the birth of alienation from the severed head of Olympe de Gouges

The split up came violently. Three delegates, Georg Forster, Adam Lux, and Andreas Patocki, a Mainz businessman, left Mainz just before the reactionary forces took the city. Therese was already gone – she’d joined her lover with her children. Caroline Michaelis wasn’t so lucky – she and her daughter left, but were unable to get out of the area, and were forced back into the city. In the background was not only the terror in Paris, but the white terror in Frankfurt. Forster and his fellow delegates made it to Paris and settled in a hotel run by a “patriotic Dutchman” in the Rue de Moulins, close to Tuileries and the Palais Royale. “The poissarde, the women from the fish market, cried out to them according to their custom a welcome to the city, and thereby earned a tip.” (Uhlig 325) It was here that Forster met many of the other transplants in Paris, including Mary Wollstonecraft.

I like to speculate that Forster saw Olympe de Gouge’s affiches denouncing Robespierre, which were put up at the end of July, 1793. Certainly the fate of the second Mainz delegate, Adam Lux, is attached to hers – his trial followed directly upon hers in the Journees des Assemblées Nationales. He had written a defense of Charlotte Corday, whose magnificent beheading had fused together the revolutionary passions in his soul – Lux then proceeding to his own version of suicide by cop, which was to exalt Corday in a pamphlet and denounce the Convention.

These were Forster’s surroundings for his last writings – among which LI must signal Relation of the art of the State to the happiness of humankind – Beziehung der Staatskunst auf der Glück der Menschheit. Of course, by this time, the Glück der Menschheit was a cliché; yet LI is going to make the argument that this is an unjustly neglected pamphlet. In it, we see a self-conscious critique of happiness find expression from a revolutionary point of view. LI is wary of chasing after “origins” and firsts, but certainly this essay deserves a special place in our history of the rise of the happiness culture. That its genesis should be among the moderates, the Girondistes, recalls us to the re-orientation which underlies this history – one which recasts the location of the radicals, the opposition, and the establishment, draws a different line of tension, reads, we’d dare say, under the ossified categories by which we usually do our history and distribute the actors and the ideas.

I’ll translate excerpts from it in an upcoming post.