Enacting Utopia With A Fourierist Banquet
Yet the earth is in violent upheaval with the need to create. This can be seen from the frequent appearances of the aurora borealis, which are a symptom of the planet’s being in rut, a useless effusion of creative fluid, which cannot conjoin with the southern fluid as long as the human race has not carried out its preparations, and these can only be put into effect by the eighth society when it has been established.
That’s just a small sample from the mystic writings of Charles Fourier, the French philosopher, early socialist and feminist, Daoist descendant, prophet of Nature (having “yielded to her implicitly by studying attraction, the organ of her decrees”), and utopian architect born on April 7, 1772. I’ll be celebrating the anniversary of his birthday this year with a “Fourierist banquet.”
In The Theory of the Four Movements (where the above quote comes from), Fourier expounds on his visionary utopia – based especially on passions, attraction, and variety. In one section he applies his ideas to a quirkily egalitarian dining agenda:
These material pleasures that I describe are insufficient in themselves; it is not enough for the poorest among you to have a table better provisioned with food and drink than the riches of kings. The well-being that this provides, however real, will only ensure half the pleasures of the table. For although good food provides the basis, there is another no less essential condition, the judicious mix of fellow-diners, the art of varying and matching the parties, making them more interesting each day by creating delightful and unexpected encounters, assuring even the poorest people of spiritual pleasures which are never to be had in your normal household gloom.
Peter Lamborn Wilson first brought the idea of the ritualistic Fourierist banquet to my attention in the 1998 essay “Fourier!—Or, the Utopian Poetics,” an exploration of a potential “Fourierist religion.” (I’ve since learned that even some of Dostoevsky’s associates threw a Fouriest banquet – way back in 1849!) Wilson imagines a version of the Phalanstery (Fourier’s protean building block) in which the banquet, along with the orgy and the “OPERA,” constitutes one of the “chief modes of creativity.”
In the section of the essay which actually outlines the banquet, Wilson gives some background (Fourier’s cousin was the famous gastronome Brillat-Savarin), then mentions some of Fourier’s favorites – fruit (pears, melons, apples, and fruit compotes), mirlitons (little spiced pastries from Paris), etc. – and foods to leave out of the banquet:
Bread, except for very fine dinner rolls, seemed boring to Fourier, and the labor of raising wheat too dull; moreover, the sugar of the future will (due to aromal emanations) lose its ‘wormy’ unhealthiness. […] Omit Provencal-type dishes made with [chili oil], garlic, saffron ‘and other villainies,’ of which the Founder disapproved. Also note: ‘How many hidings have I endured (as a child) because I refused to swallow turnips, cabbage, barley, vermicelli, and (other) moral drugs, which occasioned my vomiting, not to mention disgust.’ Even if we happen to like some of these things, we’ll omit them in honor of the hero we celebrate.
Now, as a counterpoint to these omissions, as Roland Barthes points out in Sade / Fourier / Loyola, Fourier likely would not have enforced upon a banquet any food prohibitions based on taste of any sort. On the contrary, he would have made a home for everyone’s tastes. Using the example of couscous with rancid butter (a regional dish), Barthes explains that for one whose stomach didn’t agree with rancidity – that being Barthes himself – Fourier would simply send “me to the Anti-Rancid group, where I would be allowed to eat fresh couscous as I liked without bothering anyone – which would not have kept me from preserving the best of relations with the Rancid group….”
I’ve duly noted Barthes’ example for myself and whomever I can wrangle together on April 7; Wilson’s programmatic menu only serves us insofar as it enhances the fun and ritualistic aspects of carefully selecting the “right” dishes. (However, I should note his concluding advice: “Plenty of wine and cognac, and ‘ices, orangeade, sparkling wines.’ Table set with flowers. Twelve toasts, one to each Passion – and one more for the Founder.”) In the end, we get together to celebrate, discuss, and further explore the passions and possibilities of Fourier’s utopia.