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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Liberté Events in Roanoke, Dec. 2012

Don't know if anybody is still checking this blog, but if so, here's what's shaping up in the local part of the project:

The exhibition Romanticism and the Avant-Garde, curated by Olchar E. Lindsann, explores the roots of today’s avant-garde networks in the extremist subcultures that flourished on the fringes of French Romanticism between 1825, when experimental writers and artists first began using the term ‘avant-garde’1840, and traces the continuous development of the tradition into the early 20th Century. This historical trajectory has almost entirely disappeared from today’s Art-Historical narratives, and the current show represents the fruits of recent discoveries by a network of independent researchers collaborating and sharing their work since 2006. The show, and its associated events, address questions of historiography, archiving, and financial markets: who makes our creative histories, for what motives and with what materials? How can subcultures without regular access to the major institutions of academic power participate in this process? And how can historical research be integrated into the continuing life and growth of today’s creative communities?

Sunday, Dec. 2, 3 PM. An Underground History of 19th Century France: The Story of the Early Avant-Gardes

For most of us, the French Romanticist Movement is remembered, if at all, through just a few ‘big name’ representatives: Delacroix, Hugo, Chopin, etc. But almost unknown to the English-speaking world are the hundreds of cultural workers who were more extreme, more experimental, and less famous, who forged an underground community that came to be known (among other names) as the avant-garde. Join Olchar E. Lindsann, archivist and curator of the exhibition, for a lively, informal introduction to the teeming counter-cultures that have been written out of mainstream art, literature, and cultural histories: a dizzying amalgam of utopianism, occultism, mysticism, radical politics, formal experimentation, identity-bending, popular culture, altered states of consciousness, and the fringe extremes of philosophy and metaphysics. In this presentation, the Historian will not appear as an academic or an objective observer, but as a participant and storyteller bringing back to life the shared past of the avant-garde community whose present incarnation was represented in the previous Liminal Gallery exhibition, the Decentralized Networkers’ Congress. He will be joined by other members of Roanoke’s avant-garde community who will add the fruits of their own research and reflection on the history of underground literature, art, and alternative lifestyles.

Friday, Dec. 7, 5:30-9:00 PM. REMATCH: Classicism vs. Romanticism!
Art by Night Event: Gallery opens @ 5:30 with competing spreads of food & drink, competing music, and propaganda. Readings, performances, and disputes from 6:30 to 9!

To mark the exhibition 'Romanticism and the Avant-Garde' at the Liminal Gallery, long-dead aesthetic hatreds will be exhumed, to rage against each other for the first time since the 1830s, for your edification and amusement! Two opposing teams--the refined paragons of a Classicist coterie, and the wild barbarians of a Romanticist Cénacle--shall wage battle through their poems, plays, prefaces, music, fashion, and food. Come hiss and boo your enemies, cheer and bolster your chosen side! Come in your Classicist or Romanticist costume, and banter in your out-dated slang! (never fear, we shall tell you what that might mean.) Dance triumphantly round the busts of your enemies, or spear them with verbal witticisms! Drink nectar from fresh pomegranates, or punch from skulls! HISTORY FIGHTS BACK! Because if you can't fight for a 200-year-old idea, what CAN you fight for?!

Sunday, Dec. 9, 3PMHistory, Community, and the Micro-Archive: A Lecture/Discussion and Guided Tour

The past is strewn with tiny subcultures, traditions, and communities that have been forgotten, written out, or re-written by mainstream history; and the tangible relics of these lost worlds are in constant danger of being forever lost, along with the unwritten histories for which they are the touchstones. This loss is all the more sad in that, very often, these relics can be gathered together at very little financial cost and without undue effort, revealing our own forgotten collective histories to broaden and deepen our understandings of current subcultures and collective efforts. In an informal lecture and guided discussion, Olchar Lindsann will address the concept and the practical techniques of ‘micro-archiving’: assembling very small, very focused archives of art, books, music, and ephemera that body forth very specific subcultures or themes. He will describe how he has assembled the entire archive exhibited in the Liminal Gallery on a poverty-line budget, followed by an informal tour of the collection in which multiple histories will be opened up—not only the histories of the writers and artists represented, but also of the people who have owned and preserved these objects for over a century, ranging from destitute alcoholics to art historians to inhabitants of the White House.

Olchar E. Lindsann is a historian and archivist of the avant-garde, community organiser, publisher, writer, performer, and co-founder of the Post-NeoAbsurdist avant-garde network. His books on the history of the avant-garde include The Ecstatic Nerve, Cheating Art History, Anachronism as Dissent, and Avant the Avant-Garde: Childhood and Family in the Culture of the Avant-Garde. He has lectured in Europe and the United States on topics including the history of the 19th, 20th, and 21st Century avant-gardes, mysticism and nihilism in 19th Century experimental literature, and reading practices and the body in the 19th Century. He is currently compiling the first ever English-language anthology of texts and images from the seminal avant-garde collective Les Jeunes-France (1830-35).

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Live Liberté Event: Classicism vs. Romanticism REMATCH

Here's the official announcement of the upcoming event at the Romanticism and the Avant-Garde exhibition at Community High School.
Star City Shadow School and Community High School invite you to take part in the CULTURAL BATTLE OF (a different) CENTURY!
To mark the exhibition 'Romanticism and the Avant-Garde' at the Liminal Gallery, long-dead aesthetic hatreds will be exhumed, to rage against each other for the first time since the 1830s, for your edification and amusement!
Two opposing teams--the refined paragons of a Classicist coterie, and the wild barbarians of a Romanticist Cénacle--shall wage battle through their poems, plays, prefaces, music, fashion, and food. 
Come hiss and boo your enemies, cheer and bolster your chosen side! Come in your Classicist or Romanticist costume, and banter in your out-dated slang! (never fear, we shall tell you what that is.) Dance triumphantly round the busts of your enemies, or spear them with witticisms! Drink nectar from fresh pomegranates, or wine from skulls! 
Because if you can't fight for a 200-year-old idea, what CAN you fight for?!

We'll be working with students from the CHS class and people from the local Roanoke cultural community. I'm thinking of ways that people might be involved from afar...

Friday, November 16, 2012

Reading #7: Boileau, Gautier, and Hugo

We’re 85% finished installing the exhibition on Romanticism and the Avant-Garde, so it seems like an appropriate time to move on and begin the first reading from Vol. II of the anthology, “Classicism and Romanticism,” pp. 15-37. We’ll move on to Reading #8 whenever it seems right. 

(I’ve put a link to the free PDF in the right-hand sidebar)  =>
or just download it HERE

The passage from Boileau probably ought to have been in Vol. I; as I was putting this volume together I realised that I should have had more classicist stuff in there (my Romantic partisanship runs deep, apparently). Our discussions in the CHS class have corrected this somewhat; but I’ve actually read very little—Racine’s Phaedra and a couple scenes of Moliére. Boileau seems to have utterly dominated the whole conception of what literature is for well over a century, and the utter obscurity into which he and most of the writers who followed his precepts have since fallen is an indication of just how successful Romanticism was. When it comes down to it, we’re still Romantics in our basic outlook; but Romanticism grew so pervasive and complex that we can’t see its edges any more, so we just call it ‘culture’.. 

Hugo’s Preface to Cromwell is sprawling, and these passages scarcely skim the surface. This was the foundational text for the militant form of Romanticism that had been bubbling up for the last few years; Gautier relates that in the apartment shared by the Jeunes-France, 
On a modest set of shelves of wild-cherry wood, hung by cords, shone, among a few choice volumes, a copy of Cromwell, with a friendly dedication, signed V. H. The veneration of Protestants for the Bible, or that of Mohammedans for the Koran did not surpass mine for that volume, which was indeed to me the book of books, the work that contained the true doctrine.” 
He anticipates and paraphrases all the Classicist objections he expects to get, which is nice for reconstructing the orthodoxy that he and the otherRomantics were trying to overturn.

The passages from Gautier get at what is almost always left out of non-specialist overviews and discussions of French Romanticism (and most specialist ones too): The large, underground Romanticist subculture that was the flesh and bone of the movement. Five or ten ‘big name’ intellectuals publishing a few manifestos, some novels and poems, making some paintings and symphonies does not make a cultural revolution. What makes it is a seething underground of hundreds of young men and women questioning every aspect of received culture. We’ll get into this further in later readings, but Gautier introduces us here to that subculture. I particularly enjoy Daniel Jovard going back to his room and destroying all his classicist books, throwing away his Classicist clothes, etc. It reminds me of a 20th Century teenager going home and breaking all his disco records after he hears Slayer for the first time. Some things never change…The best historical memoirs of the avant-garde convey not only the excitement and passion of the movements they deal with, but the reality of them: the fact that they were not grandiose, abstract explosions of genius, but rather groups of close friends doing what they love, and doing it with such passion that they collectively urge each other into deeper and more extreme challenges. Hans Richter’s Dada: Art & Anti-Art was such a book, which utterly transformed my own life; Gautier is the only person I know who does so with equal exhuberence, humour, and generosity.

A few prompts, for what it’s worth:
  • Dig up some more Classicist texts (especially since we'll need some poems and maybe a few scenes from a play for the Classicism vs. Romanticism Rematch event here next month). 
  • Take a look at the rest of Hugo's Preface to Cromwell--or at the play itself. What else is in there? What in the play corresponds to the point Hugo's making in the Preface?
  • Some other important Romantic texts that I couldn't fit in are Stendhal's Racine and Shakespeare, Mme. de Staël's On Germany, Lamartine's Meditations, and Chateaubriand's Genius of Christianity
  • We could go more into painting at this time--there will be a reading on Romanticist painting and another on avant-garde Romantic prints later on, but 1820-30 is a weird no-man's land where Géricault's dead with no real successors, Classicism is still everywhere, but some artists are slowly taking on Romantic tendencies. The only hard-core, self-declared Romantics I know of during most of the 1820s are the Devéria brothers, Delacroix, and Louis Boulanger.
  • Music, too: We're right before Berlioz, Liszt, Chopin, Paganini, Musard, Monpou, etc. launch their 'assault' on music; Beethoven can be played, but it's controversial and often needs to have sections re-written and toned-down for French audiences. What are the links between the generation of Mozart and Vivaldi, and that of the full-on Romantics? I know they liked Weber a lot... (Gautier's articles on Berlioz would be a good starting point, and no doubt Berlioz' own writing)...
  • Gautier's stories and poems are always written for researchers, with cultural references right and left. This is very intentional--knowing that they'd be forgotten within a generation or two, all of the avant-garde Romantics deployed tons of narrative details, epigraphs, descriptions, quotations, character names, dedications etc. so that future generations could fully reconstruct the subculture by following them all up. So there are about 50 possible research routes in his passages.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Liberté Additional Reading Ideas

Here's a list I compiled for the CHS class last month, of a ton of 19th Century French books for possible further reading. Students chose one book to read and write a critical analysis on (they're doing that now). I post it here just in case anybody's looking for further reading (as if there's not enough material in the Reader already, right? There are all available in English in some form, but some are harder to get hold of than others.


Early Romanticism (1800-1830)
René de Chateaubriand:
    Atala (novel)
    The Genius of Christianity (social theory)
Alphonse Lamartine, Poetic Meditations (poetry)
Mme. De Staël, On Germany (criticism)
Stendhal, Racine and Shakespeare (criticism)

Popular Romanticism (1825-1880)
Jean-Pierre Béranger, 100 Poems of Béranger (political poetry)
Auguste Barbier, Two Gifts (poems?)
Hector Berlioz, Evenings with the Orchestra (essays and stories on music)
Alexandre Dumas & Auguste Maquet:
    The Three Musketeers (adventure novel)
    The Man in the Iron Mask (historical fiction)
    The Count of Monte Cristo (historical adventure)
Victor Hugo:
    Selected Poems of Victor Hugo
    Notre-Dame of Paris (Hunchback of Notre-Dame)
    Les Miserables
    Things Seen (essays from newspapers)
    Napoleon the Little (political poetry)
Alfred de Musset, Selected Works (poetry, comedic plays)
Charles Sainte-Beuve, Literary Criticism
George Sand:
    Indiana (novel)
    Leone Leoni (novel)
    Mauprat (adventure novel)
    Black City (socialist feminist novel)
    Laura: A Journey Into the Crystal (fantasy novel)
    The Naiad (ghost story)

Eugene Sue:
    The Wandering Jew (Gothic-Conspiracy Melodrama)
    The Mysteries of Paris (Crime Thriller/Mystery)

Romanticist Theater (1827-1850)
Alexandre Dumas:
    The Three Musketeers (play version)
    The Princess of Baghdad
Arséne Houssaye, Man About Paris (Memoirs of theatre director)
Victor Hugo:
    The King’s Diversion
    Ruy Blas
Alfred de Vigny, Chatterton

Orientalist Romanticism (1820-1870)
Gustave Flaubert:
    The Temptation of Saint Anthony (novel)
    Salambo (novel)
Théophile Gautier, Romance of a Mummy (historical fiction)
Literary Travel Diaries by Gautier and Nerval

Gothic Horror / Frenetic Romanticism
Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, Les Diaboliques (aristocratic horror)
Victor Hugo: 
    Han of Iceland (novel)
    Bug-Jargal (novel)
Théophile Gautier:
    Albertus: or, the Soul in Sin (gothic poem)
    The Comedy of Death (gothic poem)
Lautréamont / Isadore Ducasse:
    Maldoror (avant-garde horror-prose poem-novel)
    Poesies (poem/treatise of plaigerized quotations)
Jules Janin, The Dead Donkey and the Guillotined Woman
Charles Nodier:
    Smarra & Trilby (gothic novels)
    The Vampyre (play adaptation of English gothic novel)

Avant-Garde Romanticism, Jeunes-France / Bouzingo (1830-1840)
Théophile Gautier:
    Three Chapters from The Jeunes-France (short stories on the avant-garde)
Gérard de Nerval:
    Selected Writings (poems, prose poems, novels)
    Sylvie (pastoral novel)
    Emilie (military historical novel)
    Aurelia (mystical novel on madness)

Realism (1830-1900)
Honoré de Balzac, The Human Comedy (cycle of novels)
Gustave Flaubert:
    Madame Bovary (novel)
    A Sentimental Education (novel)
    The Red and the Black (novel)
    The Charterhouse of Parma (novel)
    Memoirs of Egoism (published diary)

Parnassians and “The Damned Poets” (1840-1880)
Charles Baudelaire:
    Flowers of Evil (dark lyric poetry)
    Paris Spleen (prose-poetry)
    Artificial Paradises (essays on art, literature & altered states)
    Selected Writings on Art and Literature (criticism & theory)
    Selected Letters
    Intimate Journals
Théophile Gautier:
    Mlle. De Maupin (novel on gender)
    Spirite (love story about a ghost)
    Enamels and Cameos (poetry)
    French Poetry Since 1830 (criticism)
Arthur Rimbaud:
    Illuminations (prose poems)
    A Season in Hell (poetry)
Paul Verlaine, Selected Poems

Genre Fiction (1850- )
Alexandre Dumas, Celebrated Crimes (true crime)
Maurice Leblanc, Arsene Lupin (mystery series)
Jules Verne:
    20,000 Leagues under the Sea (Science Fiction)
    Around the World in 80 Days (Adventure)
    Journey to the Center of the Earth (Science Fiction)
    Paris in the 20th Century (Dystopian Science Fiction)

Naturalism (1860-1900)
Colette (Many books in translation, on women in various social roles)
Guy de Maupassant, Short Stories (mostly military fiction)
Emile Zola, Germinal & other novels

Decadence and Symbolism (1880-1910)
Alphonse Allais, World of Alphonse Allais (avant-garde comic poetry)
Charles Cros, The Supreme Progress (science fiction stories)
Eduard Dujardin, We’ll To the Woods No More (first stream-of-consciousness novel)
Felix Fénéon, Novels in Three Lines (poems arranged from newspaper clippings)
Adoré Floupette, Deliquescences (poems satirizing Decadent movement)
Remy de Gourmont:
    Selected Writings (philosophy, theory, and criticism)
    ed., The Book of Masks (anthology of stories & poems by many Decadent writers)
Joris-Karl Huysmans:
    Against Nature/Against the Grain (novel & criticism)
    La-Bas (novel on avant-garde satanism)
Alfred Jarry:
    Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician (comic-philosophical novel)
    Ubu Roi (absurdist play)
    Days and Nights (novel)
    Black Minutes of Memorial Sand (poetry)
Marcel Schwob, The Children’s Crusade (prose-poem cycle)
Maurice Maeterlink (Belgian playwright)
Stéphane Mallarmé:
    Collected Poems
    Divigations (literary theory and philosophy)
    Collected Letters
Octave Mirbeau, The Torture Garden (horror stories)
Rachilde, Monsieur Venus (novel on gender-play)
Georges Rodenbach, Bruges la Morte (novel)
Saint-Pol-Roux, Pauses in the Procession (prose poems)
Paul Valéry:
    The Art of Poetry (literary theory and philosophy)
    Monsieur Teste (novel)
Villiers de l’Isle-Adam:
    The Future Eve (avant-garde science fiction)
    Cruel Tales (satirical prose poems)


Philosophy, Social and Political Theory (1800-1900)
Henri Bergson (very dense philosophy):
    Matter and Memory
    Time and Simultaneity
    Time and Free Will
Pierre Brisset, The True Philosophy (avant-garde anthropology)
Charles Fourier, Theory of the Four movements (utopian theory, sometimes absurd)
Claire Moses and Leslie Rabine, ed., Feminism, Socialism, and French Romanticism (translations and history)
Madame de Staël, Politics, Literature, and National Character (social and literary theory)
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Flora Tristan:
    The Worker’s Union
    Peregrinations of a Pariah (autobiography of feminist labor organiser)

History and Historiography (1820-1880)
Jules Claretie, Camille Desmoulins, Lucille Desmoulins (biography of Dantonist journalists)
Théophile Gautier, A History of Romanticism (Eyewitness account of Romanticist avant-garde)
François Guizot, History and Origin of Representative Government in Europe
Paul Lacroix (Bibliophile Jacob), France in the Middle Ages (Romanticist history of Medieval life)
Prosper Olivier Lissagaray, History of the Revolution of 1871 (history of the Commune by a participant)
Claude-François Meneval, Working with Napoleon (memoirs of Napoleon’s secretary)
Henri Murger, Bohemians of the Latin Quarter (short stories on Bohemian subculture)
Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon on Napoleon (autobiography)

Some poets and short story writers have never had an entire book published in English, but some work can be found in various anthologies and online. If you’re interested in one or more of these people, let us know and we might be able to help you find enough of their work to write about.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Saint-Simonism (Part 2)

….continuing from my previous post about Saint-Simon:

a very rough sketch of Saint-Simonism

Some speculation:
- first, I'm clearly omitting (a lot of) information concerning the social backdrop of Saint-Simon's life.  Most obviously, the French Revolution and the reign of terror, which were right around the time of Simon's imprisonment, and preceded his first pamphlet.  I think a lot of the ideas in the first pamphlet could use such historical contextualization.
- second, it's interesting to consider Saint-Simon's interest in the middle ages here.  Whether or not his family actually had ancestral ties to Charlamagne, Simon seemed to have believed this was the truth.  And yet he lived through a time period when the centuries-old french monarchy was destroyed in an incredibly short amount of time.  I can't help but think that Simon's ideas seem to contain a divided opinion of the monarchy.  His idealization of the middle ages, on the one hand, suggests an acknowledgement that the monarchy of the 18th century was a failure. His social model, on the other hand, seems to reveal a belief in an elitist class structure not unlike a monarchy.  Simon seems to have believed that the problem with the monarchy was structural, that reprogramming it could restore a balance.
- third, the role of religion outlined in the second pamphlet is interesting, as it seems to be vague.  Again, it is structural and practical.  But, from my reading of Booth, Simon doesn't clearly identify his own religious views and seems more interested in the structural dimensions of his models.  This leaves room to future followers of Simon to 'fill in the blank' so to speak.  Will saint-simonism become a social order that utilizes religion, or a religion whose byproduct is an organized society? 
- fourth, echoes of utopianism or even hints of the avant-garde can be heard in one of Simon's statements: 'the golden age of humanity is ahead of us.' 
- finally - disclaimer, this isn't real research as i am merely paraphrasing Booth's book on him, so some of my points and questions here could be way off, please chime if so. 


c1820s: Saint-Simon is poor, his resources exhausted from an unsettled lifestyle, but he has some followers and devotees who believe in his ideas.  At the time of his death, Saint-Simon wishes to create a newspaper (to be called Producteur) which will circulate his ideas (precisely which ideas, I am not sure.  it should be noted that his ideas sometimes contradict themselves).  At the time of his death, one of his followers, named Rodrigue, decides to see this project through, and takes it upon himself.

1825- First publication of Producteur launched by Rodrigue, honoring the death of Saint-Simon.  The newspaper starts out as a weekly publication, with about 20 subscribers.  As Rodrigue is developing the newspaper, he is seeking talent and skill: people who are interested in Saint-Simon's ideas, and who have the ability to write about them.  Two key people come into their own as early Saint-Simonists working for the Productuer: Enfantin (b. 1796) and Bazaard (b ?), who become key organizers.

Enfantin: meets Rodrigue as a student, encounters Saint-Simon's work in 1823.  Enfantin's pre-Saint-Simonist interests included politics, economy, schemes to liquidate the public debt, and speculation on the gender of god.  Booth describes Enfantin as a highly influential personality, exerting a cult-like power over his students and followers.  In anyone believed that Saint-Simonism would become the religion of the future, it was probably Enfantin. 

Bazaard: Joins Saint-Simonism at age 36, after many years of political organizing.  Bazaard was one of the seven founders of the Carbonari movement in France and showed a strong disposition towards politics and conspiracy.  Saint-SImonism apparently inspired in him the idea that violence was not necessary to solve the many social problems of 19th century France.  While Enfantin's idealism gave the Saint-Simonist group grand concepts, Bazaard's knack for practical organization turned those theories into praxis that made the group stable. 

1826/27- Producteur is shut down, as the demands of the paper have exhausted its sponsors and writers.  However, a strong bond between Rodrigue, Enfantin, and Bazaard has come into play and their accomplishments with the paper have made them noteworthy people around Paris.  The three men keep in touch but drift away from one another slowly, even as Saint-Simonism continues to grow in membership.  Bazaard initiates a weekly lecture explaining the ideas of Saint-Simonism, brining in even more support throughout the city.

1828- Sacred College of Apostles is formed, as a way to manage the growing group.  Enfantin, Rodrigue, and Bazaard are included with several other key orators and professors.  This leads to the publication of a new paper, "Le Organisateur," which becomes the new representative publication of the group.

Key ideas emerge as the group grows.  These include total gender equality amongst members, because the group held the belief that god was androgynous, and therefore the patriarchal orders of christianity went against god's nature.  This led to a loosening of the bonds of marriage and greater liberty for women participating in the group.  In addition, the group believed, following Saint-Simon's example, that there was no fall from grace, no original sin, and that humanity is constantly getting better with each generation.  Therefore, violent revolution is not necessary or even desirable.  The group advocated for slow, gradual changes in social structure, believing that one day, these changes would result in a utopian idealist world.  Also noteworthy, the group believed in free-trade for the sake of international peace, and in a completely nationalized educational system for all citizens.  Stablizing the social world in this way allowed gradual positive change to happen, and would prevent violent uprisings from setting humanity back. 

The group became incredibly organized, and was very popular with the working classes in Paris, quickly growing to include at least 1500 members.  Membership was roughly 50% female, 50% male.  The organization included a missionary in every arrondissement in Paris (12 missionaries total).  Each missionary had one female and one male representative who organized Saint-Simonist happenings in that neighborhood.  Each missionary also had a doctor on staff, who provided free health care to all registered members.  Weekly lectures continued throughout this time, bolstering support and membership. 

….there is a lot more in the Booth book on the growing conflict within the inner hierarchies of Saint-Simonism, and its eventual eclipse by other socialist groups, for anyone who wants to dive in.  The breadth of ideas and social issues that the group reflects is pretty astounding, when you think about the differences between its beginnings and its results in the 1830s. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Liberté / Romanticist Exhibition @ Liminal Gallery, Roanoke, VA

Here's part of  the most recent update on the website for the Jeunes-France / Bouzingo Researh Project (also administrated by me, and overlapping much with the Liberté project) can work also as an update on this project--in particular the Liberté/Romanticist avant-garde exhibition which will go up this weekend at the Liminal Gallery in Roanoke, VA.

If you're not familiar with that site, it's full of a ton of fascinating information on several obscure subcultures, unfortunately in a fairly disorganized tangle.

Here's that update, please excuse the redundancies:

Although the last update was over a year ago, progress in this project has not been stopped; on the contrary, there has been so much activity that there has been no time for an update. Most of you who have been following or contributing to the project have been privy to his activity, so I shan’t spend much time going over it again. So onward with several current updates:
  • Finally—and also related to the Liberté project—I am currently hanging an exhibition of drawings, prints, and books from my micro-Archive of 19th Century Counterculture at the Liminal Gallery, CHS’s art space in Roanoke, VA. This will include original drawings and prints by Achille Devéria, Célestin Nanteuil, Napoleon Tom, Paul Gavarni, and Gustave Doré, and over 30 books by the 19th Century avant-garde, some available for perusal (when their condition allows). There will also be a mini-library of more than 100 recent books and translations of counter-cultural work from 19th Century France, for use by students and gallery visitors. I am currently producing wall-placards with contextual material about the work exhibited and about the role of archiving and historiography within underground traditions, and an extensive exhibition catalog. (For an idea of what will be included, see the ‘Physical Archive’ tab above; the page is roughly 90% up-to-date, though not everything listed there will be included in the show.) 
  • The exhibition will run from Nov. 14-Dec. 21, with a costume opening Dec. 7 to which attendees are invited to become Classicists or Romanticists, and heckle each others’ poetic and dramatic readings. It is rumoured that a bust of Racine might be danced around. Other lectures and discussions will be held in the gallery during its run, including a storytelling-lecture on avant-garde Romanticism, lecture/discussion on Fourier and underground organising, and share-and-tell of both the visual work and the books displayed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

via Wilheim Katastroff: Counterpunch on Utopian Socialism

Wilheim Katastroff pointed me toward this recent article in the Leftist journal Counterpunch on Fourier (and Owen, who we haven't discussed because he was English), the Avant-Garde, and the electoral system (scroll down past the appeal for funding). It touches on a couple of themes of the micro-essay I posted a few days ago...

Friday, November 2, 2012


We're about to move on to Phase II, with the second volume of the Reader (CHS  started it today). The individual readings are longer on that one, and I suspect they'll lead to more interesting side-traels and research paths for many of us than some of the readings so far.

So I wanted to see what you all think: would you rather continue to move at the same speed as the CHS class (reading around 60-100 pages a week IF you try to read all of each section), or establish a slower pace, maybe half as much per week? There's nothing stopping us from continuing to work on previous readings while we continue to move ahead, but it'll be good to find a pace that doesn't feel rushed for everybody.

Just wanted to get a bit of discussion on this before we move forward--it's a busy weekend on my end, and next weekend we put up an exhibition of 19th Century avant-garde material at CHS, in conjunction with the Liberté project. More on all of this later-! 

Saint-Simon (and friends)

The development of this group is bizarre, fascinating, and at some points chilling and detestable.
Starting with Saint-Simon, himself.  (a very rough sketch - please fill in missing details or correct me if I missed something.  This is not my own research, it's an abstract of one book on Saint-Simonism)

1760- born, Paris, to a family claiming noble heritage, with distant family lines to Charlemagne.
1777- enters the army, age 17.
1779- shipped of to America to fight in the war, age 19, sees substantial battle and conflict there during 5 campaigns.
1783- returns to France, age 23.  Takes up an interest in math and science, notably through the lectures of Monge.  Unhappy as a peacetime soldier, leaves the army and travels.
1789- returns to France again.  Invests in real estate and a factory and does very well by his investments.
c 1790s - Imprisoned (somehow related to investments?).  While in jail, Saint-Simon has a vision or dream where Charlamagne appears before him and says that everything he had accomplished in state and military as king, Saint-Simon will accomplish in philosophy, that Saint-Simon will be great within philosophy.
c 1795- Back in school, living in the Latin Quarter, studying various math and science-related disciplines.  Befriends many in Paris who are knowledgeable in these areas, while also associating himself with those who are in poverty or are living on the fringes of Parisian society.
1802- visits Geneva and writes his first pamphlet outlining his ideas.
1803- Publishes pamphlet.

The pamphlet: Introduces a social model for reorganizing wealth and social structure in europe.  Model is based on the socio-economics of the middle ages.  The main points:
- Reharmonizing Science (knowledge) and Religion (belief) to mend the broken relationship between them.
- Society organized into a strict hierarchy of three groups: Spiritual Power (the top), Temporal Power (aka politics, the middle), and Humanity (? couldn't find a clear name for this one, aka the working masses).
- Science basically is rewritten as religion; Simon wants to put scientists and mathematicians in the social roles typically held by priests and clergy.
- All science must reduce to one clear and fundamental principle, which Saint-Simon identifies as gravity.  Isaac Newton, therefore, will be made the founder of the New Religion and the figurehead of Spiritual Power.  His priests will be accomplished scientists, who will have their own temples, and each temple will have an academy attached for the teaching of science.
- Citizens will vote for their administrative leaders (who are above the level of citizen, but below the Scientist-Priests).  Both men and women will vote.  Elections every year. 
- Everyone must work.  Motto: "Tous les hommes doivent travailler." 

1808-  Second publication, in response to Napoleon's call for a summary or history of progress in society.  Simon writes that religion must exist to enforce social order, but he dramatically reconfigures the basic elements of christianity.  'Religion,' in his reworking of it, is basically the enforcement of a dominant idea by those in power, to control the uneducated masses.  Simon's ideas here take a horrible turn towards elitism and racism.  Humankind is moving, with each passing year (he writes), towards a greater state of perfection (and thus each year, leaving behind a lesser state).  People move towards perfection through the advances of science, but only the educated understand this.  He even suggests two separate religions; a public one for the people, and a secretive one for those in power. 
The most important idea, however, is that Paradise is not behind and in the past (i.e., a lost Eden), but is ahead and in the future.  Society is progressing towards paradise, and everything that happens is justified towards that end.  This idea goes on to influence Saint-Simonism several decades later, while many of Simon's other concepts are left behind by his followers. 

c. 1820s (don't have the date) Simon dies in poverty, without the money needed to launch a newspaper outlining his ideas.

There was also a third publication I haven't summarized....

....more to come later on Saint-Simonism

Thursday, November 1, 2012

On Utopian and Marxist Socialism

a micro-essay on utopian socialism that I wrote several months ago (from my personal blog, to be published by Lick Run once I get a formatted copy ready):
On Utopian and Marxist Socialism

The phallocentrism that Marxist hegemony established within socialism: Notwithstanding Marxism's alleged hostility to religion of any kind, it espouses an entirely orthodox religious conception of social change. The capacity for change is invested solely in a Revolution on the millenarian model: buttressed by an asceticism of the present (no real change until the universal proletarian uprising), a distance from the Ideal is maintained and deferred until The moment of Truth, The moment of overturning when everything turns inside out in one spectacular shudder of history, smashing and destroying the old order. The Revolution will come like God, separating the worthy from the unworthy, a kind of historico-celestial taxonomist, whilst the Proletariat, like the Four Riders of the Apocalypse, go about their fated business of establishing the earthly paradise. Whilst the utopian socialisms whose models were effaced by the Marxist hegemony, who so often (Saint-Simon, Fourier) framed themselves in religious terms, ironically conceived of change on a more materialist basis (in a sense hostile to Hegelian Idealist-Materialism to which Marx and Engels fell prey despite themselves), a more organic basis. The phalanstery as a seed, planted in the social soil; the transformation of society likened not to a tiresome Oedipal drama but to the planting of a forest, and the gradual symbiotic transformation of an environment.

Likewise, it is no wonder that Feminism, so central to socialist discourse early in the 19th Century, became a merely tertiary concern in the wake of Marxism, despite Marx and Engels being in no way hostile to its principles. Marxism is rigidly phallocentric, indeed it never ceases to conceive the phenomenon of Revolution in terms of a seizing of the centralised State-Phallus, a single orgasmic juissance that gives access to an entry into 'power' from the top of an inherited hierarchy, whose effects will then trickle back down to an abstracted populace from whom the energy had originated. 'We' will all share Power after the Revolution, but only by all being given a share of the phallus. And this Phallus-State will be directed by, infused with, an Ideology which will activate its power. What room is there in this vision for the diffused network of autonomous communities envisioned by other socialisms; for the slow and unpredictable growth of new patterns of life which, while sharing many structural principles and perhaps a common inspiration, nonetheless cannot be submitted to any central authority? To a model in which actual revolutionary practice is set in motion on microcosmic scale, to succeed or fail in the midst of what it opposes, without the intervention of the World Spirit, even in Communist form? A model in which, in the last analysis, the specificity of the commune, of the particular attempt—that which will resist both ideological speculation and the priority of numbers, of quantity, in designating 'success'—will ultimately determine the success of the revolution on every level. Despite its many insufficiencies, 'utopian socialism' posited a model of Revolution founded in the existent, in the Real, while 'dialectical materialism' posits a model of Revolution founded in the Imaginary, as always deferred, ahead—in the 'next life'.

Reading #6: Utopian Socialism

The CHS class has just gotten a bit ahead of us! My own fault, since I’ve been too busy to post.

So, I’m just going to go ahead and post the FINAL READING of Volume I, on Utopian Socialism, pp 166-192. 

This is a particular interest of mine, since it represents the ‘other path’ not taken by Leftist politics, the range of strategies, conceptualizations, and possibilities that were, to be honest, rather aggressively wiped out by Marxism and other insurrectionary models of socialism in the second half of the century. In aggressively dismissing utopian discourse in favour of exclusively insurrectionary models, the radical Left abandoned the concepts of peace, and of local autonomy, to the Liberals.

There are some obvious good grounds for a distrust of these models: a certain naiveté regarding human nature and especially concerning the resistance of invested powers to maintaining their hegemony; an absurdly rigid schematism in their systems, a wild emphasis on proscription rather than adaptability to evolving conditions or tactical metis; religious frameworks which (I suspect) may have been quite astute in the conditions in which they were formed, but which would have required a progressive atomization had the utopian tradition continued to develop in dialogue with the Marxist critique, rather than replaced by it; I would add to this the absurd claim to ‘inevitability’ that Fourier in particular adopted, but it was adapted by Marx and Engels as well, albeit with its inherent religious logic suppressed. In the case of Fourier, the utterly absurd nature of some of his prophetic conclusions—seven-foot-tall men, lemonade-flavoured oceans, life on other planets, etc.—made him very easy to discredit (though other conclusions, such as climate change, no longer seem as ridiculous as they once did, though the changes seem more sinister than anticipated).

On the other hand, there was a baby in the bathwater that Engels and Marx tossed out. While the economic and class analyses of Fourier and Saint-Simon have been superceded both by the mathematical and sociological rigour of Marxism and by the continual development of Capitalist society, the utopian model of social change presented a vastly different picture of society than the highly centralized, consolidated State-structure promulgated by most forms of Communism, especially after the ’71 Commune. (In a couple days I’ll post a little micro-essay on this subject that I wrote a couple months back). Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the utopian movements, in particular their rigidity and fantasizing natures, had their continued development not been crushed by Marxism’s insistence upon ideological hegemony, they might have developed (and, in the wake of the Marxist critique, could still develop) into more responsive, fluid, adaptable models in some ways comparable to current anarchist practice, along lines already implicit in the foundations of the Fourierist and Saint-Simonist systems. This perception is responsible for the interest taken by the Dadas, Surrealists, and Situationists in Fourier, and I would argue that precisely this re-thinking of utopian socialism can be discerned—fairly explicitly—by the Romanticist avant-garde, who took the term ‘avant-garde’ itself from a Saint-Simonist tract. But that comes along a bit later, in Vol. II…

In the meantime. Some prompts / possible research areas…

  • Though I’m not familiar with any Fourierist Phalansteries actually founded in France, there were a number founded in America in the 1840s and ‘50s. Most of them seem to have been very successful until shut down by opposition/ arson/ harassment by people from the surrounding towns and countryside. There’s surely a lot of interesting stuff to be dug up regarding these experiments.
  • While I am currently nearing the end of a fairly recent translation of Fourier’s Theory of the Four Movements (and Lily from the CHS class will be reading it for her critical paper in class), I was unable to find a public domain translation—only an anthology of ‘selections from Fourier’ which is highly selective. In particular, this explains why none of Fourier’s more outré predictions are in the Reader—most of his followers weren’t in a hurry to highlight these things. Even beyond that, many of his ideas which I find most applicable to real social practice—in greatly re-imagined form—could not be reproduced; and his system generally is so absurdly, delightfully complex that it can’t be given in a nutshell. Still, I’d be interested in how some of the ideas of these systems might be adapted to more realistic conditions, re-thought in useful ways. Sometime before the end of the year, I hope to give a Shadow School presentation in Roanoke explicating Fourier’s system and extrapolating some of its possible applications. Any ideas?
  • To my knowledge, NO BOOK WHATSOEVER by Saint-Simon has ever been translated; odd (perhaps) considering that the Saint-Simonists at one point had a large, successful commune in the middle of Paris (shut down by police raids on trumped-up “morality” charges), a newspaper with a circulation in the tens-of-thousands, weekly meetings attended by thousands of working-class and middle-class families, a network of free schools, food co-ops, and other projects throughout Paris, as well as comparable organisations in other large cities in France. So just about anything on the specifics of the Saint-Simonist movement is of interest.
  • Feminism was the central tenant of both Fourierism and Saint-Simonism; the latter eventually produced a Feminist splinter-group, who published a feminist socialist journal and several pamphlets while maintaining a food co-op, weekly reading groups for working-class women, etc. The only resource I know of for this fascinating group is the recently published Feminism, Socialism, and French Romanticism. Unfortunately the authors don’t seem to know much about French Romanticism, and reduce it, rather laughably, to textual analyses of one book by Rousseau (?!) and one by Chateaubriand. Notwithstanding, the historical information is revelatory and there are over a hundred pages of new translations by the women themselves.