The New Amorous World
I. The Calculus of Harmony
III. Manias Relating to Love
IV. Passionate Attraction: Attractive Work
V: The Archibras: The Arm of Harmony
VI: Passionate Attraction: The Court of Love
VIII: Blind Savants
SATB chorus, 2 horns and harp
duration: 24 minutes
The New Amorous World was commissioned and premiered by Cantori New York, Mark Shapiro, conductor, on May 3, 2014 at Park Avenue Christian Church, NYC.
I was first introduced to the work of the French utopian philosopher Charles Fourier (1772 – 1837) through my father, Jonathan Beecher, a history professor at UC Santa Cruz, whose doctoral dissertation on Fourier evolved over the course of 20 years into a 600-page biography. Fourier’s writing teems with wild ideas couched in a strangely methodical style. He imagined bacchanalias of free love organized to the last detail. Seemingly preposterous ideas, like a belief that we would develop a prehensile tail called an Archibras many generations into utopia, coexisted with intricate models, lists and timetables of day-to-day life. And though Fourier’s trust in the better side of human nature often seems frustratingly naive, some of his beliefs seem profoundly forward thinking. Here was a thinker who at the turn of the 19th century was an ardent proponent of women’s rights, gay rights, and to a certain extent, gender self-identification. There is a joyous, optimistic spark in Fourier’s work that stands in stark contrast to the realities of life in revolutionary France in which he came of age.
Though we may not spend our lives mentally organizing utopian fantasies, we all think about ways in which the world could be better. Reading Fourier’s strangely sympathetic mix of the pragmatic and fantastical made me question my own dreams for the world: which of my ideas will seem naive and which will seem profound in 200 years?
For all of Fourier’s idiosyncrasies, he recognized the difficulties and pain of society around him (which he refers to as ‘Civilization’) and presented a solution (which he called ‘Harmony’). Central to Fourier’s vision was the idea that attraction, both to each other and to our work, could serve as the foundation of societal order; quite an alluring idea! There are many aspects of Fourier’s ‘Harmony’ that are funny or ludicrous, and I tried not to shy away from these, but my goal in this piece was to present glimpses of Fourier’s utopian vision with sincerity, not irony. Maybe we need more naiveté in this world?