Baudelaire’s Concept of Beauty


‘Beauty is always and inevitably compounded of two elements, although the impression it conveys is one; for the difficulty we may experience in distinguishing the variable elements that go to make beauty’s unity of impression does not in any way invalidate the need of variety in its composition. Beauty is made up, on one hand, of an element that is eternal and invariable, though to determine how much of it there is is extremely difficult, and, on the other, of a relative circumstantial element, which we may like to call, successively or at one and the same time, contemporaneity, fashion, morality, passion.

‘Without this second element, which is like the amusing, teasing, appetite whetting coating of the divine cake, the first would be indigestible, tasteless, unadapted and inappropriate to human nature.’

Surely this concept couldn’t have been given such evocative a projection in semantic form by a lesser aesthetic sensibility than that which Baudelaire eloquently proves in the opening chapter of “Le Peintre de la vie moderne“. His whole essay on beauty as a multifaceted idea subjected to both consistency and versatility provides an apt viewpoint I personally share and almost instinctively apply for the proper valuation of things or beings rendered beauteous in absence of concrete criteria. Because we never actually employ a set of conscientiously selected principles each time we formulate appreciations, do we? It often just comes natural to us, this perpetual endowment of nearby entities with various qualities that ultimately lead to their classification…

But I’m going to take heed of what Borges remarks -“to speak is to fall into tautology”- and promptly make way for your answer:

How right is Baudelaire in asserting the dual essence of beauty?

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Patricia Beykrat – the Roving Aesthete

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5 responses to “Baudelaire’s Concept of Beauty

  1. Pingback: British cartoonist’s limericks, about Byron, Baudelaire, etc. | Dear Kitty. Some blog·

  2. He is by reference to all other things in existence, absolutely correct. These two elements could be considered the two points of departure, which can be influenced individually to lesser or greater degrees. This would provide a limitless palette that beauty could manifest itself from. I wonder if he spoke of the first principle from which the two elements(principles) are derived? After all, a trinity deserves a nice fulcrum to work a round.

    • I think only the second element can genuinely be subjected to personal interpretation as the first is specified to be “invariable” but what you said about them comprising a palette of values remains utterly true nonetheless. He doesn’t provide a third principle from which the others result, though…

  3. Another great meditation Patricia! In mathematics there is an unapproachable concept called The Absolute Infinite. It’s a tricky concept, in one sense simple (it’s like just “the class of all numbers”) and simultaneously ineffable (is it itself a number? No, since adding +1 to it would give a larger number not in the class of all numbers.) It’s like our social concept of “God”. If you think you can grasp what God is, then any greater thought would contradict you, right! No one can truly claim to understand what God is, but IMHO It is like the Absolute. Why? Well, in mathematics all properties of Absolute Infinity are reflected as properties of some lesser real number. This is called the Reflection Principle, and it is a crucial axiom in tranfinite number theory. So anyway, we have this abstraction we clall “Beauty”. It is as Baudelaire discovered, the First element to beauty. It’s the essence. But we cannot grasp this essence without a form which (partially at least) represents it. And that’s his Second element. The second element is reflecting the eternal essence, like the Abslute Infinite is reflected in many lesser numbers, in many ways. The humble number “1” for instance reflects the property of the Absolute which is that it is a unique class, a unity (although this is more poetical than matheamtically rigorous).

    For these reaons, I agree with your thought that only the Second element can be subject to interpretation. You sem to have an amazingly well-refined appreciation of aethetics.

    So, supposing (without prejudice) all things are perfected in some hypothetical entity we refer to as God, then this is the source of Beauty. Yet, (beautifully, I’d say, without any irony) we can never understand this source. (Religions are corrupted by their presumption they do understand it! Just my jaundiced opinion.) This limit on our understanding is what makes worldy art a necessity, a human need, without which we are impoverished. Haha, thank God for artists! 🙂

    • The illustration of your opinion through mathematics reminded me of how Pythagoras held numbers to be the essence of all things beautiful. And I can but agree they’re someway, incalculably, linked.
      Thank you for taking the time to ponder and share the results!

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