Charles Fourier, Turning Daily Drudgery Into Lemonade
After mentioning Peter Lamborn Wilson’s interesting approach to Nerval, I ended up re-visiting some of Wilson’s other writings about religion and spirituality, including “Fourier! – Or, The Utopian Poetics.”
In it, Wilson applies poetic treatment to another eccentric 19th-century character from France, Charles Fourier, who variously fit the following titles: Utopian philosopher, equal rights crusader, feminist (he gets credit for having coined the word feminism), skeptic, anti-capitalist, logothete (in the literal sense, “one who sets the word”), architect, and visionary. He also believed that with the right turn of events, in due time, the oceans would turn into lemonade.
Fourier developed a detailed theory of an ideal society, based on passions, cooperation, variety, union with nature, cosmology, and Cabalist analogies. This society would consist of communities called “phalanxes,” each organized by a building structure known as the Phalanstery. Remarkably, Fourier’s ideas took root and led to the actualization of a number of intentional communities, especially in the United States. (Wilson believes that at one point between 1843 and 1858, there may have existed up to a hundred different phalanxes in the U.S.) The most notable ones included the North American Phalanx, the Transcendentalist-inspired Brook Farm (with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s involvement), the colony that would one day become Dallas, Texas, and of course, Utopia, Ohio.
In one of the most fascinating sections of Wilson’s essay, he places Fourier in context in Taoism:
“[T]he Taoist emphasis on spontaneity, work-as-play, wealth, health, longevity, sexual ‘alchemy’, complex cuisine, and even sensual pleasure . . . accords well with a Fourierist religion. K. White points out in his intro to the Ode that when Fourier excoriates 3000 years of Civilization for ‘struggling insanely against Nature,’ and boasts that he is ‘the first to have yielded to her,’ he is speaking only for Europe, while in the Tao Te Ching one may read ‘Let Nature take its course / By letting each thing act in accordance with its own nature, everything that needs to be done gets done / The best way to manage anything is to make use of its own nature / For a thing cannot function well when its own nature has been disrupted.’”
The Taoist connection shines light on at least one way in which Fourier can be of value to us today. For while his ideas are not always practical (in addition to the phalanxes, see Raoul Vaneigem’s “Total Self-Management” for a more practical version of one of Fourier’s utopias) or rational — his belief in the becoming-lemonade of the sea was based on a lot of speculation, to say the least — the imagination that he poured into his ideas, channeled toward ideals such as equality, health and wealth, and working with the natural world, can serve as inspiration when our own ideas grow stagnant.
In an age when corporate interests dictate much of our living world’s interactions, perhaps a fresh and radical approach to practical matters, along with a healthy hope for lemonade, can lead to a better life.
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