Tuesday, December 15, 2009

spleen and ideal

De fait, le cas le plus significatif me paraît être la route. Si l’on veut
vraiment protéger la nature, il faut supprimer la plus grande partie des
routes. – Jacques Ellul

I love the term “artificial paradise”. A few remarks, philological and speculative.

At first, according to a letter Baudelaire wrote to Poulet-Malassis, his publisher, on April 25, 1859, the essay on hashish and the translation of parts of the Opium Eater were to be published under the title, L’idéal artificial. L’idéal, in Baudelaire’s lexicon, has a prominent place in Fleurs de mal – where it is paired with Spleen. In Baudelaire’s poem, L’idéal, it is related to women – and yet, in that poem, the women are all plucked from either literature, prints, or painting:

“Ce ne seront jamais ces beautés de vignettes,
Produits avariés, nés d'un siècle vaurien,
Ces pieds à brodequins, ces doigts à castagnettes,
Qui sauront satisfaire un coeur comme le mien.”

In the decision to use Paradise as the object modified by artifice, Baudelaire delinks it from women, and links it to drugs – which gives us an old set of connections – woman as a drug, woman whose sexuality is offered to the man as a drug, the woman – Eve – who offers the fruit to the man – but, in the end, breaks with, ruptures that myth. The artificial paradise begins precisely where the old paradise ends – in swallowing, in taking a substance into one’s mouth.

I’m all jumpy at this point, all careless. I love the phrase, “artificial paradise”, because it hints, it speculates on, a notion that is anathema to the simple dualism of man vs. nature, or culture vs. nature – artifice is not only a second nature, but it is one that is not an extension of man. Rather, it exists separately, outside of man, distinct from the human. The idea that the world is humanized by human technology – comforting to some, a scandal to others – is not quite right. Rather, the “extensions of man” – the artifices – penetrate both man and nature, operate as a third domain, introduce into nature the addicted being. In the binary of artifice and nature, man – o man – is, at best, a bystander. To suppress the roads, to bring down the artifice, to turn against the third domain, is, truly, unthinkable, a cold turkey unto death.

To put this another way, following up some posts this spring on Foucault’s Les mots et les choses, the mutation at the end of L’age classique was not at all about the birth of ‘man’, that figure drawn – a vignette! – in the sand by the seashore, but was all about the birth of the Other, that Other which is at the dead center of the human sciences.


Anonymous said...



roger said...

Amie, long time since I heard that song.
So -- I can usually feel when I have my threads in my hand. Like any fisherman or seamstress, I know that a thread or a line is good for pulling and useless if there is no resistance on the end. I've felt the threads in my hand to the artificial paradise, and I've pulled hard. But I am not sure if I am pulling against any resistance - or if I am pulling against mere words.

oh well. Anyway, your link reminded me of the group I've been playing obsessively today - Cranes.

Anonymous said...

LI, well, I think you should trust the feel of the threads in your hands. Even though I think I know what you mean about wondering if there is resistance at the end of the line. But let the lines run. The sea is deep and who knows what mutant fish and humans lie there and will rise and get the hooks in their mouths, swallow lines and baits and drugs. Happens every day. One would hope they would offer some resistance!

A question about "artificial paradise", a phrase I also like for being an anathema to the dualisms you mention: man/culture, nature/artifice, etc. You don't mention man/woman there, though of course your post certainly implies and questions that.
I guess my question is about whether and how artifice is entirely separate and outside of the human or man, as you seem to suggest? Isn't it rather that artifice is somehow both inside and outside the human and from the "beginning"? It seems you suggest that when you say that "artifices penetrate both man and nature."
Which means, among other things, that one cannot really take for granted one knows exactly what is meant by separate, separation, separable. (or "penetration".)
My question also relates to a certain "progressive" or "leftist" thinking of technology - "cybernetic communism", etc. Which is fine and good. But matters get a little more complicated if one considers that artifice has been there from the beginning - and throughout "history". How is there history without artifice?

I'll stop with my hastily formulated questions. And leave with some Baudelaire.

La grandeur de ce mal où tu te crois savante
Ne t'a donc jamais fait reculer d'épouvante,
Quand la nature, grande en ses desseins cachés
De toi se sert, ô femme, ô reine des péchés,
— De toi, vil animal, — pour pétrir un génie?



roger said...

Amie, your questions go to my heart.

In a sense, the foundation of universal history is laid with a few simple prepositions: "in" and "out", "through" and "with". The rise of the happiness culture and the fall of the human limit are - well, at least I cast them, they are totalizing histories. If the artificial paradise is anything, it is on a global scale - hence, the recent suggestions by the two Superfreakonomics guys that we can take care of global warming by building an eighteen mile high pipe and pumping massive amounts of sulphide aerosols into the air. Every sphere - mineral, biological, oceanic, atmospheric - must be manufactured, reshaped, owned.

Still, I don't trust totalizing histories - indeed, this is why I am downshifting the usual players in the play, reason (instrumental or otherwise) and economic interests, and upshifting emotions - happiness - and routines.

And that is how addiction and the gift - the latter of which I haven't gotten to - do such symbolic work in establishing the boundaries of the artificial paradise.

So, when I abstract and quantify over my 'ontological realms', here - the human, the artificial, nature - I am not trying to build a case that these are the fundamental things forever and ever, so help me God. I think I'm trying to build a fiction, or poem, in which these things operate as allegorical principles, imps, the great goosers of universal history. If we want to do the soundtrack for the artificial paradise, we have to throw in some ludicrous notes - some Nino Rota!

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.