SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (11)
August 5, 2021
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite unfinished masterworks, legendary obscurities and cherished almost-weres.
LE HIBOU PHILOSOPHE
Twenty-odd years ago, while researching a never-to-be-completed history of “outsider intellectuals,” which would have begun with a teenage Charles Baudelaire’s expulsion from lycée, I came across a memorandum collected in Gallimard’s Baudelaire: Oeuvres complètes. Dated 1852, Baudelaire’s note to a fellow arts critic, Champfleury, envisages a periodical of literary, art, and music criticism that would promulgate the anti-bourgeois political aesthetic that he was later to name “decadence.” But the journal, Le Hibou Philosophe (The Philosopher Owl), like its namesake, would never see the light of day.
The memo begins not, as those familiar with avant-garde movements would ordinarily expect, with a manifesto, but with a discussion of type treatment. A single typeface should be used, we read, plus “I’m not a big fan of printing certain items with a thinner font than others.” The medium, that is to say, is the message. Unlike those contemporary publications whose capitulation to the imperatives of the marketplace was rendered all too evident by what McLuhan would later call “hot” typographic stratagems designed to compete for consumer attention, at the level of form Le Hibou Philosophe would emulate the dandy — whose “cool” elegance served as an implicit rebuke to bourgeois vulgarity.
At the time I came across this memo, I was embroiled in a financially ruinous, futile effort to prevent the demise of Hermenaut, an owlishly philosophical journal that I’d struggled to fashion into a consciousness-altering mechanism — to paraphrase what I recall as Baudelaire’s description of his poetry collection Les Fleurs du mal — designed to operate simultaneously at the level of form and substance. So if I seem to be reading overly much into a scribbled note about type treatment, it’s because by that point I’d spent a decade fretting over just these sorts of details.
The memo lists a few writers that the journal would celebrate — including Gautier, from whom Baudelaire had absorbed lessons about dandyism and art for art’s sake; and Maistre, whose advocacy of social hierarchy informed Baudelaire’s politics. A much longer list names those contemporaries about whom the journal would publish hit pieces — for example, the critic Planche (“radical exhaustion, nullity and cruelty of impotence, style of fool and magistrate”), and the popular novelists Alexandre Dumas fils (“sales pitch style”), and Eugène Sue (“stupid and counterfeit talent”). There are notes about publicity efforts, too: We must, Baudelaire urged Champfleury, cultivate “propaganda friends.”
I don’t sympathize with the Decadents’ misogyny, orientalism, and antidemocratic elitism. However, Le Hibou Philosophe, in what may be my creative misreading of Baudelaire’s memo, was intended to be more than merely a journal. It could have been a seed-crystal around which might have grown a community of anti-bourgeois litterateurs dedicated to the subversive precept and practice of what the poet Laforgue would later articulate — in an essay on Baudelaire which itself was never completed — as “bored uselessness in the middle of this devout and industrious century.” This aim is one with which I sympathize, and which motivates me still.
SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: SERIES INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Luc Sante on WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | Peggy Nelson on THE CURSE OF QUIXOTE | Adrienne Crew on POOR DEVIL | Bishakh Som on KATE BUSH BOOTLEGS | Douglas Wolk on BIG NUMBERS #3 | Devin McKinney on THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA | Mandy Keifetz on BACKFIRE | Heather Quinlan on TRANSITIONAL DISNEY | Michael Grasso on STEELY DAN’S 2nd ARRANGEMENT | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on THE GREAT MOVIE RIDE | Josh Glenn on LE HIBOU PHILOSOPHE | Lynn Peril on 70, GIRLS, 70 | Ron Wimberly on SHIRATO SANPEI | Holly Interlandi on LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT |Stan Chou on TYRAEL’S MIGHT | Nikhil Singh on JOURNEY TO IXTLAN | Brian Lozano on BLOWN BANNER | Adam McGovern on THE LEON SUITES | Sajan Saini on BRISCO COUNTY | Heather Kapplow on LORD OF LIGHT | Greg Rowland on SOLARNAUTS | Christopher-Rashee Stevenson on FLEDGLING | Crystal Durant on TURN-ON | Ran Xia on BYRON’S FRAGMENT | Carolyn Raship on BURNT BRONTË.
NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): TIME | THE POST OFFICE | ARDUIN | PAGE EDGES | SUMMATIONS | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | SHIRATO SANPEI | THE LEON SUITES | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.