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Giraffe and Anti-Giraffe: Charles Fourier’s Artistic Thinking

The writings of Charles Fourier (1772–1837) are a glorious fuck you to all that exists. Yet they are neither punk’s provocation nor the apodictic objectivity of Marxian dialectics, but an enculage of civilization through the filigree work of total world reinvention.

Marx complained that Fourier’s utopia was all in his mind, that he was obliged to construct a new society “with elements supplied by his brain” because capitalist production was underdeveloped when he wrote. But it is perhaps this appeal to reason rather than history that makes Fourier’s imagination so radical. Even today, it has not been bought and sold: there is still nothing that surpasses Fourier’s projected state of absolute Harmony.

For André Breton, who claimed Fourier for Surrealism in his poem Ode á Charles Fourier (1947), only minds as febrile and immoral as Fourier’s could possess the “extreme freshness” necessary to re-imagine the world in the aftermath of destruction: “Fourier they’ve scoffed but one day they’ll have to try your remedy whether they like it or not …” Breton was the first to consult Fourier after World War II, echoing the time when Fourier himself was writing in the early nineteenth century, in a Europe that had similarly collapsed in wars. There was not much available in his historical present that one could appeal to.

According to Fourier, the world is cosmically out of whack. He blamed the arrogance of the philosophers and the charlatanism of priests for having systematically repressed the passions, leaving humankind stuck in an incoherent civilized state for 2300 years. Faced with this universal misery, Fourier heralds the triumphant reign of a Harmonian cosmic order based in his science of Passional Attraction—the primordial, ubiquitous force that connects the whole in social series. According to this order, government must be based on a consultation of the passions since they essentially characterize the human being and its community. Conversely, a repression of the passions will result in hypocritical social institutions like marriage and the nuclear family, from which Fourier argued that women must be freed—and in fact, Fourier took the proto-feminist view that the measure of happiness was the degree of independence of women in society.

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