“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, July 16, 2007

not the phallus again!

In a couple of earlier posts, LI was pursuing the track of Epicurus – not the real Epicurus but his double, his eidolon, who appeared in Europe in the 17th century in Gassendi’s work and soon became a background daemon in the libertine and materialist tradition. LI’s idea is that the intellectual history of happiness in the Early modern period has been traced too grossly, with too little attention paid to nuances having to do with, for instance, the career of volupte as a go between concept that mediated the pleasures of the flesh and the science of the flesh.

Well, we merely danced this maze lightly, and we broke off abruptly with La Mettrie’s anti-stoicism (and his paen to the orgasm). But we never actually give up a theme around here. Although it might seem to be farted around, ha! ha! unbeknownst to the innocent reader, we are making progress.

As we said in our post on IT’s various posts on porno, theorizing pornography has often led to ignoring the history of pornography. That history is connected with a lot of the broader features of modernity. Thus, for instance, the link, the indissoluble link, between porno, paganism and classical learning in Britain.

About which we will be make a couple of posts, starting with the Dilettanti club, an eighteenth century London institution that promoted archaeology. It had many famous members. Joshua Reynolds painted their portraits. Horace Walpole waspishly said that the Dilettanti club was formed with the “nominal qualification [of] having been in Italy, and the real one, being drunk.” The eighteenth century was one of the drunkest of all centuries, at least for the British. In fact, one could well wonder whether English culture ever flourishes in dry times.

The Dilettanti were connected to a whole libertine whig culture, which is suggested by names like the Hellfire club. As we pointed out in our earlier posts, the Epicurean tradition via Gassendi certainly flowed into the libertine moment in France, and was multitudinously imported into England by way of exiles and Hobbesians and deists. Of course, one imagines that all of these people were aristocrats – yet that is not totally accurate. The spread of this culture among radicals who were connected to the artisan/mechanical class, the budding Priestleys and Paines, gave British radicalism its divided heritage: on the one side, the goody goody temperance and vegetarian types, and on the other, the experimenters in new sexual and cultural relations, who by degrees become the seedy barflies and soakers who flit through the diaries of all the famous twentieth century writers – the Café Royal types.

The Dilettanti published Richard Payne Knight’s book, A discourse on the worship of the priapus and its connection with the mystic theology of the ancients. Then the book was suppressed by Knight, who couldn’t abide the scandal. Knight is an interesting figure, another devotee of Lucretius, and I want to get back to him, but I want to first take up the supposed Baron Pierre d’Hancarville, who set up an artist’s workshop to copy the collection of antiquities collected by a British grandee, William Hamilton, in Naples. It was Hancarville’s idea that material culture – images on pots, graffiti, and all the detritus of the antique world – could lead us into what that world was about. This was an incredibly influential idea. It wasn’t solely Hancarville’s. Yet he might have influenced Winckelmann, and through Winckelmann we can island hop up through the art historical tradition. d’Hancarville’s business – the sales of little ancient phallic charms to connoisseurs – also had an under the table effect. Freud had a collection of those phallic charms himself, and some of them might be traced back to d’Hancarville.

More on this when I have time.