T. Morton: Imperial Measures, 2001

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T. Morton: Imperial Measures, 2001

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2001

Imperial Measures: Dune, Ecology and Romantic Consumerism
by Timothy Morton


Ecology vs. Global Trade: The Landscape of Dune

For the past several years I have been researching the representation of spice in Romantic period poetry, and have been describing a mixture of literary phenomena that I call the poetics of spice. I discovered that the Romantic period witnessed a special moment in the poetics of spice in which it came to stand for a new way of consuming the world, a self-reflexive mode of 'Romantic consumerism'. I also discovered that this mode continued through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. What was striking about this continuity was not so much the differences as the resemblance among the texts considered. This article is an outcome of that observation and investigates the representation of spice in Frank Herbert's groundbreaking science fiction novel Dune (1965), whose hero is the type of the Romantic self-reflexive consumer.


Jacques Derrida's observations on the spectrality of capital in Spectres of Marx suggest that marks, traces, touches and dashes (phenomena associated both with writing and with the poetics of spice) are neither real nor unreal but quasi-real. (1) Derrida punningly refers to the reading of these phenomena as 'hauntology' since it points out a ghostly realm. The luxury commodity is not just an 'incarnated' sign as Arjun Appadurai calls it, but is spectral. (2) The luxury commodity is in the realm of the signifier but is also somewhat spookily 'really there': a sign of incarnation. Spectrality suggests the supernatural, a different, parallel order of materiality. In horror fiction, ectoplasm is not of this earth, nor does it belong to the realm of the ideal; it is quasi-material, quasi-transcendental, a sublime object. One of the strongest instances of the representation of money as spectral in the twentieth century is surely the spice in Dune.


My recent work in The Poetics of Spice has demonstrated that since the late Middle Ages, spice in English literature had become a strange kind of sign: the sign for a metastasized form of labour—capital. This enabled it to be caught up in what I call 'Romantic consumerism', a self-reflexive, Kantian form of consumption in which the sense of consuming is itself consumed. Colin Campbell describes this style of consumption as a kind of bohemianism in The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism. (3) This bohemian style was the prototype for modern forms of consumption, which for the sake of clarity one might consider as an aimless 'window shopping'. (Inevitably, the notion of a 'sign for a metastasized form of labour' finds its grotesque variant in the pepper consumed by the working class in the Romantic period. This debased pepper, no longer the luxury of the early modern spice trade, had been so adulterated that it was really spice only in name. Thus it ironically reproduced the notion of consuming a floating signifier in a material form. A popular ballad from around 1825 called 'London Adulterations' deplored the condition, stressing how the poor consumer had been conned, turning up its nose at such items as 'PD' or pepper dust.) (4)


Narratives of colonialism and imperialism have been constantly preoccupied with mastering and representing the flow of commodities. Here spice has often come to stand for this flow in general. There is a complex variety of literary responses to this sign for commodity flow: The most interesting for a scholar of Romanticism being those which parody, ironize and otherwise warp capitalist ideology's fascination with a fantasy substance that could become a substitute for money itself. Parodies of this fantasy substance—spice—have been emerging ever since its positing as the object of mercantile desire. For instance, there is the satire The Land of Cockaygne (c.1305). (5) It is a proto-Rabelaisian satire on monks and nuns, a translation of the Old French poem Li Fabliaus de Coquaine. The first line notes the Other's realm, 'Fur in see bi west Spayngne' (1). It is more beautiful than Paradise, because in Paradise there is only fruit and water to eat, and only saintly types such as Elijah and Enoch could enjoy it. It is day all the time (26), there is no death (28) and there are no predatory or domestic animals, simply rivers 'Of oile, melk, honi, and wine' (36). White and grey monks live there in a beautiful abbey made half of food, with puddings for pinnacles, studded with jewels. A miraculous tree is described which bears many kinds of spices, as in Bernardus Sylvestris' De Mundi Universitate:

In the praer is a tre,
Swithe likful for to se:
The rote is gingevir and galingale;
The siouns beth al sedwale;
Trie maces beth the flure;
The rind, canel of swet odur;
The frute, gilofre of gode smakke;
Of cucubes ther is no lakke.
(71-78)

[In the meadow is a tree, very attractive to see: the root is ginger and galingale; the shoots are all zedoary; the flower is three maces; the rind, cinnamon sweetly smelling; the fruit, gillyflower (clove) of good taste; there is no lack of cubebs (a pungent spice).] (6)

The tree bears all the spices found at what Jacques le Goff has called the 'oneiric horizon', an orientalist fantasy space east of Eden which promised a cornucopia of luxury goods. (7) These are the first details of the garden; then the poem describes the red roses that never fade, wells of spiced wine sweetened with honey, balm and medicinal treacle, and healing water, precious stones and gold. Geese fly around advertising themselves, and larks fly into the mouth, already flavoured with cloves and cinnamon. The satire is somewhat accurate: in 1419 the Munden Chantry priests spent 54s.10d. on spices, more than they spent on average for food in a similar period. (8) The Cockaygne legend, however, proved to be a much more effective component of capitalist than of feudal ideology.


The fantasy of mastering commodity flow becomes impossible in Frank Herbert's science fiction epic, Dune (1965). Dune embodies through spice the issues of indeterminacy and empire upon which the narrative depends. The spice is a hallucinogen called melange (connoting mixture, fusion), mined on a desert planet, Arrakis, for vast profits, and fought over by rival families and factions: principally the two dynastic houses, Atreides and Harkonnen. It is the exemplar of the metastasized commodity (as indicated in its common name, 'the spice'). The value of spice is associated as ever with the excremental quality of money and the taboo body. Melange is an excreted by-product of the digestive cycle of the giant sandworms whose burrowing churns up the flowing sands of Arrakis like a living tornado.


The first book in the Dune trilogy (later expanded to six books) is concerned with the conflict between the imperialist spice-mining interests and the ecotopian underground resistance, known as the Fremen, led by the apostate member of the Atreides household, Paul. The novel stages a clash between two different ways of inhabiting a hierarchy. As William Touponce has suggested, Dune presents the ecotopia of the Fremen as a realm where everyone knows her or his place. (9) This kind of hierarchy is also a feature of the families who battle for intergalactic control of spice production and trade. Herbert's fiction here resembles the history of Fernand Braudel, whose Civilization and Capitalism observes how the stability of hierarchically-structured capitalist families was the mainspring of capitalism's early development.


Why is this so? Surely capitalism involves a destabilizing and a deconstruction of hierarchy? This truism underestimates the extent to which the decoding, deterritorializing qualities of capitalism (the permanent revolution noted in the Communist Manifesto) generate countermeasures that could be called 'molar' forces, borrowing the terminology of Deleuze and Guattari. (10) These molar forces are to the flows of capital what moles are to molecules: they amass them in packets, aggrandisements, monopolies, conglomerates. The push-and-pull between unstable, flowing forces and stabilizing, molar forces permeates Dune right down to the level of individual consciousness. The novel's ideological structure is critical of capitalism, and as spice rules all, from extraterrestrial trade to internal states of mind, Dune is a supreme development of themes associated with the poetics of spice.


The desire for spice mines and undermines the ecosystem and culture of Arrakis, and the capitalist family hierarchies and the ecological survivalists, the Fremen, attempt to survive in the interstices in a version of Georges Bataille's notion of a 'restricted' economy of circulation without loss. Water becomes more precious in real terms than spice, more of a luxury commodity subject to rules of conspicuous consumption, for instance when the Harkonnens spill their water at a banquet (Dune, pp. 151-52). Likewise, in trade with the Spice Islands, products conceived of as necessities could themselves become money, as in the case of the inflation of the price of rice. (11) The quasi-capitalistic forces at work even within feudal and slave-owning societies, were fuelled by the search for spice and drugs. Spice permeates society, and the very body and mind. Ecological survival, however much a restriction of these forces, takes place within a 'general' economy in which absolute waste and expenditure is constantly vaunted, both by the aristocrats and by the desert planet itself. (12) Time and space themselves begin to liquefy and multiply, in a hyperbolic development of the common ideology of the novel itself. Since their emergence during the time of the growth of the Muscovy and East India Companies, plot and plotting have been conceived as the command-control of a haphazard network of spatiotemporal processes, as Lorna Hutson has shown. (13) Herbert's novel is about how to ride the differential flows released through the desire for melange: how to delimit the general economy as a restricted one, 'an ecology of ideas and values'. As one of the Fremen declares, 'We change [the planet]. . .slowly but with certainty. . .to make it fit for human life. Our generation will not see it, nor our children nor our children's children nor the grandchildren of their children. . .but it will come. . .Open water and tall green plants and people walking freely without stillsuits.' (14) Such a powerfully teleological historical narrative demands that everything be bent to serve its logos, as the rest of the Dune novels make apparent, telling of the terroristic expansion of the Fremen throughout the universe. This is a refraction of the Western ideology of domestication that, for instance, turned the Spice Islands into monocultures and brought European trees to America. The text of Dune attempts to figure this simultaneous restriction and expansion in the use of epigraphs from the unwritten texts of the future: prophecies, commentaries, books of sayings, biographies, histories, and so forth. Of course, the more text Dune produces, the more textuality threatens to make of the restricted epigraph an orientalist arabesque, the signature of a general economy, in a hallucinatory and out-of-control proliferation of writing. (Contemporaneously with the publication of Dune, Alan Watts posited the arabesque as the paradoxical ground of consciousness as revealed by LSD.) (15)


Dune richly recodes capitalism through medievalism and Islam, seeing the ultra-modern as merely an intensification of ways of thinking and acting in the world which are concerned with riding the flows of past, present and future. Victory is promised to the best seer, the best head pilot. Paul Atreides' success is that of a very skilful stock analyst. Dune is typical of the poetics of spice in its self-reflexivity. It is a hyperbolic version of capitalist panegyric, whose contents, the spice trade, are integral to the development of the capitalism that the novel plots. Form and content repeat each other. Like Bakhtin's dialogical novels, spice deconstructs epics (a fortunate anagram), as the warring of noble families is seen to revolve around the acquisition of wealth in the form of spicy drugs. (16) (Dune is specifically an ironic revision of Isaac Asimov's epic Foundation trilogy (1951-3), and a culmination and critique of John W. Campbell's fetishisation of science and sensuous detail exemplified in post-war science fiction magazines.) (17) Dune recreates the dovetailing of feudal into capitalist culture by overlaying the poetics of feudal luxury products onto modern capitalist concerns such as navigation, technology and ecology. Its emphases on dynasties and universal trade deconstruct the opposition between medieval and modern phases of civilization. And its orientalism displaces the Eurocentric concerns of capitalism and ecology. It is as if those lands created in European fantasies about spice became the entire planet, a gigantic floating island.


It is made clear that the dynastic structures are so many interstices in a network sustained by the value of spice. Likewise, the anthropocentric ecology practised on the spice planet Arrakis, based on the question 'how much spice do we need to farm to maintain stability for ourselves so that we can keep farming it?', is another kind of molarization, a massing-together of forces directing the flow of spice. The Dune series is about cybernetics, governance, technological manipulation, prediction and guidance: managing the flows of time, space and spice. The dream of planetary ecological transformation, making the ecosystem suitable for humans rather than sandworms, is an attempt to eradicate the flow of spice capital, and the cynicism of imperialist ecological vision is nowhere better demonstrated in the ironic maintenance of spice flow after the Jihad that makes technology taboo. This mirrors Romanticism's contradiction between literature's eloquent critique and social reality.


Melange hovers on the boundary between medicine and drug: a place reserved for spice as early as Plato's pharmakon. (18) The prescience granted by the consumption of the precious spice elevates consciousness to a plane of consistency on which the entire universe may be viewed, as on a computer screen. Time and space themselves become wavelike. The waves can be mapped, thus opening up the dimension of chronopolitics: exactly when a melange-user makes her or his prediction becomes important, just as for the pilots who use melange as a deep space navigation tool. The mastery of space is predicated on a mastery of time. Again, Herbert's novels are elegant examples of the poetics of spice in their self-reflexive or Romantic mode.


Those very categories of time and space, whose elevation to transcendental status through the adaptation of technologies such as perspective geometry enabled the early capitalists to voyage around Africa, predicting the curvature of the coastline, have become entities which can in turn be mapped. That which enables maps becomes mappable. The Dune series is thus concerned with modernity, with its ideologies of the mastery of the fundamental categories of time, space and matter. Unlike Virginia Woolf's precarious somersaults out of the real, the hallucinations in Dune are reality checks. Into this world Herbert brilliantly places the crucial Western paradigm of economic interventionism: the Messiah.


The Messiah should save humanity from the mundane world of Mammon. But in Dune, the Messiah's attributes have been bestowed not upon a divine being but upon an exceptionally skilful mundane being, Paul, whose mental and physical power has been fuelled by an overdose of spice. There is no transcendental world, no escape from the flux of time and space. The Dune series explores the possibility, usually the impossibility, of containing lines of flight in molar patterns: there is no absolute exit from capitalism. Paul Atreides becomes a reluctant Messiah in order to teach this to the molar-happy dwellers of Atreides and beyond; indeed, in God Emperor of Dune, his son Leto becomes the ultimate embodiment of spice consumption, a giant spice worm, metabolizing the drug within his very body. The world is viewed as at best metastable, an unpredictable flow of time-and-space relations, and spice only enables a more nuanced sense of that unpredictability, which in the mundane world appears to be the gift of prophetic power. Such a world demands of its subjects forms of human management even harsher than current capitalist modes of self-discipline. But they are extrapolations from these modes. This is exemplified by having the universe of Dune lack computers: thinking machines were banned before the action begins, in a biocentric war against the machine. But instead of creating an anti-mechanical Luddite paradise, the abolition of computers leads to the metastasis of the human-as-computer, the ultimate in New Age cybernetics. Spice is required by the deep space navigators because only under its influence can their brains perform the computations necessary for piloting the frigates.


Melange is associated with capital and merchandise. Dune's ecological language points out the ravaging of the universe initiated by the search for spice, which is only needed, apart from its medicinal properties, as a form of capital and as a tool. . .in the search for further markets for itself. And yet on Arrakis, spice is everything but spice—it is more like water on Earth. Thus Dune unmasks the semiotic quality of spice as a luxury commodity.


Ambience: Consumption, Textuality, Space



When Porphyro fetches a meal of unconsumed (unconsumable?) desserts for the (non)delight of the sleeping Madeline in the thirtieth stanza of John Keats's The Eve of St Agnes (1819), he fetches them not only from a closet but metonymically from the orientalist 'oneiric horizon', the dreamland re-enacted in Dune. Keats's use of 'argosy' and 'Samarkand' in that stanza plays upon the routes of the early modern spice trade. The line actually names two quite different spice routes. Although the etymology of 'argosy' has been argued to be closer to the large Venetian Ragusan merchant ships than to the Argo, the association with Luis de Camões' portrayal of Da Gama's men as literalizing the myth of the Argonauts is apparent. (19) The connotation of sea routes taken by the Venetians and others, as opposed to land routes, is there all the same. Barabas in Marlowe's The Jew of Malta (1592) hails 'Mine Argosie from Alexandria, / Loaden with Spice and Silkes, now under saile' (I.i.44-45), and Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice links the trade winds with argosy: 'the ocean; / There where your argosies, with portly sail. . . / Do overpeer the petty traffickers' (I.i.8-12). 'Samarkand' points out earlier caravan routes through Asia. Tamburlaine came from Samarkand. Here is an allusion to the kind of despotic consumption towards which Thomas Warton adopted a coyly rebellious distance in his ode to melancholy, also figured by Felicia Hemans in 'Belshazzar's Feast':

But prouder mirth was in the kingly hall,
Where, midst adoring slaves, a gorgeous band!
High at the stately midnight-festival,
Belshazzar sat enthroned.—There Luxury's hand
Had shower'd around all treasures that expand
Beneath the burning East;—all gems that pour
The sunbeams back;—all sweets of many a land,
Whose gales waft incense from their spicy shore;
—But mortal Pride look'd on, and still demanded more.
(10-18) (20)

Despotic consumption is a key theme in Dune. Belshazzar was a focus for the aesthetics of counter-luxury in the Romantic period. In Hannah More's Belshazzar: A Sacred Drama, Belshazzar proclaims the carpe diem philosophy of Epicureanism, echoing the secular view of luxury propagated by supporters of long-distance trade in the eighteenth century:

To-night, my friends, your monarch shall be blest
With every various joy; to-night is ours;
Nor shall the envious gods, who view our bliss
And sicken as they view, to-night disturb us.
Bring all the richest spices of the East;
The od'rous cassia and the drooping myrrh,
The liquid amber and the fragrant gums;
Rob Gilead of its balms, Belshazzar bids,
And leave the Arabian groves without an odour.
Bring freshest flow'rs, exhaust the blooming spring,
Twine the green myrtle with the short-liv'd rose;
And ever, as the blushing garland fades,
We'll learn to snatch the fugitive delight,
And grasp the flying joy ere it escape us.
(21)


The feast imagery, though strong in More ('leave the Arabian groves without an odour'), is in both More and Hemans one-dimensional in comparison with Keats. Keats's hallucinatory, transumptive overstocking of the image repertoire plays on illusions that offer two choices simultaneously. This ironic strategy does not neatly progress from early to modern, but instead collapses medieval and modern into each other.


Byron's poetry alludes to Belshazzar in a way that shows how metalepsis or self-reflexivity is found in the Romantic representation of spice. Spice could become a metaphor about poetry itself. The luxurious, highly spiced dinner in Byron's Don Juan III (1818-1820) includes wall-hangings that feature delicate embroidery and 'Soft Persian sentences, in lilac letters, / From poets, or the moralists their betters'. (22) The moralisms are ironized in their juxtaposition with the scene of luxury, of which the narrator wittily remarks:

These oriental writings on the wall,
Quite common in those countries, are a kind
Of monitors adapted to recall,
Like skulls at Memphian banquets, to the mind
The words which shook Belshazzar in his hall,
And took his kingdom from him: You will find,
Though sages may pour out their wisdom's treasure,
There is no sterner moralist than Pleasure.
(Byron, III.lxiv.513-20)


Pleasure acts as what Plato would have called a pharmakon, both poison and cure, a phenomenon apparent in English poetry in the representation of spice in Milton, but here in Byron impinging on styles of modern consumerism. The message of pleasure is a memento mori, 'Like skulls at Memphian banquets'. The stern and paradoxical message—reminiscent to a twenty-first century reader of Coca-Cola's ultimate and minimalist superego formula, 'Enjoy!'—is inscribed into the fabric of the arabesqued wall, the 'Oriental' writing functioning as in De Quincey both as the promise and as the threat of otherness, as meaning but also as exquisitely embodied signifiers, 'Embroider'd delicately o'er with blue' (Byron, III.lxiv.510). The 'sentences' are 'Soft' and 'Persian', evoking luxury in their literal, tongue-in-cheek materiality. They also evoke the Asiatic, dangerously copious style desired and feared by masculine Renaissance rhetoricians flexing their Arabic-inspired intellectual muscles. Writing, in the guise of the soft and proliferating graphemes for which spice is a metonym, has become the inconsistent fantasy-object, a metastasized enjoyment (what the late Lacan would name a sinthome) at the heart of a capitalist ideology of consumption.

Likewise, in Dune, writing is overcoded as a spice hallucination that is simultaneously death and life. This signification had been opened for it by poetry in the Romantic period, such as Percy Shelley's 'The Triumph of Life' (1822), whose nepenthe is described as erasing the 'brain' to a faint text, a desert of not-quite-undifferentiated 'sand' (405; a good example of the ambience that saturates this poem). (23) The Baron's guard, corporal Nefud, 'was addicted to semuta, the drug-music combination that played itself in the deepest consciousness' (Dune, p. 216). Like the middle voice of Derrida's différance, the music plays itself, and like Brian Eno's ambient music, it is figured as a kind of drug. (24) Eno took this motif from a discourse that had been working itself out in the poetics of spice to reach a culmination in the Romantic period: the discourse of ambience, a figuration that undermines distinctions between figure and ground. It is a spatialized form of textuality. A spice-induced hallucination initiates Paul's mother Jessica as a Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit, 'the ancient school of mental and physical training established primarily for female student after the Butlerian Jihad destroyed so-called "thinking machines" and robots'—in other words, a school that turns a human being into a computer, an engine of difference that 'plays itself' in an ironic reversal of the very logocentric Jihad that would abolish technology in favour of Being (the influence of Heidegger on Herbert is apparent elsewhere in his work) (Dune, p. 587). (25)

Jessica visualizes herself as 'a conscious mote, smaller than any subatomic particle, yet capable of motion and of sensing her immediate surroundings'—a res intellectus that is not a ghost in the machine but rather a particle of spice in a quantum world of bifurcating possibilities (Dune, p. 408). (Compare, again, 'The Triumph of Life': 'And all the gazer's mind was strewn beneath / Her feet like embers', 386-87.) Likewise for Paul the quantum universe opens up as an infinite but legible text (subject to hermeneutic protension and retension, constantly threatened by the mise-en-abyme of 'Plans within plans within plans') when he consumes a massive amount of spice:

He knew the time-area around them, but the here-and-now existed as a place of mystery. It was as though he had seen himself from a distance go out of sight down into a valley. Of the countless paths up out of that valley, some might carry a Paul Atreides back into sight, but many would not.

In other words, Paul as thinker is not the Paul who is the content of his thoughts of 'the here-and-now'—which is really only a bookmark between imaginary pasts and futures; or rather, in Dune's figuration, a 'Muad'Dib' or jumping desert mouse who 'Points the Way' (the Fremen's appellation for Paul). When perceived in its decentred entirety, the text of Paul's mind is represented as ambience to Jessica, in a passage full of Shelleyan imagery: 'a region where a wind blew and sparks glared; where rings of light expanded and contracted, where rows of tumescent white shapes flowed over and under and around the lights, driven by darkness and a wind out of nowhere' (Dune, pp. 236-64, 233-34, 510). It's an aporetic, if not an ill, wind that drives but comes from nowhere.

The Prelude's 'gentle' and non-spicy ambient 'half-conscious' 'breeze' (1), in contrast, appears not to threaten but to guarantee the narrator's simultaneous presence as subject and object of enunciation. The breeze, then, is to the narrator's 'voice' as objet petit a to the split subject (barred S) of Lacanian psychoanalysis. The demonic other of this voice is the horrifically inert 'presence' (far from logocentric self-transparency) of Paul's spice-drugged prophetic voice: 'The terrifying presence of his voice brooked no dispute' (Dune, p. 229). Paul, of course, has indeed perfected an art of illocutionary elocution called 'the Voice', which directly induces its addressees. (26) Voice, spice and ambience are analogous to each other as figures for sinthomic writing, the Lacanian-Derridean presence made of absence. Spice becomes a figure for the subject's ex-sistence, its eccentricity to itself, in which quandary it has remained since its metaphysical invention and which Romantic poetry redoubles and attempts to circumvent.


How can Paul and Jessica avoid the deconstructive other of their autotelic selfhood, predicated on precisely reading the hallucinatory text of the universe's general economy? In other words, how can the self-limiting middle-class consumer maintain an appropriate distance towards the despotic ideology of consumerism—'Enjoy!'—whose sinthome is an endless flow of perfumed drugs? Belshazzar, the orientalized, despotic tyrant, is the excessive and dangerous prototype of Romantic consumerism, as exemplified in the riotous luxury of a poem such as Coleridge's 'Kubla Khan'. This othered image of Romantic consumerism was to compete with more legitimate types, such as the contemplative Wordsworth 'feeding on infinity'; (27) a feeding that ironically recapitulates (in a higher key?) the expansion of the East India Company from a colonial monopoly to an imperial power—a corporation, currently defined (to William Hazlitt's dismay) as an individual, feasting upon an entire continent. But these legitimized templates of consumption depend upon marginalizing the feminized luxury of an Oriental despot. In Dune Belshazzar becomes the decadent despot Baron Harkonnen, but it is really more accurate to say that the anxious relationship to capitalism of Dune's narrator splits Belshazzar (as in psychoanalytic 'splitting') in two: for Paul Atreides, the ascetic warrior who in his isolation and vision is more akin to Wordsworth, is also a consumer of spice, whose prescient power raises him to the status of a decadent god. The Messiah—the anointed one whose name is often associated with spice (as in medieval commentaries on the Song of Songs)—is deconstructively associated with the Oriental tyrant whose imagined enslavement of Judaeo-Christians provides the fantasy object for the Western ideological reactions of orientalism, colonialism and imperialism. Milton had tried to separate the Messianic mode of spice from its Satanic mode—the mode of mercantile capitalism. (28) Dune demonstrates that this is impossible.

In 'The Ecology of Dune', the first appendix to Dune, the planetary ecologist Pardot Kynes declares: 'A system maintains a certain fluid stability that can be destroyed by a misstep in just one niche. A system has order, a flowing; from point to point. If something dams that flow, order collapses' (Dune, p. 570). Capitalism is constantly threatened by the sinthome that provides the material component of a consumer ideology, that of reflexive consumerism. The Romantic image of the reflexive consumer, brought via De Quincey to its apogee in Charles Baudelaire's image of the flâneur, simultaneously reinforces and undermines the cogency of the capitalist view.



Timothy Morton
The University of Colorado at Boulder


Notes

(1) Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (London and New York: Routledge, 1994). (back)
(2) Arjun Appadurai, ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) p. 38. (back)
(3) Colin Campbell, The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism (Oxford and New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987). (back)
(4) Timothy Morton, Shelley and the Revolution in Taste: the Body and the Natural World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994; repr., 1998) p. 15; R. Palmer, A Touch of the Times: Songs of Social Change 1770 to 1914 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974). (back)
(5) British Museum MS. Harl. 913. (back)
(6) J.A.W. Bennett, and G.V. Smithers, eds., Early Middle English Verse and Prose, glossary by Davis, Norman, 2nd edn. (Oxford: the Clarendon Press, 1968; repr. 1987). (back)
(7) See Jacques Le Goff, 'L'Occident médiévale et l'océan Indien: un horizon onirique', in Pour un autre Moyen Age: temps, travail et culture en Occident (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1977) pp. 230-98; the citation about the Brahmins in the Alexander cycle is from 198-99. (Translated as Time, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980) pp. 189-200). (back)
(8) P.W. Hammond, Food and Feast in Medieval England (Stroud and Dover, NH: Alan Sutton, 1993) p. 71. (back)
(9) William Touponce, Frank Herbert (Boston: Twayne, 1988) pp. (i), 2, 8. (back)
(10) Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia , trans. Hurley, R., Seem, M. and Lane, H. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983) pp. 183-84, 279-96. (back)
(11) Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, trans. Reynolds, S., 3 vols. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982-84) vol. II, p. 406. (back)
(12) Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share: an Essay on General Economy, tr. Hurley, R., vol. i (New York: Zone Books, 1988). (back)
(13) Lorna Hutson, 'Fortunate Travellers: Reading for the Plot in Sixteenth-Century England', Representations 41 (1993) pp. 83-103. (back)
(14) Frank Herbert, Dune (Dunton Green: Hodder and Stoughton, 1968, 1993) pp. 399, 336. Hereafter abbreviated as Dune. (back)
(15) Alan Watts, 'The New Alchemy', This Is It and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience (London: Rider, 1978, 1986 (first published 1958) pp. 131-32. (back)
(16) See Touponce, Frank Herbert, pp. 13, 24. (back)
(17) Touponce, Frank Herbert, pp. 122, 123. (back)
(18) Jacques Derrida, 'Plato's Pharmacy', Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1981) pp. 61-171. (back)
(19) OED, 'argosy', n. 1. (back)
(20) Printed in Felicia Hemans, The Siege of Valencia; a Dramatic Poem. The Last Constantine: with Other Poems (London: John Murray, 1823) pp. 269-76. (back)
(21) Hannah More, The Works of Hannah More, vol. vi (London: Fisher, Fisher and Jackson, 1835) p. 162. (back)
(22) Lord George Gordon Byron, The Complete Poetical Works, ed. McGann, J., 5 vols. (Oxford: the Clarendon Press, 1980-86) vol. III, pp. lxiv, 511-12. Hereafter abbreviated as Byron. (back)
(23) Percy Bysshe Shelley, Poetical Works, ed. Hutchinson, Thomas (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1970). (back)
(24) Brian Eno, Ambient 1: Music for Airports (EG Records, 1978) sleeve note. (back)
(25) The Santaroga Barrier (1968) includes a character called Dasein. Hellstrom's Hive (1973) imagines an ecological cocoon as a neonazi state. (back)
(26) See Slavoj Zizek, The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality (London and New York: Verso, 1994) pp. 116-17. (back)
(27) See Denise Gigante, 'After Taste: The Aesthetics of Romantic Eating' (Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 2000). (back)
(28) See Timothy Morton, 'Trade Winds', in Flint, Kate, ed., Poetry and Politics (Essays and Studies, 1996) pp. 19-41. (back)
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