Cosi 3

It smells like girl
It smells like girl

LI suspects that, by the very nature of my research into the roots of happiness, I sometimes leave the impression that it was all a mistake. That the happiness culture was a terrible thing.

That doesn’t actually reflect my opinion. My liberalism amounts to this: avoiding totalizing viewpoints. From one point of view, the mutual bond between the nascent happiness culture and the nascent market culture was a disaster from the beginning. From another point of view, it was progress. One and the same observer could move between those two points of view, and often did, in the eighteenth century. Of course, I’m not pretending, either, that those were the only two points of view on what was happening, simply two conflicting assessments. What is striking, however, is that gradually, the ability to pose questions about what happiness is, and about the passional norms which supposedly underlie individual lives and collectivities, were increasingly blocked by the assumption that one has to begin with the self evident – even though, as we can see again and again in the 19th and 20th centuries, attempts to systemize the passions, to impress a vocabulary upon them that reflects their “universal” nature, continually produces inconsistencies. This region of social and personal life proves very hard to organize.

In Cosi fan tutte, we have an example of a fairy tale like failure to organize the passions on a traditional basis, followed by an ending that makes the astonishing proposal that this is all right. Reason tells us that we are not the dupes of passion, unless we hold to an unreal notion of passion. Now, this is what I think Tallyrand meant by the sweetness of life. It is an exploration, on the aesthetic plane, of Hume’s extraordinary and revolutionary phrase that reason should be the slave of the passions.

But first: some material context, from the trade in sex.

Report by Pidansat de Mairobert, published in the Espion anglais, 1784, concerning the maison de madame Gourdan, the most famous brothel in Paris:

“Pass now to the piscine. This is the bath where one introduces the girls that are recruited ceaselessly for Mme Gourdan, in the provinces, the country side and among the people of Paris. Before producing some like subject for her amateur, who would recoil in horror if he saw her coming out of her village or shack, we clean her up in this place (on le decrasse en ce lieu), we soften the skin, whiten it, perfume it, in a word, one curries a cinderella as one would prepare a superb horse.

They opened next an armoir, where there were a number of essences, liquids and waters for the usage of ladies.
They pointed out “l’eau de pucelle”.”

Mme Gourdan, like the most advanced pinmaker, understood something of the power of the division of labor, and she understood how to leverage her position in the sex market. It was a market that was pushed by two factors: on the one hand, the quantity of the labor supply was in direct proportion to the violence to which girls were customarily subject in their homes and workplaces; on the other hand, the clientele were specialists in the special – they were always leaping to new fetishistic niches.

So, the supply: these dirty recruits were recruited by a floating group of watchers. According to Eugene DeFrance, from whose biography of the La Maison de Madame Gourdon I take these notes, here is a typical scouting report from Mlle Caroline, a dancer with the Theatre des Italiens and one of Madame Gourdon’s sources:

“If you wish, my dear maman, on my street I have a pretty little bourgoise, 14 years old, who stays with a step mother who beats her twenty times a day. I will bring her to you; she has strongly urged me. I could easily have her received by Vaugien; the little one will gladly give herself to his fantasies, I’ve already told him about it. She’ll agree to anything on the condition that she leaves her wicked step mother. Please write me back as soon as possible, dear maman, etc.” (103)

The Vaugien in question is a vice cop.

Then, on the other hand, there was advertising and marketing. Apparently if you were a wealthy enough man in Paris, you would receive solicitations and advertisements for girl just as, today, you receive spam email offering you zero percent home loans. Like a butcher knows the choicest cuts, Goudon was an expert in the charcuterie of girl. The English Spy interviewed a Madame Sapho, who recounted her story: a peasant girl from the environs of Paris who Goudon kindly helped elope from her guardians, and stashed with an associate. The associate wrote, “what a Peru you’ve found in this child! ... she has a diabolical clitoris and she will be better for women then man. Our most illustrious tribades ought to pay for our latest acquisition in Gold!”

Goudon in fact had a client – a woman who was a member of a club of lesbians – who she hurried to with the news, and Madame Sapho was on her way up in the world.

In fact, Goudon was more than a simple bawd. She was a connector. A doctor’s wife, in debt, wants to sell her charms? Goudon would send a letter to one of the amateurs who she knew. She’d arrange a meeting. Sometimes, she’d spot a likely girl and arrange, under a false pretext, a meeting that would result in a rape.

All of this is happening under the nose of the opera, so to speak.

More about this at LCC.


Chuckie K said…
"reason should be the slave of the passions" - and with slavery gone, I suppose that reason has become a middle-manager.
roger said…
CK, so early in the morning, and taking your shots!
You must be drinking some powerful coffee.
Chuckie K said…
Yes they are forcing me to come in at an unconscionable hour. At least it is not as early for me as it is for you. But, coffee? NO, I am simply a slave to the passion for mockery.