Saturday, November 29, 2008

notes on Fourier

1. According to Walter Benjamin "Fourier appears, at many points, to prefigure a new type of human being, one conspicuous for its harmlessness". I agree he represents a new type of human being insofar as he represents a new kind of writer. It isn't too much of an imposition to state that Fourier represents a kind of writer whose career is made possible by the rise of the bourgeois economy in France. Fourier is a petit bourgeois writer; as such he gains access to the means of pursuing a literary career but without access to the traditional channels of patronage such as existed for bourgeois writers until much later. Fourier writes for the anonymous audience established by the commodification of literary culture even though he does not write works intended as commodities. Hence what distinguishes Fourier is not so much his harmlessness as his unusual earnestness.

2. The writers of the petit bourgeoisie in France in the early nineteenth century are already contributors to the spectacular society. The writers of the bourgeoisie, all the great writers, are not. The writers of the petit bourgoisie for the most part lack talent and have compelling commercial reasons to not analyse their condition in its metaphysical aspects. They are a class who cannot claim authority. Central authority has crumbled, for this class but not all the others.

3. In Fourier's ideal society class distinctions are not abolished but further exaggerated. The classes that existed in early nineteenth century France are to be further fragmented. Class mobility will be a matter of volition, rather like mobility between mystical states in Swedenborg.

4. Fourier's refuse collectors carry flags like the actors in Jiang Qing's revolutionary model operas. The flags represent the coincidence of theory and practice. They sound musical instruments to signify that their work is carried out under their own volition. So:

“The charge of the Little Hordes is sounded by a din of alarm bells, carillons, drums, trumpets, barking dogs, and mooing cows. Then the Hordes, led by their Khans and their Druids, rush forth with great cries, passing before the patriarchs, who sprinkle them with Holy Water. They gallop frenetically to labour, which is executed as a work of piety, an act of charity toward the Phalanx, the service of God and of unity.”

They think about and approve their actions. Harmony, therefore, has two aspects: it can be understood as the harmonisation of labouring classes or as the harmonisation of thinking classes. Since each class has both attributes: it is simultaneously a labouring class and a thinking class, both problems are simultaneously solved in Fourier's overall solution.

5. Fourier's problem as a writer is the crumbling of central authority, as much as it's the problem of later bourgois writers such as Beckett or Sartre. He is in a position somewhat analagous to that of a child delivering a lecture for adults, a lecture that nevertheless must urgently be given. His utopia is conceived as a solution to precisely this problem: how the institutional forms of endemic ignorance can be reconciled with each other and with society as a whole. Graduate students love to hear about the little hordes in which they recognise their veritable image.

6. The real solution to the problem consists in bypassing the commodity spectacle, obviously.

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