TREATISE ON ELEGANT LIVING
By Honoré de Balzac
Honoré de Balzac’s 1830 Treatise on Elegant Living was a keystone text on dandyism, preceding Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Anatomy of Dandyism (1845) and Charles Baudelaire’s “The Dandy” (in The Painter of Modern Life, 1863), and marking an important shift from the early dandyism of the BritishRegency to the intellectual and artistic dandyism of nineteenth-century France. The Treatise is the first true philosophical expression of dandyism, and is full of well-crafted aphorisms: “Elegant living is, in the broad acceptance of the term, the art of animating repose,” runs one classic definition of dandyism, and “The man of taste must always know how to reduce need to a minimum” asserts the role elegant living can play in times of both opulence and strife. Further embellished with anecdotes and historical and personal illustrations, Balzac’s Treatise even features a fictitious encounter with the original dandy himself, Beau Brummell. Never before translated into English, this witty tract makes for an illuminating cornerstone to Balzac’s Human Comedy (which was originally to have included a never-completed four-part philosophical “Pathology of Social Life”). Above all, it represents a decisive moment in the history of dandyism, and an entertaining exposition on the profundities of what lies deepest within all of us: our appearance.
THEYOUNGGIRL’S HANDBOOK OF GOOD MANNERS FOR USE IN EDUCATIONAL ESTABLISHMENTS
By Pierre Louÿs
The first of Pierre Louÿs’s erotic works to see publication after his death, The Young Girl’s Handbook of Good Manners is also his most outrageous, and one of the few erotic classics in which humor takes precedence over arousal. By means of shockingly filthy advice and a parodic format, Louÿs turns late nineteenth-century manners roundly upon their head, with ass prominently skyward. Whether he is offering rules for etiquette in church, school, or home, or outlining a girl’s duties toward family, neighbor, or God, Louÿs manages to mock every institution, leaving no hypocrisy unexposed. The book has only grown more scandalous and subversive than when it first appeared in 1926.
THE HIERARCHIES OF CUCKOLDRY AND BANKRUPTCY
By Charles Fourier
In this zoological guidebook to cuckoldry and commerce, Fourier offers a caustic critique of the bankruptcy of marriage and the prostitution of the economy, and the hypocrisies of a civilization that over-regulates sexual congress while allowing the financial sector to screw over the public. Gathered together here for the first time are Fourier’s two “Hierarchies”—humorously regimented parades of civilization’s cheated and cheated-on in the domestic sphere of sex and the economic sphere of buying and selling commodities. “The Hierarchy of Cuckoldry”—translated into English for the first time—presents 72 species of the male cuckold, ranging from such “common class” cases as the Health-Conscious Cuckold to the Short-Horned Sympathetic, Optimist and Mystical Cuckolds, and the Long-Horned varieties of the Irate, Disgraced and Posthumous Cuckolds. For Fourier, these amount to 72 manifestations of women’s “secret insurrection” against the institution of marriage. “The Hierarchy of Bankruptcy” presents 36 species of the fraudulent bankrupt: a range of Light, Grandiose, and Contemptible shades of financial manipulators who force creditors, cities and even nations to bail them out of ultimately profitable bankruptcies. In these attacks on the morality of monogamy and the perils of laissez-faire capitalism, Fourier’s “Hierarchies” resonate uncannily with our contemporary world.
AN ATTEMPT AT EXHAUSTING A PLACE IN PARIS
By Georges Perec
One overcast weekend in October 1974, Georges Perec set out in quest of the “infraordinary”: the humdrum, the nonevent, the everyday—“what happens,” as he put it, “when nothing happens.” His choice of locale was Place Saint-Sulpice where, ensconced behind first one café window, then another, he spent three days recording everything to pass through his field of vision: the people walking by; the buses and driving-school cars caught in their routes; the pigeons moving suddenly en masse, as if in accordance to some mysterious command; the wedding (and then funeral) at the church in the center of the square; the signs, symbols, and slogans littering everything; and the darkness that eventually absorbs it all. In An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, Perec compiled a melancholic, slightly eerie, and oddly touching document in which existence boils down to rhythm, writing turns into time, and the line between the empirical and the surreal grows surprisingly thin.
(Editor’s note: My picks for short (~100 pages) books that you can read or pretend to read.)
“An Attempt At Exhausting A Place In Paris” was a bit like my actual experience in Paris as a party of 1. It was fun, but there were plenty of awkward moments and times of “I wonder if I’ve been sitting on this bench for too long….?”
Don’t go to Paris alone.