Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Flora Tristan, Messiah and Pariah

"God will doubtless pardon you, for you know not what you do, but we will not listen to you, for you know not what you say!"
I've just posted a fairly finished translation of Flora Tristan's posthumous work, The Emancipation of Woman, or, The Testament of the Pariah. It's a strange work, probably in part because it was finished by Alphonse Constant (better known as Eliphas Levi), at a time when Constant had moved on from the neo-Christianity of the Saint-Simonians, but had not yet embarked on his more famous career as an occultist. He writes in the text about his struggles to complete the work. But I suspect most of the strangeness of the text came from its primary author, Flora Tristan, who presents herself as at once a social pariah and a sort of spiritual-political messiah. The work, which is fundamentally a series of exhortations in favor of women's emancipation, works through its arguments in terms largely derived from various varieties of Christian heresy, often mixing the elements in rather startling ways. It is, for example, a work encouraging peaceful social change, written in a rather violent sort of prose. It is also often quite beautiful.

This is one of those texts that suggests whole universes of oppositional thought that are not easily accounted for in our schematic understandings of radical history. I would encourage readers to stick with it, taking pleasure in the really lovely moments scattered throughout the text, and not deciding too quickly how to respond to the very complicated, and not always coherent, play of the religious elements.

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