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.