In hommage to La Commune de Paris: March 18

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This day, March 18, marks the 144th anniversary of the beginning of the end for the Paris Communards.  In honor of their vision of a just and equal workers’ society, we publish the beautiful song, “Le Temps des Cerises,” by Jean-Baptiste Clément.  According to legend, it is dedicated to a heroic ambulancière or paramedic who refused to leave the side of the fighters and who was never seen again when the smoke lifted from the streets of Paris in March–May 1871.

Quand nous chanterons le temps des cerises,
Et gai rossignol, et merle moqueur
Seront tous en fête !
Les belles auront la folie en tête
Et les amoureux du soleil au cœur !
Quand nous chanterons le temps des cerises
Sifflera bien mieux le merle moqueur !

Mais il est bien court, le temps des cerises
Où l’on s’en va deux cueillir en rêvant
Des pendants d’oreilles…
Cerises d’amour aux robes pareilles,
Tombant sous la feuille en gouttes de sang…
Mais il est bien court, le temps des cerises,
Pendants de corail qu’on cueille en rêvant !

Quand vous en serez au temps des cerises,
Si vous avez peur des chagrins d’amour,
Evitez les belles !
Moi qui ne crains pas les peines cruelles
Je ne vivrai pas sans souffrir un jour…
Quand vous en serez au temps des cerises
Vous aurez aussi des chagrins d’amour !


J’aimerai toujours le temps des cerises,

C’est de ce temps-là que je garde au cœur
Une plaie ouverte !

Et dame Fortune, en m’étant offerte
Ne saurait jamais calmer ma douleur…

J’aimerai toujours le temps des cerises
Et le souvenir que je garde au cœur !

Jean-Baptiste Clément (1866)

Essays sought on Ibero-American Echoes of the French Revolution

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Essay proposals are invited for a volume in the MLA’s Options for Teaching series entitled Teaching Representations of the French Revolution, to be edited by Julia Douthwaite (University of Notre Dame), Catriona Seth (Université de Lorraine), and Antoinette Sol  (University of Texas Arlington) The goal of this collection of essays is to make the field more accessible to non-specialists and to teachers in different settings, from the Humanities class at a community college to the research seminar in a graduate program. The collection of essays will complement traditional sources and include the arts, ephemera, realia, archival material and once popular but now forgotten texts in the classroom.  Accordingly, we intend to highlight through a number of settings how the revolutionary heritage lives on in our own vulnerable times. As a glance at any newspaper will reveal, we still live in a world of propaganda, advertisement, political violence, terrorism, revolution, and reaction. The essays in this proposed volume will speak to ways current students will be helped in understanding these things as well as learning about more narrowly focused topics.

We seek essays from Ibero-American fields on Global Reverberations: The Impact of Emigration and Radicalism.

We are particularly interested in pedagogically-oriented essays on ways to integrate the French Revolution into diverse courses, along with ways to present difficult material, how to engage students, and how to help students acquire the necessary contexts to understand the volume’s topic.  In addition, essays dealing with teaching with translations, finding source materials (written, visual, or musical), and suggestions for ways to use these in the classroom are welcome.

If you are interested in contributing an essay (3,000-3,500 words) to one of these sections, please submit an abstract of approximately 500 words in which you describe your approach or topic and explain its potential benefit for students and instructors alike. The focus of proposed essays should be pedagogical.

Note that if you plan to quote from student writing in your essay, you must obtain written permission from your students to do so. Proposed essays should not be previously published.

Abstracts and CVs should be sent to the volume editors by 1 June 2015. Please send e-mail submissions to Professor Julia Douthwaite (jdouthwa@nd.edu), Professor Catriona Seth (Catriona.Seth@univ-lorraine.fr), and Professor Antoinette Sol (amsol@uta.edu) with the subject line “Approaches to Teaching the Fr Rev.” Surface-mail submissions can be sent to Professor Douthwaite at the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556.

Thoughts on reading Jonathan Israel: On the origins of the French Revolution

Never one to hide his light under a bushel, Jonathan Israel comes out swinging in his recent work, Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from the ‘Rights of Man’ to Robespierre (Oxford and Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014).  As stated in the Introduction and restated frequently throughout, Israel’s goal is to prove that, contrary to the work of virtually every historian of the French Revolution, no one has yet understood its origins.  This situation leaves us in terrible straits, he claims, “with an uncommonly urgent need for some very sweeping and drastic revision” (p. 29).  The Revolution was not caused by social, economic, political, or cultural forces but rather by intellectual trends:  dangerous ideas foisted on the French by the most radical and anti-establishmentarian of the eighteenth-century philosophes. As he states: “Neither classical republicanism . . . nor Rousseau’s deism underpinned the democratic thrust behind the most comprehensively radical and revolutionary writings of the late eighteenth century.  The true underpinning was the confident secularism pronouncing philosophical reason the engine of universal human emancipation deriving from the encyclopédistes and, earlier still from the radical thinkers of the late seventeenth-century Enlightenment.” To prove this point, Israel enlists a massive array of evidence but it all winds down to a list of ten books, of “the major textual sources that shaped this democratic republican political culture after 1750″ (707).

Among the Top Ten are: 1. Diderot’s political articles and exposition of the volonté générale in the Encyclopédie; 2) Rousseau’s Discourses and Social Contract; 3) the Histoire philosophique (1770); 4) D’Holbach’s La Politique naturelle (1773); 5) D’Holbach’s Système social (1773); 6) Helvétius’s De L’homme (1773), and 7-8) Paine’s Rights of Man (1791) and Age of Reason (1793) along with 9) Condorcet’s political writings, and 10) Volney’s Les Ruines (1791) (707).

Although there is much to admire in Revolutionary Ideas, this central argument grates.  I wondered at first if it was only me.  But since reviewing the book a couple months ago, I have had the interesting experience of finding yet more scholars whose claims on the “origins of the French Revolution” Israel should have consulted before throwing his opinions into the world.

In my review, I point out that despite the vehemence of his argumentation, Israel’s  claims on the readability and powerful impact of philosophical texts such as Rousseau’s Social Contract are erroneous.*  There is a well-documented, deeply  thoughtful body of scholarship on the whole “history of audience reactions to The Social Contract” issue; one need only think of the findings that great historian-critics such as Robert Darnton and Daniel Mornet showed us years ago, on the reading tastes of eighteenth-century Frenchmen.  It all discounts Israel’s claims.

And just last week I found more evidence that runs counter to Israel’s claims, in the fascinating work on economics in the eighteenth century.  It would have been good if Israel had thought to read Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (2008), as well.  Ferguson claims that, instead of Rousseau or D’Holbach, it was the early eighteenth-century financier and one-time Controller General of France, John Law, who caused the French Revolution.   As he writes, “John Law was not only responsible for the first true boom and bust in asset prices, he also may be said to have caused, indirectly, the French Revolution by comprehensively blowing the best chance that the ancien régime monarchy had to reform its finances” (126).

Hmmm…   what to think?

* Review of Politics, forthcoming, Spring 2015 Volume 77 Issue 2

On money, assignats, Benjamin … and a Valentine’s day suggestion

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I’ve started thinking and reading a lot about economics in the 1700s, and the meaning of money, credit, work, in the eighteenth century and revolutionary era.  A friend in South Bend, Jeff Schneider, is actually a member of the Bank Note Society and has been generously giving me assignats for a few years now, knowing that I show them around in my classes.  Students love seeing this old money.. They are so interesting!  (And apparently not terribly expensive, if you are looking for a Valentine’s gift for your favorite revolutionary.)

For the aficionados of assignats, here is a link Jeff S. passed along; it is extremely detailed and impressive,   http://assignat.fr/

Now, if I could just get my hands on some billets de banque from the Law Scheme…

Work in progress:  “Did the ‘Ill Wind’ Blow No Good?  The Law Scheme in French Economics, Linterature, and Art, 1721-31,” for the special no. of L’Esprit créateur issue on “Paris’s Imagined Capital: Early Capitalism and Modernity in France (17th-19th centuries).”  Thinking about money changes everything.  Hmmm.

Here is a less-quoted epigram by Walter Benjamin:

“A descriptive analysis of bank notes is needed.  The unlimited satirical force of such a book would be equaled only by its objectivity.  For nowhere more naively than in these documents does capitalism display itself in solemn earnest.”

Benjamin, “Tax Advice”

(Thanks to Marc Shell’s fabulous book Art and Money, for that must-quote.)

More to come!  Anybody else out there inspired by Thomas Piketty and the Hoffman, Postel-Vinay, Rosenthal team?–Capital in the 21st Century and Priceless Markets are well worth the sometime technical language for the parts about French literature, art, culture.  Piketty does a better job on César Birotteau.   But Priceless Markets was so surprising to read; I feel like I learned a ton from watching the way they think.  Their attitude on the Revolution was very unlike most of what I’ve read to date!

Crime or revolution?

While browsing through a Paris used book store in October, I stumbled upon an odd little reference book called Le Crime et la criminologie.  This quirky taxonomy of crimes is extremely well documented, which allows readers to appraise the state of European social science research circa 1960.  Particularly curious for me were articles on “astuce,” victimology, and the mindboggling variety of swindling schemes. Also intriguing is the article “Economic factor” and this  pithy definition of revolution:

“Prepared in advance, organized as well as possible, and executed by the mass of working people in an open and audacious manner, it is called Revolution; but if it is carried out by one or some individuals in haste, with fear and in the dark of night or benefiting from chance circumstances; it is called crime.”

I think this is food for thought, especially given recent efforts–in Spain and echoed in the USA–to project Lenin as a role model for modern youth.  https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/pablo-iglesias-podemos-left-speech/ *

Just as a revolt does not a revolution make; the slogan “bread and peace” is more ominous than some folks may recall.
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“Préparée à l’avance, organisée autant que possible, et exécuté par toute la masse ouvrière d’une façon ouverte et audacieuse, elle s’appelle Révolution; mais exécuté par un ou quelques individus de façon hâtive, avec peur et sous l’ombre de la nuit ou des circonstances propices: elle s’appelle crime.”   Yamarellos et G. Kellens, Le Crime et la criminologie, 2 vols. (Verviers, Belgium: Marabout Université, 1970), 177.

*Thanks to Dave Andress for bringing the Jacobin article to our attention.  As he notes: “Is it conceivable he thinks Lenin won an election, as opposed to closing down the 1918 Constituent Assembly by force on the first day it met?”

On Eric Hazan, French turmoil, and doing something to keep the spirit of 1789 alive

Check out the latest interview with Eric Hazan on the Verso website, then read on.

What can you say of a man whose work is sometimes inspiring, and whom you’d like to admire for his long and principled life, but …  I have to admit I have a problem with people like Hazan who don’t vote and claim it is some sort of civic act.  Or incite people to think of making others “vanish.”  Revolution did happen so you could vote! And so we could avoid violence in public affairs.   Democracy demands that we believe it matters, remain informed, and make elections count. France does have deliberative processes by which change can happen without violence. When Hazan speaks of “thinking about the means of insurrection,” and dismisses the ‘intermediate stages’ such as “election of a constituent assembly etc.,” what exactly is he encouraging?   The ambiguity is irresponsible.

After reading the Verso interview, I think it only fair to give a “tip of the hat” to a group in France which is trying to bring about change from within the system, using the tools inherited from the revolutionary past, for the better.  They are called Association pour une Constituante:  www.pouruneconstituante.fr .

A personal note:  My admiration for the ideals of the Fr Rev (plus having kids come of age) has led me to start teaching a weekly class of writing for children, which I’ve been doing since 2012. It seems so puny and insignificant next to the “revolutionaries” calling for “insurrection” or “vanishing” of institutions.  But equality is my personal dream, and giving underprivileged kids a way to speak and be somebody is my chosen method.  My wish for all of us is peace, and to have a chance.   What is yours, readers?

Eric Hazan and Sebastian Budgen respond to David Bell

I keep going back to this piece because it makes for riveting reading, so I’ll pass along the tip to you here.
Eric Hazan, French writer and activist, published A People’s History of the French Revolution, and it appears that Prof. Bell did not approve.

Thanks to Dave Andress and his blog: The French Revolution Network, for bringing us up to speed on controversies among French historians such as this one.
I felt sort of sad to hear Princeton’s History department skewered for being right wing and out of touch, because in my day it was probably the best department at Princeton, with faculty such as Natalie Zemon Davis, Robert Darnton, Jerrold Seigel, Christine Stansell, and sometimes Joan Scott from the Institute.

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