EMPIRES OF THE SUN: COLONIALISM AND CLOSURE IN LOUIS XIV'S 1662 CARROUSEL AND CYRANO'S LES ESTATS ET LES EMPIRES DU SOLEIL.
On June 5th, 1662, a procession of monkeys, bears, nobles, and slaves, spiralled through the streets of Paris in celebration of the glory of Louis XIV. Five Quadrilles of nobles, clad as Romans, Turks, Indians, Persians, and "les Sauvages de l'Amerique" were accompanied by men dressed as satyrs, tritons, and baccantes, their bodies coated in the skins of lions, leopards, tigers and monkeys, their hats and headpieces shaped in the forms of parrots, fish, dragons, and snakes. The procession entered in ritual formation into the present Place du Carrousel between the Louvre and the Tuileries, where the seventeenth-century subjects of an absolutist king held a three-day medieval jousting tournament. Even amidst a profusion of colonial images and peoples, exotic beasts and fantastic costumes, the king was represented as the serene and uncontested master of the world; each noble carried a shield bearing a device which affirmed his absolute subjugation to Louis Dieu-donne figured as the sun.
What is curious about the Carrousel is the prominent place given within this closed universe to those who have no access to power within it--to images of subjugated populations, to colonial rivals, to slaves. Rather than challenging Louis's serene, absolutist order, the exotic otherness of the extravagantly costumed princes, slaves, and animals, serves to celebrate the king's power. The potentially threatening plurality of images is enclosed in the systematic, subordinating hierarchy of the royal fete. If the first half of the Carrousel--the procession--celebrates and constructs the otherness of its exotic figures, the second half--the ritual assembly before the Louvre--rewrites the meaning of these images into a specifically French iconography that affirms the centrality of Louis XIV. This essay takes up the underpinning systems of ordering that allow the procession's sequential exotic images to be transformed into the static, fixed order of the ritual assembly before the Louvre.
That the components of each successive quadrille--field marshall, head of quadrille, nobles, retainers--replicate the king's order of parade binds Louis's Romans to the Duc de Guise's "Sauvages" with a seamlessness that glosses over the juxtaposition of exalted and abjected found within the procession:
76. Vingt-quatre Esclaves 77. Monsieur Chef de la quadrille Persienne 78. Les dix Chevaliers de Monsieur, suivis de quatre Esclaves ... 89. Vingt quatre Esclaves 90. Le Prince de Conde Chef de la quadrille des Turcs 91. Les Dix Chevaliers de la quadrille du Prince de Conde suivis chacun de quatre Esclaves(1)
Taming "the wild profusion of existing things,"(2) domesticating the grotesque but unremarked-upon juxtaposition of prince and slave, is the imperturbable numerical series chaining the two together, designating the position of each and every participant in the procession, and identifying the figures in the engravings for the unenlightened onlooker.(3) The slaves that follow in the prince's steps both are and are not out of place: simultaneously excluded and always already incorporated into the place attributed to them, the `alien' participants in the procession are inserted into a signifying chain that reproduces their identity, rewrites it, and disguises the violence of wrenching people and objects from their original contexts and inserting them in a new and totalized order. Within the closed order of the fete, no voice is permitted to articulate the origins and consequences of this exercise of power. The fete silences such commentary.
Against this order that refuses to give voice to any logic other than its own may be set the various perspectives on the multiple worlds encountered by Dyrcona, the peripatetic and persecuted libertine narrator of Cyrano's Les estats et les empires du Soleil, published in 1662, the year of the Carrousel.(4) If Louis's exploration of new worlds is materially linked to their exploitation and mastery, Dyrcona's quest for freedom in new worlds involves an explosion of the boundaries of the known. Dyrcona interrogates the techniques by which whole worlds are shaved off the map, other visions of reality are foreclosed, other beings are refused reason. Both on the Earth and on the Sun, Cyrano, like the Carrousel's bear, monkey, slave, is inserted into a series of signifying chains not of his own design, beyond his control, and is forced to suffer the consequences of these `other' trains of logic, law, or philosophy. It is difficult not to speculate on what Dyrcona--who in Lune is paraded through town as the "femelle du petit animal de la Reine," and in Soleil is displayed as a "sorcier" in his trial in Toulouse, and ridiculed and almost executed as an "Homme" in the Republique des oiseaux--might have had to say about the fabulous display of absolute power coupled with the ludicrous juxtaposition of exalted and enslaved in Louis's procession. Imprisoned by birds and put on trial for being human, Dyrcona recounts the workings of power as a victim of its logic, as an outsider subjugated to an order established by others. Far from holding out the promise of liberation from his position of `otherness,' Dyrcona articulates and rediscovers the same order of things. Dyrcona's narrative exposes and ultimately, inevitably, replicates the enslaving logic of the fete.
It is, of course, less than surprising that a fete held in honor of the Sun-King affirmed royal power; nor is it a revelation that a text written by a notorious libertine should challenge the closure of an absolutist regime. What is at stake here is not, however, the ideological positions taken by these texts so much as the ways both texts grapple with the limits of a Classical order that can neither entirely contain nor master the otherness of new worlds. How, in other words, can a (Old) world order be made to embrace a New World? Both the Carrousel and Cyrano's novel are obliged to construct sites which can accommodate the propinquity of irremediably different things, and strategies which can impose order on the intractible plurality of an expanding world.
Cyrano had been dead for seven years when the 1662 Carrousel took place. The posthumous publication of his Les estats et les empires du Soleil in the same year as Louis's Carrousel may thus seem to be nothing more than a random if curious coincidence. These two seemingly incompatible events--the publication of the text of a dead libertine and the celebration of the absolute power of an ascendent king and his newborn heir--can be seen, however, as kin. Underlying both is a vision of the desirable boundaries of the world, what defines these boundaries, and how they should be maintained. Accounts of the fete give a central place to the exotic but simultaneously strive to disguise any form of `otherness' that might contest the king's ideological centrality; this work of erasure may be juxtaposed with the tireless energy with which Cyrano's text endeavors to expose both what is excluded and the mechanisms by which it is excluded. The system of subordinating logic apparent in Louis's Carrousel is enacted through a series of rhetorical sleights of hand that distort the referential origins of the Carrousel's participants, transforming them into figures that illustrate the king's power. The object-made-sign has meaning only insofar as it assumes its place in Louis's royal grammar, only insofar as it relates back to the king. Cyrano's insistence on the concrete and material origins of objects creates a sort of anti-grammar that literalizes the rhetorical transformation performed by Louis's fete and exposes the strategies by which otherness is excluded from an absolutist order.
Occurring one year after Fouquet's arrest and Colbert's notorious "chasse aux nobles" and two years before the founding of both the Compagnie des indes orientales and the Compagnie des indes occidentales, the Carrousel of 1662 took place at a crucial moment in the transformation of a blood and land-based feudal economy of orders into a capital-based trading economy of classes that was increasingly obliged to turn outward in its search for wealth.(5) It was also a period in which the Crown sought to reorient its imperial ambitions. The 1650s witnessed the failure of several colonial ventures modelled after the English and Dutch trading companies, most notably the disastrous 1654 bankruptcy of the Guiana Company. The fact that more than forty such companies had collapsed between 1600 and 1661 understandably dampened public enthusiasm for such ventures.(6) The French Crown, meanwhile, was on the lookout for new sources of income. The exhaustion of the state's financial resources--largely dependent upon the taxation of agriculture--subsequent to the Thirty Years War meant that the customs duties and excise taxes from maritime commerce would be a welcome infusion of money. The French sought new ways to finance their ongoing wars with Spain; colonial enterprise had the added benefit of challenging their Spanish rivals in the New World.(7) The Carrousel and the publication of Cyrano's vision of "l'autre monde" took place, then, at a moment just before Louis XIV and Colbert start allocating significant resources towards the expansion of the navy and the commercial fleet. The Carrousel paved the way both ideologically and in terms of the social imaginary for the intense solicitation of the population--nobles and merchants alike--to invest in a new set of state-underwritten colonial ventures. The New World was the object of great speculation, and both Louis's Carrousel and Cyrano's novel bear the marks of a larger cultural endeavor to come to terms with order in an expanding world.
The Carrousel implicates the nobles in an exalted vision of colonial commerce. Traditionally forbidden to engage in commercial affairs, the nobles will be exceptionally permitted to invest in colonial companies (under the guise of Roman imperial conquest), "sans diminution de leur Noblesse, dignite, qualite, Privileges, Prerogatives et Immunites."(8) The ornately costumed nobles are sandwich board advertisements for the wealth to be extracted from the colonies--in particular, the Spanish colonies from which the bulk of the gold came.(9) The exoticism of their appearance and of their entourages is so entwined with the material products that support it that the two become inseparable in the descriptions. To take only one example, from the Duc de Guise's Quadrille of the "Sauvages de l'Amerique":
Sur la coiffure qui etait un morion d'or, rampait un Dragon de meme metal, qui soutenait deux cercles de brillants d'or, charges de plumes vertes & blanches, surmontees de trois bouquets en Aigrette, d'ou sortaient trois masses de Heron, qui donnaient quatre pieds de hauteur a cet habillement de tete, duquel une queue de plumes encore descendait sur le dos du Chevalier. Son Cimeterre etait d'or garni de pierreries, le fourreau a la Chinoise enrichi de meme, il portait une masse d'armes a ailes dores, 7 decoupees a jour, dont le baton etait entoure d'un Serpent au naturel (Perrault, 59).
As Perrault's meticulous itemizing suggests, no detail of the clothing is insignificant. Indeed, the descriptions of the costumes and the woodcuts illustrating them take up half his text. It is the arrangement of the various jewels and skins that constructs the exoticized image; green and white feathers, gold, rich stones, combine in a dramatic pastiche from which the image of a dragon emerges.
Yet, despite this proliferation of outlandish detail, the other is not so very other in the procession. Transformed into the visual pleasure of the exotic, the potential threat posed by such alterity is domesticated, the possible proliferation of meaning inherent in its undefined otherness reined in, restricted to a reflection of the king's glory. Crucially, the fete does not offer to the spectator colonial products in their raw, original state, but made intelligible by their rearrangement into Western sign systems. Even a tiger's "deux pieds de devant [qui] entouraient le col" can be transformed from threat to Western sartorial code when they are "nouns en forme de cravate" (Perrault, 56) [See Figure 1]. The descriptions of the costumes read like a bizarre high fashion show: "Les Estafiers representaient des Sauvages; leur vetement etait une peau de Tigre, dont la tete leur servait de bonnet ... cette peau qui etait doublee de satin couleur de chair, etait retroussee par les deux cotes, et s'attachait par derriere a la queue du Tigre" (Perrault, 56). The sartorial and the bestial are fused in a perturbing slippage of animal and human, although this is a distinction that Charles Perrault, in his accounts of the Carrousel, wishes to maintain; each description begins by noting "Les Estafiers representaient des Sauvages" (Perrault, 56, itals. mine). The insistence on the `true' role or identity of the figure--reaffirmed in the numerical labelling of all participants at every stage of the fete--comes to sound a bit shrill at times, as if the festivities, far from being transparent to the spectator, might obscure the true identity of the nobles.
[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
By contrast, some of the participants are not dressed up in a costume, but are there to "represent" themselves. What is remarkable in the depiction of the slaves leading bears and carrying monkeys [Figure 2], is precisely the absence of the kind of excessive ornamentation that encrusts the bodies of the costumed, "Savage" nobles. The presence of these slaves is jarring inasmuch as their unadorned bodies do not carry the signs of wealth, but in and of themselves both signify and are wealth. Far from being ornaments, the `necklaces' here are iron fetters linking monkey, man and bear. The graphic linkage made between the Moors, the monkeys and the bears involves the transformation of the train of the procession into literal chains; the bodies are bound together in a slippage that menaces the classificatory systems of human difference. The slaves are implicated in constructing new images of themselves; it is the dominated that produce the signs of their own domination. The labor involved in creating a celebration of Louis XIV's power is performed by precisely those whom Louis oppresses.(10) The jewels and skins worn by the nobles, the representation--but also the mere presence--of slaves, all function as signs of the king's power over the labor of countless peoples. The procession rewrites the identity of the participants by placing them in a context in which they are made to endorse their own exploitation.
[Figure 2 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
The transformation of goods into signs is facilitated by the absence of a referential figure to which to return. There is nothing to stabilize the fantastic descriptions of the fete, since the procession is like nothing anyone has ever seen.(11) The savage has no verifiable referential rapport with an actual figure, unless to be a "sauvage" is to be dressed in a dragon-skin costume, and this lack of symmetry between sign and object represented leads to a certain incoherence at the level of the text: the written descriptions do not lead to an image. Reading the enumeration of the jeweled ornamentation on the clothing leaves us with no picture of how the costume must look. Although we find that the king wore epaulettes composed of "quarante quatre roses de Diamants," three "bandes" of "120 roses de Diamants extraordinairement larges," the engraving alone transforms this inventory of the king's wealth into an image (Perrault, n. p.). The spectacular display of both domestic and colonial wealth reaffirms the king's rights over and control of its disposition: his role as distributor of largesse. For the jewels exist as signs of the king's ability to expend fabulous sums; they also, in the context of the exoticism of the Carrousel, attest to the king's sway over distant lands and infinite labor power.(12)
But the end-point of the procession, as well as of descriptions of the procession, is the ritual assembly before the Louvre, in which the roles assumed in the procession--whether satyr, triton, Savage, or Turk--are at last shed and each noble takes his allotted place in a specifically French hierarchy under the Sun-King. The Carrousel, which occurs in the wake of the 1661 trial of Fouquet for treason and financial corruption, is also meant to affirm the king's domination over his own people by reminding potential rebellious Frondeurs of their true, subordinate role in the French hierarchy. The nobles all bear devices on their shields, affirming submission to Louis the Sun-King: a submission articulated both in their guise as noble and as the `other' represented by the costume.(13) The fete strips its participants of their original appurtenances and meanings and inserts them into a closed system in which everything has always already belonged to the king.(14) The fete erases sources as it manufactures signs; it replaces the thing itself with a relational definition. The different meanings that may be assigned to the profusion of things in the fete are subordinated by a royal grammar which restricts each object to a part of speech in an elaborately constructed statement of absolutism. For what finally unites the radical heterogeneity of the fete--its Romans and savages, princes and slaves--is the king: he alone provides the link that renders the whole legible.
Even as descriptions of the festivities are broken into two parts--the procession and then the ritual assemblage on the jousting field--so too are there two systems of order at work in the Carrousel. As Jean-Marie Apostolides argues, the Carrousel involves a shift from the sequential, parataxical form of the procession to the circular, syntactical tableau of the assembly before the Louvre, a transformation that marks an alteration in systems of classification or order:
A la liaison parataxique des elements spectaculaires succede une liaison syntaxique. Les differents acteurs (les quadrilles representant les cinq nations du monde) sont ordonnes, mis en relation les uns avec les autres, comme les propositions de la phrase se trouvent, dans la langue classique, coordonnees par les operateurs grammaticaux. Le langage constitue un systeme de signes independant et arbitraire, libere d'un au-dela qu'il n'a plus a refleter. (Le roi-machine, 149)
Enacted in the move from procession to ritual formation, then, is the replacement of "the circular procession of the `show' with the arrangement of things in a `table'" (Foucault, The Order of Things, 131). Successiveness--the logic of parataxical links between objects--cedes before the subordinating interrelationships of a royal grammar, in which objects (here, the nobles) attain meaning through their differential relation to a centering object (the king) within a totalized system of signs (the world of the Carrousel).
Perhaps the best illustration of this totalized order is to be found in the Silvestre engraving of the assembled Quadrilles (Figure 3): fixed at dead center, immobile in his absolute centrality, the king anchors the entire tabula upon which this dazzling array of figures is assembled. Louis's nobles are distributed about him like spokes on a wheel, or the rays of the sun; sealed off in a hermetic system divorced from its referents, the participants are defined entirely according to their subordinate positions relative to the other inmates of the bubble. The creation of a closed system, both topographically and in the performance of the fete, generates a system in which signs and individuals derive their meaning through their differential relation to the only admissable centering sign (the king from whom all wealth and all position issues). The absolutist order of the fete operates through the usage of an `autonomous' system of arbitrary signs that divorces words from things--an arrangement made possible by what Foucault identifies as the epistemic shift that gives birth to the Classical order.
[Figure 3 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
The nobles' relations are defined from within a closed system, a system that disregards alternate contexts and metonymic definitions of their roles, chosing to focus everything on one unifying sign, a single source from which all meaning is derived. Identities in the Carrousel are deferential: they derive from and return to the king. The devices on the shields of the knights strikingly illustrate this subordination. The king's shield is "un Soleil qui dissipe les nuages, & tout autour cette inscription, Ut vidi, vici. Si-tost que j'ai paru, j'ai gagne la Victoire."(15) Such devices invite the transformation of the king into both the figure of the sun and the typological realization of Caesar--a kind of translatio impereii. The devices on the nobles' shields return to the centering figure, Louis, but Louis in the figure of the sun. The first member of his quadrille bears a shield with "Mirroir reflechissant les rayons du Soleil; & pour devise, TUA MUNERA IACTO. Je ne renvoie que ce que je recois de vous."(16) The succeeding devices repeat and refract this system in which concrete material relations between noble and master are rewritten into a sign system of symbolic subordination.
This transformation pervades every aspect of the fete. Hence the disposition of bodies of different ranks and origins in positions uniformly subordinate to the king, hence the rewriting of various cultures, costumes, bodies into the univocal language of the fete, hence the refusal to see--or at least to acknowledge--anything in the fete other than a reflection and celebration of the absolute power of the king. Power executes itself by pretending there is no outside to itself, no other option. What is key, then, in the Carrousel, is
not the relation of the sign to the actual reality it reflects or to the individual who is its originator, but the relation of sign to sign within a closed system already accepted and authorized. In other words, they are interested only in the inner logic of the system of signs itself, taken, as in algebra, completely independently of the meanings that give signs their content.(17)
At stake is a system divorced from its immediate referents, in which signs take on meaning through their relations with other signs that belong to the same system. To have meaning is to enter into the closure of the system; the source of the sign, its genealogy, its heterogeneity, does not enter into the differential inner logic of its final meaning. The f&e is the celebration of the fact that this closed system has been accepted and authorized. There are not--there cannot be--more things on heaven and earth than are dreamed of in Louis's philosophy.
Opposed to the Carrousel's frozen centralized universe is the diffusely fractured and fragmented text of Cyrano's Dyrcona. Whereas the eye is taken on a tour of the tabula of the Carrousel--there is a distinctive "maniere de montrer les fetes du Roi"--Cyrano's voyager bounces arbitrarily from one adventure to another, a "cosmic Slinkey condemned to perpetual motion."(18) It
is no coincidence that Cyrano's Dyrcona flees persecution in France and traverses great distances to see the "etats et empires du Soleil," whereas Louis XIV's "etats et empires" are transported to him and contained in the formal ritual and enclosed space of the Carrousel. Whereas the f&e employs colonial materials to affirm the Sun-King's empire over the totality of the known, Cyrano uses exploration of the empires of the sun to explode the limits of the known and seek liberty in an ever-open and expanding universe.(19)
Louis's fete generates a system that operates uniquely according to the inner logic of the signs relative to each other. Cyrano, by contrast, is bent on concretizing the signs--in Bakhtin's terms, "restoring the relation of the sign to the actual reality it reflects"--in such a way as to expose the "inner logic" of that system. In other words, Cyrano reasserts the reality of an object in order to disrupt a system in which objects and individuals are transformed into signs that derive their meaning through their relation to a centering sign: the King. Cyrano forces signs into contact with their meaning to the undoing of the wider intent of those seeking to use the signs. By fastening himself to the logic of a particular rhetorical figure and clinging tenaciously to the referential level of the figure, Cyrano subtly fashions a critique of the abstract and totalized world of absolutism.
At first glance, this argument seems highly implausible, since Cyrano, like other libertine writers, seeks to avoid persecution by deferring or disguising allusions to the extratextual world. Thus after an initial apprehension that the earth "tourne d'Orient en Occident a l'entour du Soleil" based on the succession of recognizable countries in his line of vision, Dyrcona's machine lifts him away from the political divisions defining earthly states: "je n'y pouvois plus remarquer separement les Estats, a cause de mon exaltation qui devint trop haute."(20) His entry is marked by a total blurring of borders, not only between one territory and another but between Dyrcona's body and the rest of the world. The reader oscillates between terrains with ill-defined referential boundaries that point back to earth yet never quite reach it.(21) The elimination of direct references to earthly political boundaries allows Cyrano to dissolve petty earthly squabbling into a larger cosmos and to make his critiques by indirect means: by figures that may be loosely related to earthly counterparts and by metonymic juxtaposition that leads the reader to his/her own conclusions. The totalizing system of signs represented by the fete appears in Soleil (for example, in the figure of the "peuple metamorphose"), but its appearance is conjoined with other possible systems, and its consequences are clearly set forth by the fact that Cyrano gives us the material implications of being caught in these systems.
Whereas, in the fete, all inexorably returns us to Louis, Cyrano constantly proposes a series of alternate centers and plural perspectives. What Cyrano insists upon is not that these other systems are better--repression and closure invariably surface in these other worlds--but that there is always another system. The arbitrary declaration that "there is no other" is always defined over and against another. So he grafts; he shifts contexts by asserting the material origins of an object or an expression in such a way that the balloon of interrelated signs deflates, betraying the constructedness of such closed systems of signs. Cyrano repeatedly concretizes metaphorical expressions--"la mort triste" to which prisoners are condemned in the Republique des Oiseaux springs to mind--even going so far as to create a closing cautionary tale. The young woman from the Royaume des Amans, unable to distinguish hyperbole or metaphoric language from literal descriptions of referential fact, believes that "ma veue blessoit dangereusement, que mes regards faisoient mourir, et qu'il sortoit de mes yeux de la flame qui consommoit les coeurs" (504-5). For the young woman, language is transparent to the point that there is only one possible reading; what she betrays is that readings are always multiple. The young woman's brand of reading would lead to swallowing the logic of closure whole, because she is only capable of understanding a la lettre, only able to extract one possible reading from what is set before her. In her own way, she is the ideal reader of absolutism--credulous, literal, and so fully engaged in the logic of the language she concretizes that she unthinkingly carries out its directives. This unitary vision of the world is implicated in systems of power that are based on a closure of sign systems--on a refusal to admit perspectives other than one's own.
While the fete seeks to deny the outside--in the logic of the fete, the outside only has existence on the inside, only exists inasmuch as it participates in the inside--Cyrano is bent on negating the unitary existence of the inside, on preserving otherness, on preventing that difference elided in the fete from being tamed. He does this by making both Dyrcona and the reader `other' in the context of the dominant system, which produces a series of misreadings that betray the vulnerabilities of interpretation. Dyrcona's introduction to cultures consists of his making mistakes and being corrected by a pedagogically motivated bystander--for example, when he assumes that a powerful eagle must be the ruler of the Republic of the Birds. The magpie who has befriended him makes clear that Dyrcona has not merely misunderstood the principles governing the Republic, he has "sotement cru, jugeant de toutes choses par vous" (469) that their Republic is identical to that of men. If it is not possible to escape one's own perspective, it must at least be possible to avoid projecting onto and reconstructing the unknown.
But the reader also comes to question whether, if every perspective has its inverse, the borders defining same and other, inside and outside, work:
Je vois votre esprit tendu a comprendre comment il est possible que je m'explique a vous d'un discours suivi, vu qu'encore que les Oiseaux contrefassent votre parole, ils ne la concoivent pas; mais aussi quand vous contrefaites l'aboi d'un Chien, ou le chant d'un Rossignol, vous ne concevez pas non plus ce que le chien ou le rossignol ont voulu dire. Tirez donc consequence de la que ni les Oiseaux ni les Hommes ne sont pas pour cela moins raisonnables. (464)
This sort of "man bites dog" reversal destabilizes the poles that define difference and undercuts the hierarchical values assigned to beings. Even as the fete is constructed to insist on a single unitary vision of things--we cannot see the Carrousel from the perspective of a slave in the procession--Cyrano's text is based on a vertiginous oscillation between perspectives that destabilizes their hierarchy as high and low. Thus Cyrano proffers the quarry's view of the hunt: "L'Homme," the birds complain,
nous egorge, il nous mange, et de la puissance de tuer ceux qui sont demeures libres, il fait un prix a la Noblesse; il pense que le Soleil s'est allume pour l'eclairer a nous faire la guerre, que Nature nous a permis d'etendre nos promenades dans le Ciel, afin seulement de notre vol il puisse tirer de malheureux ou favorable auspices, et quand Dieu mit des entrailles dedans notre corps, qu'il n'eut intention que de faire un grand Livre ou l'Homme put apprendre la science des choses futures. (473)
Here the relative hierarchy of bird and human is flipflopped to betray the assumptions underlying the human order, the way that a world order is constructed to reflect an androcentric perspective. "L'Homme" refuses to confer upon objects any end that does not conform to the logic of the human order. But in the process of making this critique, the Birds reveal their own "bird-centric" perspective: they perceive themselves as the center of the human universe. Not content with a mere reversal of perspective, Cyrano tries to unveil the means by which such perspective is constructed: the underlying values and classifications that normalize such systematic ordering. We notice grammar when there are errors, when its machinery is interrupted.
And Dyrcona does clog the `grammatical' systems of the worlds he explores. He not only experiences other worlds as an anthropological note-taker; his position as a libertine makes him a permanent outsider and this in turn invites persecution which thrusts him into the mechanisms of the systems he encounters. Dyrcona's condemnation as an "Homme" in the Republique des Oiseaux makes visible the violence of insertion into an alien signifying chain and its potentially lethal consequences. Even as in the fete the identities of the various "nations" and "others" are hypostasized in dragonskins and headdresses, in words like "sauvages" and "Maures," here the meaning of the sign of "Homme" is fixed as a category based on arbitrary characteristics and values: "Il n'a ni bec, ni plumes, ni griffes, et son ame serait spirituelle?" (466). In a cruelly ironic reversal of the earthly ordering of things, the problem is not banishment from the category of "homme" to that of "singe"--the perverse twistings of colonial anthropology--but rather inclusion in the category of "Homme." Dyrcona pretends to be a monkey to avoid persecution by the Birds, but is caught because he maintains the position of observer and fails to "contrefaire" the "singeries" of the birds that seek to trap him (468). Dyrcona is persecuted not because of his acts but because of his appurtenance to a category of rejected beings.(22) Deprived by virtue of his race and origins of access to the language of reason, Dyrcona is unable to defend himself both because the accused is not permitted to speak and because his attorney finds himself unable to defend such a horrible creature as man. What changes is not the workings of the system but the relative positions of the figures; in the Republic of the Birds, the birds master meaning. What matters is not what is said but who speaks and who understands.
Ultimately, Cyrano's target is less specific tactics or individuals than the human love of systems. "L'Homme," as one of the Birds argues during the trial, embraces enslavement. The fear of liberty leads to a slavish devotion to servitude to any sort of leader, however unworthy:
Encore est-ce un droit imaginaire, que cet empire dont ils se flattent: Ils sont au contraire si inclins a la servitude, que de peur de manquer a servir, ils se vendent les uns aux autres leur libertY. C'est ainsi que les jeunes sont esclaves des vieux, les pauvres des riches, les Paisans des Gentilshommes, les Princes des Monarques, et les Monarques memes des Lois qu'ils ont etablies. (472)
What terrifies humans most is freedom: "ils se chatouillent des fausses esperances de l'immortalite, moins par l'horreur dont le non-etre les effraye, que par la crainte qu'ils ont de n'avoir pas [ce] qui leur commande apres la mort" (472). The evil of human servitude stems not merely from the loss of liberty, but from the fact that it is sought by those too weak to order themselves. Humans look for order wherever they can find it; they embrace the very systems they should strive to escape and fashion the chains for their own minds. What Cyrano targets, then, is the objects humans use to delude themselves. He fastens himself to the purportedly immutable things that humans clutch for comfort and unravels their structure, leaving the reader with a security blanket that looks like an old rag.
Perhaps no object more than the Heavens served such a function, and the divinely ordered immutability of the sun, Cyrano's ultimate destination, was under attack throughout the seventeenth century. The question of a mortal and tainted sun was implicated in a huge scientific and epistemic controversy about the role of the Heavens in governing human destiny:
Une decouverte objective et une revolution psychologique dominent le monde savant du XVIIe. Cette invention n'est pas, comme on le croit communement sur la foi d'une histoire <<objectiviste>>, le systeme de Galilee, mais, avec Fabricius, Galilee et le P. Scheiner, la decouverte des taches du soleil. Car cette premiere decouvertela marquait la ruine de la doctrine des cieux incorruptibles ... les astres ne sont pas divins; cette decouverte fauche a sa base la justification que les philosophes naturalistes cherchaient dans la physique pour leur vision optimiste de la Mere Nature.(23)
Implicit in this is a whole vision of the world. The disappearance of the heavens as a stable, divinely ordained astrological system dislodges the human (and the king) from its androcentric position (the sky reflects our destinies) and leaves it vulnerable to astronomical, scientific discourse. Galileo remarks on this desire for immutability:
Pour les esprits speculatifs et libres ... il n'y a aucune difficulte ou repugnance a croire, a voir se produire de telles taches sur la face du Soleil lui-meme ... Pour les autres qui veulent inalterable la substance celeste ... je crois qu'il y a peu d'ennui de plus a les poser contigues au Soleil que dans un autre lieu.(24)
Galileo's delicately phrased letter carefully refrains from over-specifying his meaning: it is the nameless "esprits speculatifs et libres" who are willing to see the spots as attached to a mobile and stained sun; those who are not free spirits can pretend the sunspots are next to the Sun rather than "dans un autre lieu." Using similarly guarded language, Cyrano guilelessly remarks on the existence of sunspots--even going so far as to use one as a kind of highway rest-stop en route to the Sun itself. For Cyrano, as for Galileo, this loss of the comforting stability of a divinely governed heliocentric universe has implications for human freedom and servitude. The sun and the heavens serve an ideological function insofar as they prevent people from having to think too much. But in the process of making this far from innocuous critique, Cyrano also touches on another discourse in which the sun played a crucial role: the heliocentric ideology cultivated by Louis's regime.
The Carrousel is usually seen as the sun's inaugural moment in the iconography of Louis.(25) In his Memoires for 1662, the king recounts the genesis of the symbol:
On choisit pour corps le soleil, qui, dans les regles de cet art, est le plus noble de tous, et qui, par la qualite d'unique, par l'eclat qui l'environne, par la lumiere qu'il communique aux autres astres qui lui composent comme une espece de cour, par le partage egal et juste qu'il fait de cette meme lumiere a tous les divers climats du monde, par le bien qu'il fait en tous lieux, produisent sans cesse de tous cotes de la vie, la joie et l'action, par son mouvement sans relache, oh il parait neanmoins toujours tranquille, par cette course constante et invariable, dont il ne s'ecarte et ne se detourne jamais, est assurement la plus vive et la plus belle image d'un grand monarque. (Memoires, 137)
This singular, universal and uniform sun is unmarred by any deviation. The value of this symbol, however, rests on the suspension of the referential deviations of the sun--its insertion in precisely the closed universe in which sign relates to sign. Even at the level of the sentence, one sees the fete's hermetic, hierarchical logic at work: the linking of subordinate clauses that all lead to and from a sun (mentioned once) that is the source of all. Others exist on light borrowed from the sun--the sun is the center from which all things emanate to the "espece de cour" formed by the lesser stars nearby (a point directly addressed in the devices). Louis's sun is evenly distributed, serenely and eternally benevolent in its uninterrupted and undeviating movement; no inhabitants trouble this sun, no rivals, no contestation. This sun is "la plus vive et la plus belle image d'un grand monarque." In a sly reversal, the sun become the image of the king rather than the king the image of the monarch. The two terms of the metaphor are entwined, each borrowing stabilizing qualities from the other; meanwhile, the referential element of the figure drops out.
Always preoccupied with both scientific and political mechanisms, Cyrano will twist Louis's symbol into something quite other: his suns are plural, mutable and mercurial, in restless perpetual motion. And they die:
Mais ces Soleils a la longueur du temps ont fait une perte de lumiere et de feu si considerable par l'emission continuelle des petits corps qui font l'ardeur et la clarte, qu'ils sont demeures un marque froid, tenebreux et presque impuissant. Nous decouvrons meme que ces taches qui sont au soleil, dont les Anciens ne s'etaient point apercus, croissent de jour en jour: Or que sait-on si ce n'est point une croute qui se forme en sa superficie, sa masse qui s'eteint a mesure que la lumiere s'en deprend; et s'il ne deviendra point, quand tous ces corps mobiles l'auront abandonne, un globe opaque comme la Terre? (447)
Cyrano's description of the burnt-out suns become planets which Drycona passes en route to "les estats et les empires du soleil," leaves us with the charred husk of Louis XIV's immutable symbol of royal power. The ephemerality and multiplicity of the world, eclipsed in Louis's account, is perversely set forth in Cyrano. The sun is not inert but volatile and this destabilizes the stability of the heliocentric that Louis's ideology seeks to borrow. Cyrano critiques the logic and order of the rhetorical figures rather than directly attacking the logic of the referential world, and thereby implicates the reader in the production of any subversive meaning. In a shrewdly appropriative move, Cyrano compels the reader to decipher the relation between figure and figured and to work out the logic on his or her own. He concretizes metaphors or figures of language and then proceeds to follow the logic of the metaphor to its conclusion, while ostensibly leaving the object figured intact. But the object figured is transmuted by representation: the metaphor does taint the object. If the king is the sun and suns are neither unique nor immutable, then Louis cannot be represented as invulnerable and internal. By carrying Cyrano's referential logic to its apparent conclusion, we find one half of the metaphor (the sun) dislodged from its stabilizing position as center of the universe, and the other half (the king) by extension of the material implications of Cyrano's theory, damaged and eventually destroyed. For to assert the existence of suns that die or of multiple suns is to propose alternate centers of gravity, different sources of light, power, thought; it is to oppose the absolutist logic of timeless heliocentric rule which the f&e of 1662 is meant to elaborate.
But this model of reading has lethal consequences, both in the Carrousel and in the novel. Cyrano's argument must not remain in the realm of metaphor. Dyrcona's trial in the Republique des Oiseaux is the double of his trial in Toulouse: a "singerie" rather than a reversal of human values. That these "other" chains often turn out to be as binding as their earthly counterparts--the parallel is suggested in the text if not explicitly made--allows Cyrano to show the repressive machinery used by both terrestrial and heavenly powers while avoiding the sort of direct critique that invites repression. Dyrcona's sentence for being a man in the Republic of Birds (to be eaten by flies) will leave him as dead as does his condemnation as a "sorcier" in Toulouse. The logic is the same; the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Despite the delicacy of Cyrano's allusions to the referential world outside his text, the material implications of the signs he employs are constantly emphasized. When the twelve bearded Toulousians come to arrest Dyrcona for sorcery based on Cyrano's not-yet published Voyage dans la lune, his host, Coligny, can only laugh at the absurdity of their suspicions. Dyrcona is less sanguine:
Quoi que leur accusation soit ridicule, et possible un effet de leur stupidite, je ne serais pas moins mort, quand une douzaine d'habiles gens qui m'auraient vu griller, diraient que mes Juges sont des sots. Tous les argumens dont ils prouveraient mon innocence, ne me ressusciteraient pas; et mes cendres demeureraient tout aussi froides dans un tombeau, qu'a la voirie; c'est pourquoi sauf votre meilleur avis, je serais fort joyeux de consentir a la tentation qui me suggere de ne leur laisser en cette Province que mon Portrait; car j'enragerais au double, de mourir pour une chose a laquelle je ne crois gueres. (427)
Regardless of the justice or accuracy of the accusations, regardless of the innocence or guilt of the accused, the machinery of power crushes whatever and whomever gets caught in its mechanisms. The inability of those in power to penetrate the minds of the accused does nothing to arrest its actions. Only by being transformed entirely into sign--in the form of his portrait--can Dyrcona escape the material consequences of persecution. But signs are double-edged, since it is the signs already produced, in the form of Lune, that provoked the repressive mechanism of the Toulousian parlement in the first place. Rather than permitting flight into an abstract and cerebral plane, signs, in terms of both their grammar and their logic, compulsively return us to their concrete implications in the material world.
And these concrete implications are almost invariably associated with violence: the violence of exclusion, of enslavement, of death. What Cyrano's text exposes--and what Louis XIV's Carrousel seeks to mask--is the raw violence underlying the creation and consolidation of any regime of truth. The sealed universe of the Carrousel depends upon an interplay of signs in which all participants derive meaning through their subordinate relation to the king--a relation which mystifies the material relation of dominator and oppressed represented by the slaves in the procession. By refusing to admit the existence of any outside to its absolutism, the royal fete implicates those it excludes or enslaves in the reproduction of its logic. By contrast, Cyrano's Dyrcona seeks an outside to such crushing monologism in his persistent exposure of alternate systems. Dyrcona never realizes his ideal of freedom: he falls repeatedly into the clutches of different versions of the same potentially lethal logic. In the process, however, he creates a vision of other worlds that proffers a brief moment in which what is lost to an absolutist order may be glimpsed.
(1.) Charles Perrault, Courses de Testes et de bague, faites par le roy, et par les princes et seigneurs de sa tour en l'annee M. DC. LXII (Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1670), n.p. Further references included in text. For a description of the route taken by the procession, see Anonymous, L'ordre de la marche des cinq quadrilles du carouzel du roy et le rang, et le train que doivent avoir les Princes & Seigneurs qui les composent. Ensemble la route pour les trois jours du Carrouzel, & par quelles rues passeront les Quadrilles (Paris: Cardin Besongne, 1662). I would like to thank Joan DeJean and Juliette Cherbuliez for their generosity in commenting on drafts of this article.
(2.) Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Random House, 1973), xv.
(3.) Even the king has a number (63); his presence is not self-announcing, but requires an intervening label. The links between the representation of the fete and the reality it represents must not be allowed to slip; the king must infallibly be the king, unmistakable and eternal.
(4.) Cyrano's L'autre monde is composed of two pendant texts, Voyage dans la lune (1657) and the unfinished Les estats et les empires du Soleil (1662). Only in the latter is a name conferred upon the narrator, in which Dyrcona--which may be read as an anagram of Cyrano D--is persecuted as the author of Voyage dans la lune. When Soleil was written (probably in the late 1640s or early 1650s), Lune had not yet been published, although it had circulated in manuscript form. See Madeleine Alcover, La pensee philosophique et scientifique de Cyrano de Bergerac (Geneve: Droz, 1970), chapter 1; Alcover, Cyrano relu et corrige: lettres, "Estats du Soleil," "Fragment de physique" (Geneve: Droz, 1990).
(5.) The Carrousel has usually been read as a transition between a feudal and an absolutist order of power. See, for example, chapter three of Jean-Marie Apostolides, Le roi-machine: spectacle et politique au temps de Louis XIV (Paris: Minuit, 1981), and Sabine du Crest, Des Fetes a Versailles: les divertissements de Louis XIV (Paris: Aux amateurs des livres, 1990), 13-17.
(6.) Jean Meyer, Jean Tarrade, et al, Histoire de la France coloniale, des origines a 1914 (Paris: Armand Colin, 1991), vol. 1, 80. See also Philip Boucher, "French Images of America and the Evolution of Colonial Theories, 1650-1700," in Proceedings of the Western Society for French History 6 (1978), 220-28, and Boucher, "Comment se forme un ministre colonial: l'initiation de Colbert, 1651-1664," in Revue d'histoire de l'Amerique francaise 37, 3 (1983), 431-51.
(7.) French rejection of the violence of Spanish depredations in the Americas in part leads to an effort to color colonial encounters with the semblance of indigenous consent: the Carrousel, viewed in these terms, becomes a metropolitan version of the types of national-specific "ceremonies of possession" described by Patricia Seed as authorizing European appropriation of New World objects, their right to rule. See Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession in Europe's Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
(8.) "Concession a perpetuite des Isles Lucayes et Caiqus en faveur de M. d'Ogeron, ses Heritiers et ayans-cause. 1662," in Mederic Louis Elie Moreau de Saint-Mery, Loix et constitutions des colonies francoises de l'Amerique sous le vent (Paris: Quillau, 1784), 103. This formula is reiterated in almost all the grants from the period. Except for titles, the French has been modernized in all texts cited.
(9.) Apart from Canada with its thriving fur-trade, the French foothold in the Americas was tenuous indeed. The conspicuousness in the procession of gold and jewels, the spoils of the Spanish empire in the New World, invites spectators to broaden their conception of Louis's dominion--that is, the potential sphere of French colonial activity--from the risky terrain of Canada to other parts of the Americas.
(10.) As Louis Marin argues, "to be elegant is not only to show and be shown but also to show that a great number of people work for one.... The slave is a producer, for the master, of goods, which in turn are signs of the mastery of the master, and he can be considered by that as the operator of the transformation of the dominating force into the sign of that force, a transformation whose inner spring is the dominated force. From then on a discourse, understood as a particular system of signs, indicates at once a dominating force put into representation, a force reserved in and through the signs and a dominated and enslaved force that is the operator or producer of signs.... The utterances of the discourse signify quite diverse meanings, but all show the same point, and all the significations will never be other than digressions with respect to the unique point that all these utterances point to, that is, the right of the strongest to signify. In other words, all discourse harbors an indication of violence beside or on top of its signification." Louis Marin, Portrait of the King, trans. Martha Houle (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 26-7.
(11.) It should be noted that the names of these nationalities tend to slip from one account to another, suggesting that the significance of each group was not yet irrevocably tied to certain signifiers. Thus the "Indiens" in one account are elsewhere "Moscouites" and yet elsewhere "Armeniens"; the "Sauvages d'Amerique"--otherwise labeled les "Americains"--become "Mores" or "Maures." This lack of distinction of races becomes less common when a nationality either poses a specific threat to the French or sends envoys to Paris, as was the case with the 1686 and 1715 ambassadors from the Ottoman Empire and Persia. See Suzanne Boorsch, "America in Festival Presentations," in Fred Chiapelli, ed., First Images of America: The Impact of the New World on the Old, vol. 1 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976), 503-515.
(12.) Louis legitimates this expenditure in his Memoires: through the fetes, he writes, "nous tenons leur esprit et leur coeur, quelquefois plus fortement peut-etre.... Ce qui se consume en ces depenses qui peuvent passer pour superflues, fait sur eux une impression tres avantageuse de magnificence, de puissance, de richesse et de grandeur." Louis XIV, Memoires de Louis XIV pour l'instruction du Dauphin, ed. Pierre Goubert (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1992), 135. The fete is calculated, then, to play on the imagination of the spectator, who, assuming such extravagance to be but the tip of the iceberg, will subsequently augment the king's power by a hundredfold. Held during the "famine de l'Avenement" at the very moment of the Bourdonnais revolt, the Carrousel functions as a spectacular display of conspicuous consumption and wealth. But this fabulously ostentatious expenditure is not the absolute loss of potlatch, for the fete as if alchemically converts itself back into money. The early 18th century account of the duc de Luynes gives us figures for the expenditure and its recuperation: "M. Colbert dit au Roi qu'elle [the fete] couterait au moins un million.... Il vint de routes parts un nombre prodigieux d'etrangers. La consommation extraordinaire que cette affluence attira dans la ville augmenta considerablement les revenus de Sa Majeste ... et lorsque la Fete eut ete donnee, M. Colbert lui montra que loin de lui avoir coute, elle lui avait valu plus d'un million, tout frais faits." Marie-Christine Moine, Les Fetes a la Cour du Roi Soleil: 1653-1715 (Paris: Edition Fernand Lanore, 1984), 174.
(13.) Perrault suggests this interpretation of the doubling, while acknowledging that the organizers did not explicitly intend the Carrousel to be an hommage to the recently-born dauphin: "Ce n'est pas que cette Fete s'etant faire peu de temps apres la naissance de Monseigneur le Dauphin, on ne put dire qu'on avait eu intention de representer routes ces Nations, comme venants lui rendre hommage, & le reconnaitre pour celui qui doit un jour leur commander." Perrault, 2.
(14.) It is not even clear whether what you see is what you get in the Carrousel; the gap between what is seen and what is purported to be there is never specified. Hence it is unclear from the text whether the men are in fact slaves or merely dressed as slaves, whether the bears are authentic or men in costumes: thus Perrault tells us that of the "vingt-quatre Estafiers, douze etaient en Ours, & les douze autres les menaient habilles en Esclaves, ayant des Singes sur les epaules" (8). At other times, they are described as if they were the real thing.
(15.) Anonymous, Les devises de tous les princes et seigneurs du grand carouzel du roy; latines, italiennes, espagnoles, rendues en Francois. Avec l'Inscription de la grande Lice, aussi mise en Francois (Paris: C. Besongne, 1662), 1.
(16.) Ibidem. In the BN copy, the printed word, "Soleil," has been crossed out and the word "Mirroir" has been scrawled below it. The slippage between mirror and sun in the text suggests how easily reflection may turn to a subversive doubling. Unfortunately, the limits of this paper do not permit further commentary.
(17.) Mikhail Bakhtin, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (New York: Seminar Press, 1973), 57-8.
(18.) Joan DeJean, Libertine Strategies: Freedom and the Novel in Seventeenth-Century France (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1981), 56.
(19.) Cyrano does set portions of his Voyage dans la lune in Canada, but Gabriel Chinard, for one, contends that "On ne peut dire que les recits de voyages aient suscites aucune idee dans son esprit." Chinard, L'Amerique et le reve exotique dans la litterature francaise au XVIIe et XVIIIe siecle (Geneve: Slatkine Reprints, 1970), 192.
(20.) Cyrano de Bergerac, Les estats et les empires du Soleil, in Oeuvres completes, ed. Jacques Prevot (Paris: Belin, 1977), 446. Further references included in text.
(21.) It is thus unsurprising that there are no explicit colonial references in Soleil; the colonial references that bookend Lune (the contact with the governor of la Nouvelle France and the "Ethiopian" who carries the "fils de l'hote" off to hell) are absent from the second half of l'autre monde. Such traces may have been eliminated by the editor. Since no manuscript of Soleil has been discovered, it is impossible to verify what might have been erased.
(22.) Likewise, Dyrcona is saved in the Republique des Oiseaux not on principle, but because the birds never forget a good deed. They spare his life since he saved the life of one of theirs: a quid pro quo ethos that is a far cry from a utopian system of justice and liberty. The birds are plagued by the same blindnesses as the humans that they violently condemn: the belief in their own monopoly on knowledge, the sense that they alone have been given reason and immortality, the assertion that likeness to themselves is the qualification for equality.
(23.) Robert LeNoble, "L'evolution de l'idee de Nature du XVIe au XVIIIe siecle," in Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale , 117. For further discussion of the scientific interest of sunspots in Cyrano, see Erica Harth, Cyrano de Bergerac and the Polemics o[ Modernity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970), especially 72-80, and Jacques Prevot, Cyrano de Bergerac Romancier (Paris: Belin, 1977), especially 39-40 and 75-76.
(24.) Bernard Dame, "Galilee et les taches solaires," in Galilee: Aspects de sa vie et de son oeuvre, Centre Internationale de synthese (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1968), 220.
(25.) For the transformations of Louis's iconography, see du Crest, Des Fetes a Versailles: les divertissements de Louis XIV (Paris: Klincksieck, 1990).
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|Publication:||The Romanic Review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1998|
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