Free Love and the Strait Jacket

- The anonymous genius of the fairy tale is the genius of history as well, with that same penchant for the fatally ambiguous symbol, where, as though in a besieged city in an endless backlands war, love and death exchange sniper fire with each other among bombed out buildings and constantly shifting zones of engagement. This city could be the New Jerusalem. It could be Stalingrad. It could be the Republic of Mainz, where Georg Forster assumed a revolutionary role in 1792, as his household expanded to include his wife Therese's lover, Huber, and the ever present Caroline Boehmer. It was in December of 1792 that Therese took the kids and her lover and left. Forster went to Paris, as a delegate.

- One has to be sensitive enough, then, to the way the fairy tale sticks in the historic fact to understand the depth of certain symbols.

-For instance: on November 19, 1831, Prosper Enfantin, responding to the uproar in Saint Simonian circle that had greeted his proposals for free love, responded with a speech in which he outlined the details of his system, which echoed Fourier and Swedenborg in separating marriage from “true” marriage, the latter of which would rekindle the numbed feelings of conjugal couples by giving them the theoretical liberty to love. It was hard to tell how this theoretical liberty translated into physiological fact, although by this time, Enfantin had, like Swedenborg before him, lowered the barrier between the symbol and the thing.

The uproar continued, with certain leaders of the Saint Simonian family denouncing Enfantin’s plan, and the newspapers reporting on his immorality. So he lead a retreat to his home in Menilmontant of forty male apostles, who attempted to live a life of pure communism. As one of the signs of sublime fraternity, Enfantin had shirts made for the apostles that buttoned down the back - and thus could only be buttoned with the aid of a helper.

Enfantin’s shirts deserve a place with Aristophanes unsexed circular human, in the Symposium, and Magritte’s hooded lovers blindly kissing – symbols that overwhelm one’s ability to immediately interpret them. Enfantin’s shirts hang over the whole impassioned debate about free love – half a sign of mutual aid, without which there can be no freedom, and half a strait jacket. [see French Feminism in the Nineteenth Century, Claire Goldberg Moses]
- The difficulty in writing about free love now, as opposed to, say, 1890, is that the phrase has degenerated from a scandal to a tawdry joke. It is as impossible to speak of free love without irony as it is to speak of virginity.

Yet I don’t believe these ironies have a footing in anything more than the fashion of the moment. Or perhaps I should say, the ironies are in disjunction with the continuing existence of the alienating structures of the happiness culture. If all three traditions of alienation collapse in the twentieth century, if Imagination sits in a ditch, now, pee stained and bawling and only visited by the social worker or the cops, this does not mean that alienation has been conquered or that it has conquered - there is no new man. Rather, the alienated have, for the moment, accepted their own impotence on every level, and are engaged in an elaborate ritual of theoretical self-cutting, one that has invaded everyday life down to the mental soundbites and the suicidal tics of acceptance, amnesia and our collective mad passivity.

LI is going to Mexico tomorrow, and will post from there haphazardly. If I don't post again until after Christmas, let me wish you all the very best.


northanger said…
roger said…
North, don't make me feel so ignorant! What is TTFN? Remember, you are the genius and wizard of Oz of the internet, not me. My acronym knowledge is low, my legs are gray, my ears are numb, my eyes are old and pink.
northanger said…
it's a response to TGTN (could be wrong tho).