The Hierarchies of Cuckoldry and Bankruptcy

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Publication: Review of Contemporary Fiction
Author: Suher, Dylan
Date published: October 1, 2011

Charles Fourier. The Hierarchies of Cuckoldry and Bankruptcy. Trans. Geoffrey Longnecker. Wakefield Press, 201 1 . 120 pp. Paper: $12.95.

From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, it is difficult to determine whether Charles Fourier was a singular, marvelous crackpot or simply a natural product of a now alien era. The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle: Fourier, who believed that a society properly organized into "phalanxes" of 1,600 workers would result in a universe so harmonious that the Antarctic ice shelf would melt, was distinctly a crackpot of his time. In The Hierarchies of Cuckoldry and Bankruptcy, Fourier makes a strict taxonomy of these two social disgraces, which he saw as linked. There are three series of nine categories of thirty-six species ("The Lover's Bankruptcy," "The Aliila Bankruptcy" "The Bankruptcy for The Fun of It") in the hierarchy of bankruptcy and three classes of seventy-two species ("The Cuckold by Quanquam," "The Virtuoso Cuckold," "The Banner-Bearing Cuckold") in the incomplete hierarchy of cuckoldry. To be fair, Fourier is in on the joke, and the description of each "species" is illuminated by his fine dry wit. However, The Hierarchies is satire, not farce; the humor forms a thin veneer over Fourier's deeply held and deeply peculiar social concerns (not to mention his obsession with numerology). While modern readers may sympathize with Fourier's disgust for feckless capitalism and unfaithful spouses, his anti-bankruptcy stance is based in a reactionary distrust of all commercial activity, and his specific objections to cuckoldry are as archaic as the word "cuckoldry" itself. Reading a document as removed from modernity as The Hierarchies is like viewing a map of a forgotten country, labeled according to an indecipherable legend. Left to wander the foreign landscape, we are freed from the puzzle of the historical Fourier, and left only with the strange, exceptional human being that Fourier undoubtedly was. [Dylan Suher]

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