The following is excerpted from The Spectacle of Disintegration: Situationist Passages Out of the 20th Century, published by Verso.
If most civilized philosophies are just castles in the air, then why do they not at least have orgies going on inside them? There are not a few pedants who prostrate themselves before this or that philosopher's airy erection, who admire its rigor, who have slaved so hard to peer into its many rooms that they cannot but defend its stature, even if it means they have to explain away said castle's torture gardens. Charles Fourier too may be a castle in the air, but he takes pains to equip his with parade grounds and covered walkways. He even keeps the noisy spaces for kids away from the quiet ones for grown ups. Violence, for Fourier, is a failure of design, of both built space and social relations.
Rural life with his nieces in Talissieu at first seemed designed to please Fourier, but in the end proved to be somewhat trying. It is hard to know how much of a good time his nieces were really having with the dashing young officers who came so often to call. Fourier claimed to have stumbled upon a young officer with a hand up one young lady's skirt while his other niece watched them. Fourier felt they should be free to fuck whom so ever they wanted, but their hypocrisy galled him. When he confronted them they feigned to be offended by the mere suggestion of anything improper. He also suspected the young officers were not as gallant as they claimed and would abandon they young women when they proved inconvenient.
In any case, it all went badly in the end. These circumstances did inform the writing of what may well be Fourier's impossible masterpiece, the New Amorous World. It would not see the light of day until 1967. Perhaps it can be read then as a sort of belated Situationist classic. Writes former Situationist Raoul Vaneigem: "I was so fascinated by it that I re-printed some fragments of it (with an introduction) while [I was an editor at] at Payot's." Those efforts not withstanding, it is still a little known queer theory classic.
Fourier's fragrant mix of elaborate social imagination and porn was something of an embarrassment to his later followers. It was not without precedent, however. Fourier sets his new sexual order on Cnidus (or Knidos), the Greek city famous for Praxiteles' statue of Aphrodite removing her clothes. It was where Newton discovered a fine statue of Demeter, and also the setting for a work by Montesquieu on chaste and sincere love. The courtly love tradition had imagined ideal household constitutions for the romantic life. Something like it can be found also in Rabelais. Both Restif de la Bretonne and the Marquis Sade imagined universes arranged around sexual pleasure, and like Freud after them, saw sexual passion as the antithesis of the social. What is distinctive about Fourier is that he imagines the social as entirely composed out of the passions. He refused the erotic Jacobinism of universal monogamy. His passionate social order is not one of a universal but singular love, but rather one of the diversity and difference of the passions.
Vaneigem: "Sensual intelligence will bring about the classless society." This is a Fourierist sentiment. At heart Fourier wants to be an erotic umpire of passionate games, not a political economist. His most beautiful writings, on the New Amorous World, are a unique kind of philosophy of the orgy, or systems theory porn. As a pornographer Fourier is interested in the tableaux, the staging, the ritual, rather than the actual fucking.
The world of Harmony satisfies a sexual minimum for all. Every ‘monogyne' (with one dominant desire) can get his or her rocks off. Fourier is no egalitarian. He is barely interested in describing such paltry pleasures. It's the baroque world of the omnigynes that attract him, with their polymorphous play on the whole twelve passions. Fourier considered himself an omnigyne, and hence his porn had to arouse all twelve of the passions, not just the passion for "touch-rut."
Philosophy is too concerned with ambitious or major politics, and not enough with amorous or minor politics. If Marx plumbs the limits of political philosophy in political economy, Fourier finds it in an amorous economy, but one where amour is neither private nor at odds with the world. Vaneigem attempts a curious synthesis of these two critical filters, but one where the Fourierist mesh is the finer. In modern civilization, "the space-time of private life was harmonized in the space-time of myth. Fourier's harmony responds to this perverted harmony. As soon as myth no longer encompasses the individual and the partial in a totality dominated by the sacred, each fragment sets itself up as a totality… In the dissociated space-time that constitutes private life – made absolute in the form of abstract freedom, the freedom of the spectacle – consolidates by its very dissociation the spatial absolute of private life, its isolation, its constriction." In place of which Fourier imagines a new harmonization of desire and the social, and a new built form, the phalanstery, in which public and private are no longer spatially separated, and no longer need a phantasmal mediation via the spectacle.
Why is love the passion the philosophers want to admit the fewest possible bonds, when one is supposed to love one's brother, be a citizen of the world, and so on? Sexual politics means something quite specific in Fourier's world. There's hardly any point in politics in its civilized senses. In a decentralized world of plenty, there's nothing to fight over, no point to empire. Capital, labor and talent cooperate rather than struggle against each other. Politics is the domain of the cabalist passion, of intrigues and factions, rivalry and collaboration, but the stakes are largely symbolic. Some are richer than others in Harmony, but here social stratification is not a mere mask for class. The real contest is for prestige and renown. Sexual politics is a game of sensual largess. Its currency is attraction, but the point of the game is not to hoard and covet, but to dispense and distribute the favors of the favored.
The quadrille is a dance that requires a refined coordination of the dancers. Fourier imagines an erotic quadrille of sixteen persons. For this quadrille "orgies are prepared by the minister and female pontiff who arrange delightful reunions and cumulative sympathies that heighten each other." Pleasures accumulate and ramify in memory, ours and others. It is an economy of reputation, where liaisons are structured to produce harmonious results. The quadrille heightens all the particular passions through their combination, added to which is the pleasure of unityism, which heightens all the other passions as well.
Rather than random encounters, the new amorous world is one of "harmonic polygamy" Fourier: "The result is very brilliant orgies that furnish charming illusions and precious and durable souvenirs." Participation is not a sacrifice, but a heightening of pleasure. As in the quadrille as a dance, each adjusts to each other, pleasures the other, only some will distinguish themselves more than others. "All men and women who have worn a cross in the court of love advance in steps proportionate to the number of foci they have formed." Its perfection would be the omnigyne quadrille, composed of thirty-two persons whose distribution of passions is the same as the thirty-two planets.
Fourier is a little coy about revealing how the quadrille really works to readers shackled by civilized morality. Its clear that what he calls pederasty and lesbianism are included as expressions of the passions. But perhaps what's more interesting is that he understands difference in desires not so much along the straight/curious/gay continuum, as within a more complicated space of possibilities. Its more about which, and how many, of the passions are dominant.
For instance, a pentagyne straight woman, who has five dominant passions, might require encounters with five monogyne men, each of which corresponds in his dominant passion to one of hers. Of course monogynes rank low in the scale of erotic reputation in the quadrilles. The omnigynes, fully alive to all twelve of the passions, are most likely the ones in demand, acquiring reputation, and eventually playing the roles of conductors of the dance. Fourier upends the moral judgments of civilization. In the erotic quadrille, the sluts rule.
Civilization treats sexual space as a hierarchy of values, with straight monogamy at the top and random fucks at the bottom. The realm of sanctioned sexual practice is a hot topic, but it is really just about where to draw the line. Serial monogamy might be okay for some, a period of random dating among the young before they settle down, perhaps. Maybe its okay for people to have sex outside marriage once the kids are out of the house. Maybe one incident of cheating can be forgiven, but not if it's a habit. Maybe gay people can be allowed in the hierarchy of sanctioned sex if they form monogamous relationships like everyone else. And so on. In civilization, the realm of the acceptable distinguishes itself from two things. At one end is the prude, who denies and represses sexuality. At the other end is the slut. If virginity is not as prized by the civilized as it once was, fucking around is still not acceptable, particularly for women. Its random, infectious, a threat to civilized order.
Fourier dispenses with this whole stigmatizing of the space of sexual possibilities. There are no straight-gay, prude-slut, or order-random axes to his sexual universe. There is only the twelve passions, and variability as to which and how many of the passions are active. Harmony is the game of combining the passions. Its true that his world is hierarchical, and it is tempting to say that the sluts are on top, but that isn't quite it. Omnigynes are favored in Harmonian sexual politics, but all sexuality is played out in the form of elaborate games. What's valued is the richness of passionate attraction, and the philanthropy with which talent is dispensed.
The most extraordinary sentences, a porn of the relation, not of the act, follows from this, viz: "The two foci first elect the four cardinal sub-foci of the quadrille; these are the four who are loved in title of favoritism and unityism. Then each one elects, from fourteen loved ones, seven that are pivotal in high scale and seven in low scale. Next are elected four ambiguous in low scale; the surplus from the twelve major and the twelve minor keys, of which seven are pivotal in each octave." This is what is truly remarkable about Fourier: the ability to imagine a relational pornography, where all social contacts are pleasurable and engage as many of the passions as possible. It is a heretical reversal of perspective of liberalism. Rather than sacrifice the body to labor in order to sustain a survival in which some modest pleasure might be endured at the margin, the whole social field can engage all of the passions all the time.