution, to history and utopia may always elude us. If you find yourself in hospital you better learn to make demands of the doctors and nurses, or take control of your own pain relief, otherwise you might well find yourself hacked up by lunatic surgeons.

Baudelaire isn’t taking pot-shots at the stupidity of people, but merely is expressing a resignation that desire is never finally vanquished.

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