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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

cherchez the lobster 3

It wasn't a rock
Rock Lobster...!

Fourier wrote of analogy as a calculus in Le nouveau monde industrial:

“It is necessary to prelude this demonstration by some details of analogy. Our beautiful souls in making such pathos out of the great book of nature, its eloquent voice and beauties, don’t know how to explain a single line of that great book. For us, it is only a desolate enigma without the calculus of analogy that decomposes all the mysteries, and very pleasantly too, for it unveils all the hypocries and snatches off the civilized mask, It is with good reason that Bernardin de St Pierre names them frivolous and thespian virtues.“

The calculus of analogies, it turns out, is a mélange of folklore, etymology, and allegory – and yet it teases the brain that is aware it has been thrust, indeed, into the new industrial world, one in which we live among structures that seem to be built all independently, and yet continually form a pattern. A pattern of European cities that was decrypted, of course, by Allied and German pilots in the 1940s, and thereafter by the planners who carried the target diagrams in their heads as they drew lines on paper that became the great highways along which vehicles could drive to transport goods, to bring the worker to work or the vacationer to the beach, and that could, ultimately, empty the city when the bombs or missiles dropped.

That calculus forms one parameter of the dream of a universal science made up of an eccentric traversal of the sciences, trolling for resemblences.

In the definitive, 1937 version of his “The Praying Mantis”, Roger Caillois (whose candidate for the universal science he later calls ‘diagonal science”) investigates the insect within the precincts of two different registers. One of them involves an investigation of the kinds of mantis, its form and its characteristics. In other words, this is an investigation in animal ethology. On the other hand, Caillois investigates how the mantis has figured in the belief systems of various cultures around the globe. This research is recognizably the kind of comparative anthropology that his teacher, Marcel Mauss, practiced. What makes this double register unusual is that Caillois is searching for what we would now call a sociobiological approach, or level. The fact that the praying mantis female eats the male, sometimes in the act of coitus, is an ethological fact that irradiates out in symbols and meanings in various cultures that can be observed and collected by the anthropologist. In Caillois’ version of this search, it is not just overt references to the mantis that he seeks, but all kinds of narratives concerning devouring women, succubi, Giftmadchen (women who are loaded with a poison and whose embraces poison their partner – an oddly persistent motif in the James Bond films), and other femmes fatales, with the point being that we have, here, not simply a coincidence, but a unity. The unity arises, here, as evidence of much the same sort of thing that Geoffroy supposed he was getting at by looking at the unity of the body plan of the lobster and the vertebrate – that is, it arises as part of the of greater biological unity of descent. This biological function survives in the instinctual level of human beings (Caillois, at this point, adheres to a colonial anthropology that ascribes to the ‘primitive’ some closer relation to the instincts, as though the culture of the tribe had not developed the techniques of sublimation that the ‘civilized man’ possesses. This is a derivative of what Johannes Fabian calls ‘allochrony’, in which different ages or times are attributed to synchronously co-existing societies). Here is a key passage from Caillois’ essay:

“The present study seems to carry the confirmation of fact to his [Bergson’s] theoretical views: the praying mantis presents itself like the sort of objective idogram materially realizing in the exterior world the most tendacious virtualities of affectivity. There is nothing to be astonished about: from the behavior of the insect to the consciousness of man, in this homogenous universe, the path is continous. The mantis devours its male during coitus, man imagines feminine creatures devouring him after attracting him into their arms. There is a difference from the act to the representation, but the same biological orientation organizes the parallelism and determines the convergence. [My translation, Caillois Oeuvres 2008, 203]

It is against this background, one in which Caillois’ essay and later work (which I want to examine in another post) fit into a certain cultural pattern that shifted the great sorting terms of nature and culture, that we should understood Barthes’ allergy to analogy. Here are the first two paragraphs of “The demon of analogy”, a fragment in Barthes book on himself:

Saussure’s bete noire was the arbitrary (nature of the sign). His [Barthes] is analogy. The analogical arts (cinema, photography), the analogical methods (academic criticism, for instance) are discredited. Why? Because analogy implies an affect of ‘nature’, it constitutes the ‘natural’ as the source of truth: and what also adds to the curse of analogy is that it is irrepressible (Re, 1637 II): as soon as a form is seen, it is necessary that it resembles something. Humanity seems condemned to the analogy, which is to say, in the end, to Nature. From whence we find the effort of painters, of writers to escape it. How? By two contrary excesses, or, if you prefer, two ironies, which puts Analogy in derision, be it in feigning a respect that is spectacularly flat (which is the copy that saves itself), be it in deforming regularly – that is, according to rules – the mimed object (which is anamorphosis, V, 44 II).

Outside of these transgressions, which are opposed benificiently to perfid Analogy, there is simple structural correspondence, homology, which reduces the reference of the first object to a proportional allusion (etymologically, that is to say, in the happy times of language, analogy means proportion).”

Barthes often takes analogy as the perfid member of the a pair whose other member is this ‘simple’ structural correspondence, homology. And yet, as we have seen with Geoffroy, the law of analogues begins, with a distortion (a reconceptualization of how up and down refers to a creature, with the basis of the vertical dimension being an internal organization that can only be seen for what it is once we turn the creature one hundred eighty degrees) and then produces homologies that give us a different systematic sense of biotic space.

This is at least the sense that Charles Fourier took from Geoffroy. Baudelaire of course drew from Fourier, but latter on, Barthes at least sipped at him, the way a hummingbird sips at the dew in a flower, and from him Barthes took away the idea that pleasure could be, however derisively, systematized – that is, it could be introduced into the empire of criticism. And perhaps there is a specter here of the specter Derrida investigates in Marx.

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