- Some dates. In 1695, Perrault’s Contes de la mere Oye is published. Mlle L’Heritier’s La Tour Ténébreuse ou les jours lumineux, which contains Ricdin-Ricdon, was published in 1705, though it was in circulation, I believe, earlier. Antoine Galland published Le Mille et une Nuits between 1704 and 1717. And, finally, Augustin Calmet’s Dissertations sur les apparitions, des anges, des démons et des esprits, et sur les revenants et vampires de Hongrie, de Boheme, de Moravie et de Silésie was published in 1746. We will return to all of this later.
- In the introduction to Calmet’s dissertation, he writes that the supernatural has changed even in his native Lorraine in the last fifty years. Each century, each country has its fashions, its diseases, its particular visitations. Once, people made pilgrimages to Rome. Once, the countryside would be flooded, in times of crisis, with flagellants. “At the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth, everybody in Lorraine only talked about witches and warlocks. That has no longer been the question for a long time. When Descartes’ philosophy appeared, what a vogue did it have? One despised ancient philosophy; one only spoke now of physical experiments, of new systems, of the new discoveries of M. Newton which had just appeared; all the intelligences were turned to his side. The system of M. Law, the banknotes, the fureurs of the rue Quinquampoix, what movements haven’t they caused in the kingdom?”
- Calmet’s notion of modes, his mixture of convulsionaires, witches and banknotes, is just in the line of our own thoughts. Of course, Calmet’s dissertation is to inform France of a new mode, a new fashion in the supernatural world, coming in from the East: the vampire. A whole new kind of revenant.
- In our last post regarding fairy tales, we pointed to a similarity between the world of the fairy tale, in which, in a given, unplanned moment, the social totality was subject to the wish – and the presiding spirit of the modern, ilex, the world turned upside down.
- Rightside up society produces within itself the story of how it came, which is inseparable from how its rules and conventions function. Oftentimes, in folk etymologies, a previous word is hypothesized as being the predecessor of some current word. This is, properly, not back formation, but it is often so called. Rightside up societies use a form of back formation to explain themselves to themselves.
- But the modern, as we have noted, is obsessively drawn to the moment of ilex. There are two steps in the modern game. One is to boldly project a vision of rightside up society which shows that, actually, it is upside down. Or, rather, what is makes the society rightside up is just what the society denies. The second move comes later – that is the move that explains how it is that the collective social consciousness could believe about itself theories and facts that are in error. In the Enlightenment, the explanation refers to superstition. For the Marxists, the explanation is the false consciousness. For the Freudians, it is the complex relationship of the superego to the unconscious.
- In Cornelius Agrippa’s work on the incertitude of science, according to his biographer, Prost, Agrippa made a violent attack on the nobility. In fact, he produced a myth, a geneology of society that went like this:
“The separation of the human family into two branches began with the very children of Adam. From the victim, Abel, came the plebians; from Cain, the murderer, came the nobles, whose work will be to hold in contempt the laws of God and those of nature, confidence in their own force, the usurpation of authority, the foundation of cities and empires, the domination over the creature that God had set at liberty, and who sees himself submitted to servitude and iniquity. For such is, from the beginning, the office of the nobility.”
Agrippa was a favorite author of Foucault’s during the time of the writing of the Words and Things. In Agrippa, one gets a strong sense of the Renaissance episteme Foucault hypothesized, one based on similitudes, the infinite search for the signatures in things. It isn’t surprising that Agrippa’s notion of the horror of the nobility extends, then, to noble creatures.
“All nobility, in a word, is in its essence evil [mauvaise]. Among the animals, those that one values as more noble than the others are everywhere the most nuisance causing: these are the eagles, the vultures, the lions, the tigers. Among the trees, those which are reputed noble and consecrated to the gods are those which are sterile, and of which the fruits are of no use, like the oak and the laurel. Among the stones, it is not the millstone with which we grind the wheat, but the gem without utility that is honored.” (Prost 2, 84).
Perhaps Nietzsche read Prost on Agrippa – this passage is almost too perfectly opposed to Nietzsche, down to Zarathustra’s animals.
Prost notes that Agrippa published this diatribe against the nobility in a book which he was careful to adorn with his emblems of nobility. LI is not very impressed with the irony here. Much more interesting is the millenarian energy.
“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
"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads