“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Drunkenness is a number

When Moreau de Tours writes of hashish, it is as a chemical means to simulate madness – implying that madness occurs by means of chemicals. When Baudelaire writes of intoxicants, he writes in an entirely different register. Wine, opium, and hashish are always connected, in Baudelaire’s works, to the “multiplication of individuality” - to quote the subtitle of “Wine and Hashish”. In his notebooks, published as Fusees, he puts it another way: “Tout est nombre. Le nombre est dans tout. Le nombre est dans l’individu. L’ivresse est un nombre.” [Everything is number. The number is in everything. The number is in the individual. Drunkeness is a number.] In the Artificial Paradise, the first section on hashish is entitled ‘the taste of infinity’ – LE GOÛT DE L’INFINI – which plays on the meaning of taste as both a thing of the tongue and an inclination of the spirit. There are also the great poems of multiplication, the most famous of which is the Seven Old Men, which begins: Fourmillante cité, cité pleine de rêves,/ Où le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant ! and which proceeds to describe the apparition of an old man who is followed by another and another, until there are seven in all:

“Son pareil le suivait: barbe, œil, dos, bâton, loques,
Nul trait ne distinguait, du même enfer venu,
Ce jumeau centenaire, et ces spectres baroques
Marchaient du même pas vers un but inconnu.

À quel complot infâme étais-je donc en butte,
Ou quel méchant hasard ainsi m’humiliait !
Car je comptai sept fois, de minute en minute,
Ce sinistre vieillard qui se multipliait !

Que celui-là qui rit de mon inquiétude,
Et qui n’est pas saisi d’un frisson fraternel,
Songe bien que malgré tant de décrépitude
Ces sept monstres hideux avaient l’air éternel !”

It is noteworthy that in the taste of infinity section of The Paradise Artificial, the same cosmological references – to heaven and hell – and the same references to sacred and secular arithmetic – the eternal and the infinite – provide the cardinal points for Baudelaire’s spiritual variation of Moreau’s thesis: that the inspired mood is exterior, a refined mode of exteriority, in fact, in which the world yields its secrets to the poet-subject.

“It is certain that a constant elevation of desire, a tension of spiritual forces towards heaven, would be the most appropriate regime for creating this moral health, so brilliant and glorious. But in virtue of what absurd law does it manifest itself sometimes after guilty orgies of the imagination, after a sophistic abuse of the reason, which is to its honest and reasonable usage what physical sprains are to gymnastic health? This is why I prefer to consider this anormal condition of the intellect [l’esprit] as an authentic grace, as a magic mirror where man is invited to see himself beautified, that is to say such as he must and could be; a kind of angelic excitation, a rappel à l’ordre under a complimentary form. Likewise, a certain spiritualist school, which has its representatives in England and America, considers the supernatural phenomena such as the apparition of phantoms, of revenants, etc., as the manifestation of the divine will, attentive to awakening in the intellect of man the memory of invisible realities.”

Angelic grace. Grace is, of course, a kind of gift. Gratia, pleasing, or a favour, goodwill. It is the mode in which revelation occurs to the bearer of charisma in Weber’s formulation of charismatic legitimation:
“Charismatic Dominion by the power of affective surrender to the person of the master and his gifs of grace [Gnadengaben] (Charisma), in particular magical abilities, revelations or heroism, power of the intellect [Geistes] and of speech. The eternally new, extraordinary, never-seen-before, and the emotional possession thereby are here sources of personal surrender. The purest types are the dominion of prophets, of warriors, of great demagogues. The dominating combination is communal association in the congregation or the order of disciples [Gefolgshaft]. The type of the orderer is the Guide [Führer]. The type of the follower is the disciple [»Jünger«] Obedience derives exclusively for the sake of the leader‘s person and his purely personal, un-utilitarian qualities, not because of a prescribed position or traditional values. And thus only in so far as these qualities are ascribed to him; his charisma is preserved through its proofs.”

Of course, Weber’s language takes on a much more sinister tone for us, who vividly recall one such Führer. But I am more interested, here, in the underlying opposition of one type of knowledge involving number – in drunkenness, in inspiration – against another type of knowledge involving number – in an algebraic/commercial system of substitutions, in technology, in science. Just as the taste of infinity can lead to the misery of addiction, the taste for inspiration can lead to the misery of fascism. A parallel that I will muddy, blur, scratch – but that I do leave as a marginal gloss.

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