DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Final Essay:

To Posterity: A Biographical Conceit Of Chicago’s House of Blues;

Cityscape with a Twenty-First Century Flower —

On the use of Language, Symbolism, Allegory, and Metaphor in

A Modern Translation of

Baudelaire’s Lyric Poetry and Kafka’s Haggadah

In his 1933 Preface to Les Fleurs, André Suarès wrote that Baudelaire “is the most musical of French poets, along with Racine and Verlaine. But whereas Racine plays only the violin, Baudelaire plays the whole orchestra.” [1] Although I would argue that Baudelaire would have been more likely to play a cello that predicted the grating tones of Debussy, I believe that if in the 19th century Baudelaire had an orchestra, 21st Century America has its houses of blues since “[s]trength lies in improvisation.” [2] The house isn’t located at the base of Goldwater's corncob, the isolated, wealthy “city within a city,” but in the stations of the subways, the “centres of real action” where we hear a fragmentary, deconstructed echo of the need for Redemptive Revolution. [3]


After shooting umbrellas on a rainy day, capturing “the light of the images” [4] of the Art Institute visitors as they walked past the Beaux-Arts lions, silhouetted against the “deafening traffic of the town” [5] and illuminated by lights of the oncoming cars “through curtains of rain,” [6] I stood in the underground Metra station listening to her low, sorrowful moan.


As she sang the blues, the light of the nearby “advertisements” and “the fiery pool reflecting it” created a phosphorescent glow around her. [7]  I watched as people rushed past her with their designer shopping bags and seven dollar paper cups of coffee as they peered into their bags for glimpses of those “few accessories…which cost lots of money because they are so quickly ruined,” assuring themselves that their treasures had survived the onslaught of the downpour. [8] The expensive, sheer translucent bags broadcast to the world that they contained “the most lustrous and colorful of silks,” thereby sharing “the newest thing with” everyone else, serving as the commodity-seeker’s “triumph over the dead.” [9]


She was offering her wares, trailing her notes as a Ragpicker once would have trailed scraps from her cart along the quay of the Seine. Her whining lyrics knocked “against the walls/ ….stumbling like a poet lost in dreams.” [10] As a small town girl fresh off the turnip truck, at that moment, I grasped two lessons I had never fully comprehended in my undergrad music appreciation or western civ classes. First, I understood why the blues would reach its maturity in Chicago and New York.


Second, I better understood why Marx’ vision failed in an agrarian Russian society.

Shock. The kind that penetrates the “nerve centres,” transmitting a “disturbance to the periphery,” setting “in motion parts of the body or the body as a whole.” [11] It takes the abject poverty of the transient alongside the wealth of consumerist-driven cold capitalism to truly see, and truly comprehend, the need for Revolution. And it is best seen in the labyrinth of the city’s Metro. As the passing train thundered “Ever, ever ever” closer, shaking “even the floor,” it momentarily drowned out her deep contralto voice, punctuated by a vibrato that matched the sound of the wheels turning on the track. [12] I regretted not bringing any cash so I could toss her a few bills, my way of seeking “cover to an exposure that wounds” me. [13] I am down to my last few dollars for the semester, and I am running low on eggs and milk, my staples for the past year and a half. As I listened to her, hunger, like “indigestible knowledge stones…rattle around in [my] belly.” [14] Yet I wondered “how can I eat and drink/ When my food is snatched from the hungry?” [15]


As a small-town, rural rube, I was inclined at least to give her a smile, but since not even baristas as they serve one's over-priced coffee are expected to smile since it “doesn’t matter whether or not they do,” [16] how could mine be of any value to her when she is far hungrier than I have been lately? It would be only an empty gesture. My smile would hardly be construed as the kind of act Kafka’s hardened prison warden offered, who as a redemptive figure set “to shatter and dissolve something to enable [others] to live.”  [17] Nor should it be. I am unwilling to have the sentence, “BE JUST” inscribed upon my naked body, fulfilling a prophecy that someone “will rise again and lead…adherents” toward a redeemed society. [18]


I stepped onto the train, putting on the mask of a vacant stare expected of all metropolitan train riders, with the sound of her wail echoing across the steel tracks. But I can’t escape the “uninterrupted crescendos” of her music that echo “at the end of [her] overture.” [19]  I realize that if she had been in New York during The Great Storm this fall, she wouldn't have even had the station as a shelter.


After the storm, the Atlantic tweeted an article, "There Are Three New Yorks Today." After describing the past 24 hours in the eerily deserted dark or wet Manhattans and how these two New Yorks contrast with bustling Mid-Town (where it is “business as usual” and long lines form in the coffee shops), the author concludes, "Predictably, inevitably the three New Yorks came together." [20]


They “came together” just over ten years ago as well. On the anniversary of 9/11, I asked a friend, the chief sports editor of New York Times, to recount his experience on the day the towers fell. He spoke of the haunting silence that followed. He spoke of the dust and soot that permeated everything. He spoke of listening to the boom boxes emerging from the ghettos, providing an offset, up-tempo beat from the sound of hammers and nails as the owners of the boom boxes worked alongside the business owners to board up rather than loot the broken storefronts. He spoke of watching the people on the train carrying two lunches to work, one for them, the other for a volunteer clearing the city of its devastation. [21] The types of things one sees frequently in a rural town after someone loses their home or business to a brushfire, a flood, or a tornado.


At the risk of being dismissed as being too nostalgic or too “Romantic,” as I recline like a figure in a faded photo by Nadar or tattered Manet canvas on a chaise with a black cat “miowling” [22] at my feet and gaze directly at my viewer and slip on rose-tinted glasses to momentarily filter out or deconstruct the nihilist existence into which we all have descended, I assert that it is only in the city, where dandies are expected to be jostled, to come elbow to elbow, face to face, hip to hip with the crowd and walk away without the apology and embarrassed “overdone smile upon their lips” [23] of the flâneur, that yes, a Revolution is, indeed necessary. Perhaps it may begin with one single wry smile of empathy at a time. While it may not fill an empty belly, as more and more belts are being tightened, as our jeans are getting increasingly baggy and the holes in the crotch that were intentionally placed there by overpaid designers grow ever larger, as vintage shopping becomes the new Vogue, perhaps it will at least return some fragmentary glimpse of dignity and respect to those of us who stand alone, jostling one another on the train stations, ignoring each other as effectively as we ignore the sound of our own churning stomachs.




Benjamin, W. (1999).  The arcades project. Eiland, H., and McLaughlin, K., ed. Cambridge, MA:, Harvard University Press.


Benjamin, W. (1978). Reflections: Essays, aphorisms, autobiographical writings. Jephcott, E., trans. Demetz, P., ed. New York, NY: Schocken Books.


Benjamin, W. (1968). Illuminations: Essays and reflections. Zohn, H., trans. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.


Bergson, H. (1908). Matter and Memory. Paul, N., and Palmer, W. S., trans. (2004). Nineola, NY: Dover Publications.


Brecht, B. “To Posterity”


Baudelaire, C. (1857). The flowers of evil. Mathews, M., and Mathews, J., ed. (1989). New York, NY: New Directions.


Kafka, F. (1971). The complete stories. Glatzer, N., ed. New York: NY, Schocken Books.


Nietzsche, F. (1874). “On the advantage and disadvantage of history for life.” Preuss, P., trans. (1980). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.  


“New York City celebrates day without violent crime.” (29 November, 2012). Tweeted by BBC News. (04 December, 2012). Accessed 04 December, 2012. http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-20536201

[1] Benjamin, W. (1999), p. 207.

[2] Benjamin, W. (1978), p. 65.

[3] Bergson, H. (1908), p. 21.

[4] Benjamin, W. (1999), p. 102.

[5] Baudelaire, C. (1857). “To a Passer-by,” p. 118.

[6] Benjamin, W. (1999), p. 102.

[7] Benjamin, W. (1978), p. 86.

[8] Benjamin, W. (1999), p. 105.

[9] Ibid, p. 112.

[10] Baudelaire, C. (1857). “The Ragpickers’ Wine,” p. 136.

[11] Bergson, H. (1908), p. 3.

[12] Benjamin, W. (1999), p. 109.

[13] Benjamin, W. (1978), p. 72.

[14] Nietzsche, F. (1874), (p. 24).

[15] Brecht, B. “To Posterity,” lns. 18-19.

[16] Quote from anonymous student in class on 02 Nov, 2012.

[17] Nietzsche, F. (1874), pp. 21-22.

[18] Kafka, F. (1971), pp. 161, 167.

[19] Proust, M. (1913), p. 563.

[20] Thompson, D. (30 Oct, 2012). According to the article “New York City celebrates day without violent crime” BBC News tweeted on 04 December, 2012, the Great Storm followed upon the heels of what New York tabloids had called the “summer of blood,” which had been marked by a high number of violent crimes. Following Sandy, however, violent crimes have decreased markedly, resulting in what may be the lowest annual violent crime rate in New York since statistics were first being tracked in 1960. New Yorkers seemingly have united since the storm to concentrate on helping one another rather than violently attacking one another. Chicago, by contrast, with 462 murders so far this year (not including the additional 6 reported by Adam Sege and Rosmary Regina Sobol in the Chicago Tribune for the weekend of 30 November 30 to 02 December, 2012), is setting all-time high records.

[21] Smith, Brad. (11 Sept, 2008). Personal Correspondence.

[22] Baudelaire, C. (1857). “The Cat,” p. 64.

[23] Benjamin, W. (1968), p. 171.

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.