Fourier has had an odd afterlife. He was cleaned up and classified by Engels as a romantic socialist. He was the inspiring spirit behind America’s utopian experiments in the 1840s, and favored by Horace Greeley, the same newspaper man who practically founded the Republican Party. He was discovered by Breton as a pre-cursor of the surrealists. And he became one of Roland Barthes great references.
Now, those who study him closely usually have to confront the question as to whether he was, uh, a bit touched in the head. For instance, he seemed to believe that his utopia would stimulate human evolution to the extent that we would, in due time, grow a helpful other hand – a sort of tail, or archibras, as he called it. Also, anticipating the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper by one hundred fifty years, he believed that the oceans might well, in the course of the amelioration of all things, turn into lemonade, and that lions and sharks would give way to anti-lions and anti-sharks, just right for snuggling up to people. Today’s NYT magazine article about bears shows that in this, at least, Fourier is proving correct.
After Fourier died, his followers were divided on what to do with his elaborate sexual doctrines. But these same doctrines became the center of the cult of Fourier after he was rediscovered by the surrealists. And, in truth, they are central to Fourier’s immense plan – for the whole point here is to devise an optimal system of attractions. Thus, for instance, Fourier recognizes that there are two divisions of people who can be classified under the term “Vestality” who are attracted to constancy in the love relationship, and seven divisions of people who are attracted to inconstancy. Fourier imagines a vast industrial army composed of Vestal and Vestale – young men and women – who, when they lose their virginity, are cycled into another group. Fourier constrasts his organized sex acts with the terrible custom of marriage.
For assembling an army, it is enough to publish a table of the quadrilles of virginity that each phalange sends; then those who are declared male and female claimants can not avoid following all the claimants into the army, where they must decide the choice, which is done secretly, without the scandalous publicity that is disseminated among us at marriage ceremonies, where one tells a whole village that, on such and such a day, a libertine, an old rogue, is going to deflower a young innocent. One has to be born in Civilization in order to endure the aspect of those indecent customs that one calls wedding nights… after vile intrigues, after being pimped by the notary and various marriage brokers, one is going to enchain for life two individuals who will perhaps not be able to stand each other at the end of two months.
Compare this to the phalange:
In the combined Order, the celebrations relative to first love will only be given after the union is consummated.
But of course things are never that simple. There are virgin men and virgin women who decide to have sex without announcement – or who become attracted to inconstancy. Of course, there are orders for these people to go into – the Bacchants and the Bacchantes. Who have the function to go out each morning to the pavilion where hundreds of virgins are sleeping and ‘relieve the wounded, that is to say the claimant men and women who find themselves so lead in consequence of secret unions during the night.”
As you can tell just by those two brief quotes, Fourier, among other things, made up his own language to talk about his Fourier world. Actually, to use a word that is now common in the art world, it would be best to talk about Fourier as an ‘outsider’ utopian. His elaborate schemes have some resemblance to Henry Darger’s immense fantasy world, In the Realms of the Unreal, in which the Vivian girls have to go from planet to planet leading the Child Slave rebellion – although of course I don’t mean that Darger was at all influenced by Fourier. Rather, the passion for creating immense, sexually resonant worlds is common to both men.
Fourier is an immense subject. This post is just a brief note to follow up on my response to IT’s criticism of pornographic taxonomy – which is to say the use of Fourier’s taxonomy is to make us doubt the claim to cognitive neutrality, to a sort of asexual position, of those who make the taxonomies that mark up our world, way beyond porn.