I am reading (parts of) Rabinow’s fascinating, French Modern, a Foucauldian history of French “middle modernism” in the 19th to early 20th century. The introduction is chock full of delicious quotes; I present a couple here without much commentary:
In his famous essay “The Painter in Modern Life,”, Charles Baudelaire presented one possible attitude toward modernity: “you have no right to despise the present.”… Not despising the present by no means implies that the present is not, in many ways, despicable, but only that, as Baudelaire advised young writers, “Orgy is no longer the sister of inspiration.” … One hundred and twenty years later, our perspective on the modern world is no doubt more tempered than Baudelaire’s; in part for that reason our spleens are less full of bile and our prose is less poetic. Still, having no right to despise the present, we continue our work of writing its history. (7)
The understanding of social reality which yielded the pathos – its rejection of metaphysical solutions and the sense that society had no outside, but only margins – also produced a sense that there was no choice but to reform it. One had no right to despise the present; one had no place from which to despise the present. (14)
I absolutely love the phrase “society had no outside, but only margins.” It nicely captures a set of problems about positions, normativity, critique, etc. What happens when you give up on the notion of a social Archimedean point, a place to stand that is far away and outside the system from which you can act on it? And so on.