“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, October 15, 2007

margot and the cosmopolite

Julia Kristeva, in Strangers to Ourselves, explores an interesting notion – that of the “lumpen intelligentsia”. Rameau’s Nephew, a favorite reference here at LI, serves as Kristeva’s reference to talk about this hitherto unnamed tribe. Kristeva focuses on a man who has sometimes been seen as one of Diderot’s models for RN – Fougeret de Monbron.

Now, by coincidence, I’ve been reading Fougeret’s ‘bad’ novel, Margot La Ravadeuse – or Margot the stockingmender. This is a novel of the Fanny Hill type – in fact, Fougeret may have translated Fanny Hill – but it is much less lubricious than realistic – a forerunner of Zola’s researches, a century later, into the depth psychology of the ‘laboring and dangerous classes”. Fanny Hill does seek to arouse, which makes it, inevitably, sentimental. Fougeret, however, seems to have been on a lifelong crusade to offend as many people as possible, starting with his family in Peronne, the place he was born. He once charmingly qualified the inhabitants of Peronne as ‘the excrement of the human race” and as an “assembly of imbeciles”. He of course shook the dust of his natal village from his shoes as soon as he could – in 1726 – and started wandering about Europe and the Meditteranean. One account of his travels – The Cosmopolitan, or the citizen of the world – was apparently read by Byron before he set off for Greece, which is how a sentence from that book became the epigraph of Childe Harolde.

The Cosmopolitan starts off with a passage worthy of Paul Nizan’s Aden, Arabie:

‘The universe is a kind of book of which one has only read the first page when one has only seen one’s native land. I’ve leafed through a number of them, and have found them all equally bad. This examination has not proved fruitless. I hated my country. All the impertinences of the diverse peoples among which I have lived has reconciled me to it.”

As Kristeva says:

“Fougeret’s cosmopolite is shrill, bitter, full of hatred. A character trait or a rhetorical figure – or undoubtedly both at the same time – such malevolence is truly dynamite that destroys borders and shatters the hallowed legitimacy of nations.”

For Kristeva, Fougeret becomes the figure of one kind of intellectual development – what LI has called, in earlier posts, the odd coupling of the buffoon and sage. But he is interesting more than as the person who could have been the model for Rameau’s Nephew. He is actually rather a good writer. For instance, Margot begins with a ‘seduction’ scene. Margot is fourteen years old. She’s seen her parents go at it, and is hot to have sex herself, so much so that she can’t sleep. So, after introducing her beau – a stable boy named Pierrot –this is how Fougeret, through Margot, describes the scene:

‘It should satisfy the reader to know that Pierrot and I were soon in agreement, and that a few days afterwards we sealed our liaison with the great seal of Venus, in a little shabby tavern near Rapee. The place of the sacrifice was garnished with a table laid across two decaying supports, and a half a dozen broken down charis. The walls were covered with a quantity of licentious hieroglyphics, that some amiable gangbangers in a good mood had usually chalked in with coal. Our little celebrations responded to the simplicity of the sanctuary. A pint of eight cent wine, two cents’ worth of cheese, and an equal amount of bread; all of it, added up, mounted to the sum of twelve cents. We officiated nevertheless with as light a heart as if we were doing the louis a plate dinner at Duparc. One shouldn’t be surprised. The most humble meals, seasoned with love, are always delicious.

At last, we came to the conclusion. At first, we had a hard time arranging ourselves. For it wasn’t prudent to trust to the table or the chairs. We thus decided to remain standing. Pierrot glued me against the wall. Oh! all powerful god of the gardens! I was frightedn at the faces that he showed me. What shaking! What assaults! the wall itself shook under his prodigious efforts. However, on my side, I was killing myself, laboring away, not wanting to be reproached by the poor boy for leaving all the fatigue and painful work to him. Whatever, in spite of our patience and mutual courage, we still made very mediocre progress, and I was beginning to despair that we would never crown the work, when Pierrot remembered to moisten with his saliva his thunderous machine. O nature! Nature, whose works are so admirable! The redoubt of pleasure opened; he penetrated; and what more can I say? I was well and totally deflowered. Since that time I slept better.”

It would be hard to read this and get aroused. It is easier to read this and get seduced into thinking this is Margot’s voice, not the voice of a fourteen year old Parisian girl imagined by a forty year old man. The reason for that, the only true seduction here, is that Fougeret seems to have talked to more than a few prostitutes in his time. In that little greasy courtyard, with all that humping and bumping, something really does happen. Margot really has solved her sleep problem. Although she soon gets into others.


roger said...

ps - I called this 'realism', but the scene at the tavern reminded me of hard boiled writing. American writers wouldn't write this frankly until the 1930s.

northanger said...

his thunderous machine?

roger said...

North, infinite are the stars in the sky; infinite are the grains of sand along the shore; and infinite are the names the male of the species has for his peepee. Surely you know this!

I guess I could have translated that his his lightning dealing machine, his - what do you call those machines that knock in castle doors? his battering ram.

Maybe battering ram would have been better.

northanger said...

imho, that's what Adam was naming in Genesis. "battering ram" is good when you're up against a wall. but still isn't Margot’s voice.

which brings me to the question: have you ever sucked your own dick?

roger said...

North, is this a question you ask all the translators?

Actually, I do it all the time. I started doing it to get off the habit of sucking my thumb - so embarrassing! I find autofellation much more relaxing, and its a real conversation starter.

northanger said...

North, is this a question you ask all the translators?

i assure you Roger, you have the alpha & omega on that one.

frankejbypoulsen said...

Hi there,

Great post. I found you while google'ing for the exact epigraph Byron wrote from Fougeret's book. It seems like a cool blog. Love that Britney's quote. It's so inspiring! I feel my life is not as shallow, empty and meaningless any more. Then, you had to spoil it all with Thomas Mann. Ach, Verdammt!

Yes, Fougeret is a great writer ;)
I can't help but love what he writes, perhaps because it secretly makes me get rid of all the hatred accumulated by the contact to the human race, while pitying such a self-destructive misanthropy -- faithful Dorian portrait, in my dark days, of what not to become. Fougeret is some kind of Gombrowicz or Bernhard of the 18th century, other Dorian portraits of mine.
Have you read La nouvelle Babylone ou la capitale des Gaulles as well? And Goldsmith's Citizen of the World?

Kristeva's interpretation is interesting. I'm actually working on a study of cosmopolitanism, and in this study I delve into the eighteenth century understanding of the "cosmopolitan" or "citizen of the world" in France. In particular, it comes out that the term was particularly used as a moniker to claim some level of wisdom and objective truth. It almost became synonymous with the "intellectual" -- a profession in itself in France.

Check out my blog on cosmopolitanism if your interested. I add your blog to my list.