Universal history begins on the Moon

“America changed the moon forever…” (152) - Mary Campbell, Wonder and Science

At some time in the year 1648, there was a party in a house in Paris owned by M. de Cuigy le fils. The conversation turned to the full moon, which was particularly brilliant that night. Everyone expressed some opinion or joke about the moon – for instance, that it was really the sun, which was peaking at the earth from a hole in the heavens to see what was going on behind its back, so to speak. One man was standing by rather moodily, silent. This man, Cyrano de Bergerac, was finally asked what he thought:

“And me,” I told them, wishing to mix my enthusiasm with yours, I believe, without entertaining myself with the sharpended fantasies by which you are tickling time to make it go quicker, that the moon is a world like this one; to which our serves as its moon.” Some of my friends regaled me with a great howl of laughter. “And just like this,” I said, “they may be mocking now, on the Moon, at somebody who is maintaining that this globe here is a world.” But however much I alleged that many great men had been of this opinion, I only forced them to laugh all the more.

This thought, however, of which the boldness skewed my humor, hardened by contradiction, plunged so deeply into me that, all during my walk home, I was pregnant with a thousand definitions of the moon, of which I could not give birth: so much so that, by the force of supporting this burlesque belief by quasi-serious arguments, it almost came about that I already couldn’t get the idea out of my head, when the miracle or the accident, providence, fortune, or perhaps what one would name vision, fiction, chimera or madness, if you like, furnished me with the occasion to begin this discourse. Having arrived back home, I went up to my reading room where I discovered, lying on a table, an open book that I hadn’t put there. It was of Cardan, and though I had no plan just then to read, my eyes fell, as though forced, upon a story of the Philosopher who said, studying one night by candle, he perceived to enter his room, through closed doors, two large old men who, after being abundantly questioned, responded that they were the inhabitants of the Moon and at the same time vanished.”

This is, of course, the beginning of the Voyage to the Moon, Cyrano’s secret book. It may be an absurd way to begin a thread on the history of universal history – a thread that I has been prefigured in my posts on Forster, and that I want to wind through a passage in the Grundrisse and a bit of The anti-Oedipus – but I, too, like to support burlesque beliefs with quasi-serious arguments. One of the beliefs that goes back on this blog to the very beginning of my human limit thesis is that the Great Transformation couldn’t have occurred without the discovery of America. One of the great intellectual themes of the seventeenth century was a coming to terms with the New World – that is, with a world that looked unexpectedly, and in fact totally, different from what had once been supposed. It was not only the earth, of course, that had become a New World, but New Worlds were being found by the astronomers – by Kepler and Galileo, for instance – which Cyrano knew well. He had probably seen the map of the moon made by his friend Gassendi.

Cyrano’s burlesque remark is one of the ancestors of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, and the Marxist method, said the up to now silent bystander. And look, look! See how the moment of similarity in which two antitheses mirror each other, becoming each for the other what the other is for each - the seed out of which they evolve a different course of development – out of similars, differences – is sealed or signed, as it were, by a magically opened page of Cardan, the alchemist and astrologer.