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Saturday, January 17, 2009

The lying image of happiness

”We have here reached the fundamental question, which is no longer related to the point of departure. The general question would be this: Can the existing relations of production and the relations of distribution which correspond to them be revolutionized by a change in the instrument of circulation, in the organization of circulation? Further question: Can such a transformation of circulation be undertaken without touching the existing relations of production and the social relations which rest on them?” – Marx, Grundrisse

At the end of the essay on the relationship between the art of the state and happiness, Forster uses a rather strange metaphor. He surveys the “secret workshop” of history, that which is at the center of all the rises and falls of all the world empires – which is human nature. And within human nature, one thing remains the same: reason. Reason is the binding universal, in the end.



Which leads him to this paragraph:


We want to leave it to speculative philosophy to find out why sensuality [Sinnlichkeit] must always almost constantly so overbalance reason, that the liberated effect of the latter is almost unnoticeable, and the governance of the world [Weltregierung] wins the appearance of a chaos, whose elements no sooner organize themselves, than a mighter attraction pulls them apart again: a chaos, where the rise and destruction of shapes sweeps before our eyes. We don’t want to investigate here the ways in which so many thousand millions of men have been so burdened down that a sad state of slavery has almost completely cut them off from the development of their capacity for perfection, and what compensation there is, or even should be, for them. When the only species, however, whose nature is characterized by moral freedom has, up to this point, given scope in a mostly incomplete way to extremely few members to enjoy this privilege; or, to use a convenient likeness, among millions of caterpillars hardly one succeeds in bringing to completion its metamorphosis into the shape of a butterfly that can lightly wing its paths through the aether and unfettered enjoy both its existence and the world: can it, ought it then annoy a man that somewhere it can be plausibly shown that henceforth the examples of this glorious development will be more common?”

There’s a certain shock in the example of the caterpillar and the butterfly – a balance between a dystopia of worms and a utopia of freedom. The idea that, during the whole course of history, the great mass never succeeded in shedding their worm-like state brings us back to the facts of “world governance” – for who has created the nurseries full of perpetual caterpillars than the prince butterflies? Forster’s further point, here, is that happiness, as the bond between the governors and the governed, must be questioned. “Finally, my friend, it seems like the time has come for that lying image of happiness which has stood so long in the path of mankind, to fall from its pedestal, and the true signpost [Wegweiser – pointer of the way] of life, human worth, to be put in its place.”

What happens when the lying image of happiness is thrown from its pedestal? It would seem, from Forster’s thesis, that either the state would dissolve entirely, having lost its function, or that the revolutionary moment would illuminate the structure of human worth in such a way that we would see it as, ultimately, identical to true happiness.

In the next post, I’m going to leap more than half a century to Marx’s notion of the “universal subject” – one that is undergoing, apparently, a translation from the merely locally human to an all sided subjectivity as dramatic as the caterpillar’s metamorphosis into the butterfly – in the passages in the First Notebook of the Grundrisse noted by Calasso.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

LI, I wonder if you could give the German text for “Finally, my friend, it seems like the time has come for that lying image of happiness which has stood so long in the path of mankind, to fall from its pedestal, and the true signpost [Wegweiser – pointer of the way] of life, human worth, to be put in its place."
That is a very striking quote - finally, friend, the time has come. And how happiness is an image that is a sort of statue or an installation on a pedestal that bars the way and must fall. And how the wegweiser will be put in its place?
Does the metaphor mean the pedestal and signpost rest on solid ground/grund? Where is the place? And could this relate to the butterfly/worm metaphor to say nothing of the ground, base, etc., with Marx?

Amie

roger said...

Aimee - it is Fussgestelle. Hmm, I hadn't thought quite of the metaphoric in Marx, here. Although we know how Marx feels about the moment of ilinx, when the idealist attempts to walk with his hands on the ground and his feet in the air - which also happens to the things of the world in capitalism, at least in the theories of the bourgeois economists.

roger said...

And ps, I hadn't thought about the time has come - or is coming, ca ira! Which I've been thinking about in another case, Robert Burns' poem, Is there for Honest Poverty (I'm reviewing a bio of Burns at the moment - I do love Burns!)

"Then let us pray that come it may
(As come it will for a' that)
That Sense and Worth o'er a' the earth
Shall bear the gree an' a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's comin yet for a' that,
That man to man the world o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that."

The it that is coming - is it coming still? I guess I still think so, miserable dog that I am.

Anonymous said...

LI, thanks for the Forster reference. That excerpt you quoted has been haunting me, so I want to look up the text. I haven't been able to find out where exactly Olympe put up her placards, but walking around Paris today and looking at the posters for films and tv shows and operas and sales at stores, I thought of her posters and words on/of fire. After all, the walls of this city have a history of that as well.
That is an incredible poem by Robert Burns. Inspired by which I've been reading his poems today, and I would like to hear someone sing them for they are songs it seems to me.
Hey you seem to like my film recommendations, so here is another one from a film director I love. Apparently a lot of Chris Marker's films have recently been made available on dvd in the usa. Do check out the the one that is called "the last bolshevik/happiness".
Amie

roger said...

Amie, I will check out the Marker.
Burns was a big collector of songs. He crooned when a child; Jean sang. And he delighted in gypsy fiddlers, whorehouse sopranos, harpists and balladmongers.
Ah, Amie, if you have the cash, they are having the great Robert Burns Jamaican and African festival in Glasgow right now, it appears!
http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/news/display.var.2462182.0
.Rabbie_turns_to_reggae_as_Celtic_Connections_marks_anniversary.php