Charles Fourier on the Papillon, or Butterfly Passion

[A bit from Charles Fourier’s Passions of the Human Soul, dealing with dinner parties and the passion for variation, the papillon. Some of Fourier’s influence no doubt comes through in Stephen Pearl Andrews analogy of the dinner party.]

According to the property common to the three distributives, the papillon is of two species, distinguished into contrasted and identical.

1st. The contrasted papillon arises from transitions from one extreme to another. For example: a company of sybarites, accustomed to sumptuous banquets, will eat with great pleasure in a cottage, rustic fare,—milk and fruit served up in earthern vessels; they will find in this frugal repast a piquant contrast with their habits; the wooden spoon and the black bread will have the charm of novelty for them, and their collation in the cottage will be more gay than drawingroom festivals. If it were necessary to prolong this rural pleasure eight days, it would become a punishment; but limited to a sitting, it is a diversion for this fine company, and very fit to put it in spirits. Whence you perceive that the papillon has the precious faculty of making something out of nothing; for you cannot imagine anything less, for people habituated to china and plate, than a repast of milk and black bread, served up in earthern vessels and eaten with wooden spoons.
2ndly. The identical papillon is a variety in pleasures of the same species, as dinner. We take pleasure in a dinnerparty of friends; but an adage says: “Ennui was born one day of uniformity.” This friendly dinner party must be varied every day as well by the assortment of the guests as by that of the dishes. A dinner party of friends may please three days consecutively, and provided there are some varieties of dishes or of guests; but it will be necessary to vary it the following days by a dinner of corporation, a dinner of strangers, a family dinner, a dinner of gallantry (diner galant), &c., &c. Without this variation, the most friendly dinners will become flat by uniformity, or at all events they will lose a part of their charm, and it is a great fault in harmony to wear out or blunt pleasure. The passional series have no other end than that of keeping alive, of sharpening every pleasure by judicious and varied use, either by contrasts, or by the identical varieties that I have just denned in treating of the two meals, one of which, taken beneath the thatch in earthern vessels, is a varying in contrast, and the other, diversified each day as regards the companies of friends and the cheer, a varying in identity.
Let a pleasure be varied by contrast or by identity, the variation is always subject to two modes, which are:—The gradative and the improvised.
The repasts that I have just described in the preceding paragraph would be an enjoyment of gradative papillon, since they would be formed successively of friends, of corporations, of illustrious strangers, of people of gallantry (monde galant), Sec.
The pleasures of improvised papillon are emotions unexpected which occasion an extreme surprise, as the repayment of a debt that you had given up for lost, the arrival of a friend whom the public represented as dead; in these different cases the unforeseenness doubles the pleasure, and procures two enjoyments instead of a single one. Such is the effect of a meal that soldiers find ready served in a post they have stormed, or that sportsmen unexpectedly meet with in the forest by the forethought of one of the party, who takes good care not to apprize them of it; for, by announcing it, he would destroy the charm of surprise, and would diminish the pleasure by one-half—instead of a contrasted improvised papillon, he would only give them a contrasted papillon
On recapitulating, it will be seen that the papillon is of two species, whereof each is subdivided into two modes:—
  • The gradative contrasted.
  • The improvised contrasted.
  • The gradative identical.
  • The improvised identical.
It is only in the passional series that you can every day procure papillons thus varied. For want of these varyings, pleasure is subject to become stale; witness that of a seraglio, which is hardly able to excite the enthusiasm of a sultan, though the seraglio was only invented to procure the pleasure of papillonism for the sultan. It is not found in the harem, because this assembly does not fulfil the conditions indicated further back in connection with the species and modes. Our sybarites more or less fall into similar staleness. You hear them complain of languor and want of illusion, when you would have thought them drunk with delights and rapt in the forty-fifth heaven.
It is not only in pleasures, but likewise in labors, that this want of variety must be examined. The labors in harmony are but one and the same thing with pleasures, since all labor ought to be attractive. Accordingly, the harmonians make no distinction between labor and pleasure. A dinner session and a labor session are nothing but two amusements in their eyes.
But recreations themselves are tiresome and injurious if you prolong them beyond two hours without interruption. Whatever enthusiasm may prevail in them, will not sustain itself beyond two hours, according to the laws of the composite. It is necessary, therefore, in order to keep up variety, and prevent excess and disgust, that the labors should be sufficiently numerous to relieve each other, at the latest, every two hours, and frequently every hour, with agreeable surprises; for there would not be regular enjoyment of the eleventh passion called papillon, if the varieties of pleasure were not at one time gradative, at another improvised.
Such is the kind of life that every one leads in harmony. The employment of the day is distributed there in little sessions, all well varied according to the rules of the papillon. This kind of life that prevents all excess, all ennui, is one of the means which in harmony will raise the human species to a prodigious vigour.
In civilization, the people, exhausted by the want of variety, by the monotony and the excess of a same kind of work, employs two days—Sunday and Monday—to refresh itself, and drown itself in wine, to console itself for five days of industrial punishment. In certain countries, like Sweden, the people only work three days per week, so greatly is it wearied of the civilizee regime, that has the vice of neither varying labors with the people, nor pleasures with the opulent class.
Accordingly, you see the latter class incessantly give in to excesses, such as festivals of four or five hours’ duration, balls lasting through the whole night, and labors still worse, from their interminable sessions devoid of attraction. But the civilizee state is not made for this pleasure; consequently the civilizees use it as the camel uses water, whereof it drinks for thirst past and future. These excesses hinge upon the penury of enjoyments. The repast or ball would not be thus prolonged if other pleasures, equally lively, offered after two hours time.
One of the principal remedies for excess would be, to secure a full development of the papillon. Harmony will have to procure for every man, woman and child a mass of pleasures sufficiently numerous to relieve each other constantly. That is to say, that after having partaken in the course of the day of a dozen enjoyments, you may be able to enjoy the next day others in like number, but with variety of contrast and identity, successive or improvised, according to the table given further back—a table to which would have to be added, moreover, conditions of progressive development, whereof mention will be made in the chapters on the focal passion. But to speculate here upon variety alone, which is the object of the eleventh passion, it is clear that, in supposing the sessions of pleasure confined to a dozen per day for the poorest of men, they will have to be relieved by thirds, and to have in reserve at least four new pleasures for the next day, as many for the day after, and a similar varying distributed over the days, the weeks, the months, the years, the lustres, the phases, and the whole course of life.
The exercise of the papillon would be hindered, and there would exist no harmony of passion, if the eleventh that requires these varieties, had not its full development.
Amongst the most boasted enjoyments, there are some that soon become blunt, can only excite enthusiasm once or twice, and must be lost sight of for a long time to re-appear with advantage. Their supply must therefore be countless, if you want to vary them according to the rules of the papillon. Habit renders the most delicate viands insipid to us, and the human species being exposed to be “used up,” more or less, in connection with every habitual pleasure, it is not overrating it to estimate at a third the renewal that the enjoyments must receive every day, in order to secure to the papillon a full development, for which purpose everything has been well prepared by God in the mechanism of harmony.
It is not only to human beings, it is to the whole of nature that the use of this passion extends. I have observed that the purely material beings are subject to it as well as animate bodies; thus a field requires to vary its productions, and dislikes to receive, many years in succession, the same kind of seed. The grain, on its side, does not like to be sown in the field that has brought it forth; it degenerates in it, and requires the alternation of soil. Plants require that you should reproduce them alternately from bulbs, from grains, from sets, from grafts, & they become degenerate if you neglect this precaution of varying. The races of men* and of animals are subject to the same want; they are beautified by crossing, and debilitated by keeping to one line.
Thus all nature is animated by this passion for varying and papillonism, which is the sovereign vice in the eyes of the philosophers, the friends of black broth and of uniformity. You must observe carefully that the passion for variety is a want, and not a whim. Every one knows by experience that after having lived some time at a table uniformly served, the stomach remits and slackens its functions, notwithstanding the salubrity of the viands; and the day that you pass to a table with different cheer, you are sure to digest more rapidly, though you may eat more. The stomach, as well as the heart and the mind of man, experience, like the whole of nature, the want of varying, especially in love matters, so inclined to follow the laws of the papillon, and to desert the conjugal standard. Our ballad writers have sufficiently preached on this head the power of the eleventh passion, and it is meet to cite in this place one of their couplets:—
“Je le tien de tous lea epoux,
Tel est l’effet du mariage,
L’ennui se glisse parmi nous,
Au sein du plus heureux menage.
“Votre femme a beaucoup d’appas,
Celle du voisin n’en a guere;
Mais on veut ce que l’on n’a pas,
Et ce qu’on a cesse de plaire.”
If the philosophers had analysed the passions, and especially the papillon, the cabalist, and the composite, which are three passions antipathetic to the incoherent household, they would have come to suspect that this tie, which places families in respective isolation, is opposed to the nature of man; and that civilization, which clashes on all hands with the three distributive passions, is in its whole character the antipode of destiny, since it cannot admit the exercise of three passions, whereof the attraction is so powerful, especially that of the composite.
* It is said that the Scotch and Spanish nobility, which have been in the habit of intermarrying in the same family, have become greatly degenerate; whereas the Persian magnates have become an improved race, through the introduction of Circassian and Georgian slaves in their harems.—Translator.
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