From Prairial to Pop Culture. Day Ten: A Literary quiz


Ending the revolution, even in fiction, has challenged many a writer over the ages.  Will you be up to the challenge?  Match the endings with the authors and titles.


  1.  “He turns then, and sees me, and his whole face breaks into a smile. For me. And my heart feels so full that it hurts. Full of love for this man I’ve found.  And for the brother I lost. For the mother who came back.  And the father who didn’t. Full of love for a girl I never knew and will always remember. A girl who gave me the key.  It goes on, this world, stupid and brutal. But I do not. I do not.”
  2. “When the late reconciliation took place, between Robespierre and Danton, we remarked that it proceeded rather from the fear which these two famous revolutionists entertained of each other, than from mutual affection; we added, that it should last only until the more dexterous of the two should find an opportunity to destroy his rival. The time, fatal to Danton, is at last arrived. …. We do not comprehend why Camille Desmoulins, who was so openly protected by Robespierre, is crushed in the triumph of this dictator.”
  3.  “Five and thirty years have now passed, since Chapeau was talking, and the Vendeans triumphed in the restoration of Louis XVIII to the throne of his ancestors. That throne has been again overturned; and, yet another dynasty having intervened, France is again a Republic. How long will it be before some second La Vendée shall successfully, but bloodlessly, struggle for another re-establishment of the monarchy? Surely, before the expiration of half a century, since the return of Louis, France will congratulate herself on another restoration.”
  4. “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

Authors and titles

1. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

2. Anthony Trollope, La Vendée (1850)

3. Jennifer Donnelly, Revolution (2011)

4. Hilary Mantel, A Place of Greater Safety (1993)

From Prairial to Pop Culture. Day Eight. Louis XVI, film flop


Poor Louis XVI, he always comes across as so wimpy and neurotic in film. From the hilariously uptight locksmith played by Robert Morley in Van Dyke’s 1938 Marie-Antoinette starring a very enthusiastic Norma Shearer, to the awkward introvert of recent memory who had to put up with Kirsten Dunst’s cloying queen. Oh yeah, who was that guy?  Who played Louis XVI in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film, Marie Antoinette?

  1. Jason Alexander, of Seinfeld
  2. Jason Schwartzman, of Moonrise Kingdom
  3. Jason Lewis, of Sex in the City
  4. Jared Leto, of My So-Called Life

From Prairial to Pop Culture. Day Four. Have you heard about the film…?


Have you heard about the film featuring a character named after a revolutionary holiday? Which one is it?

  1. “Thermidor,” played by Gérard Depardieu in Les Neiges d’antan (1972)
  2. “Fête Nat,” played by Abdoulaye Diop in Coup de torchon (1981)
  3. “Féderation,” played by Johnny Halliday in Youpi! Les Marsupilami chez Johnny (2002)
  4. “Sans culottide,” played by Marion Cotillard in Les égouts du désir (1999)

From Prairial to Pop Culture. Day Three, or who says the eighteenth century isn’t hip?

Audible Amazon book ad June 2015

This ad for Amazon’s new line of Audible books is a tease.  What is that guy reading?  What could he be reading? The setting is clearly old regime: the triangular pile of macarons and the luscious strawberry tartlets make a not so subtle wink at Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette, as do the pale blue walls with gold wainscoting and the pink ribbons in the ladies’ hair. Glimpsing David’s Napoleon crossing the Alps (1801-5) behind the hoodie-wearing hero, however, rules out that era.  Unless these are bonapartistes?  Wouldn’t they be wearing different clothes in the 1810s?

The ad must be ironic, and Amazon’s marketing folks must be inviting us to contemplate the conundrum for its intellectual acuity.[1] The juxtaposition of this plebeian young man, who is at the same time appealing and self-absorbed in his own story, with a highly affected society of upper-class power-mongers who are living in France post-1801 must be a commentary of sorts…  (And maybe the heroic painting of Napoleon is all in the imagination.)  So, what story would make sense in this context?

  1. Le Rouge et le Noir / The Red and the Black by Stendhal
  2. L’Étranger / The Stranger by Camus
  3. Au Bonheur des dames / The Ladies’ Paradise by Émile Zola
  4. La Préférence nationale / The National Preference by Fatou Diome
  1. “In the ironic moment, I am called to a halt,” Jonathan Lear, A Case for Irony (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 11. Were that advertising could be so engaging. But sometimes it does seem like they’ve taken their lit classes seriously….

Julia Roberts, existentialist?!

when Julia Roberts became a French major

I had to laugh when I saw this ad for Givenchy in a recent copy of the New York Times’s T magazine. We are more accustomed to the super-smiley actress, as seen in a publicity campaign for her film, Eat, Pray, Love

TOKYO - AUGUST 18:  Actress Julia Roberts attends the 'Eat Pray Love' press conference at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo on August 18, 2010 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

TOKYO – AUGUST 18: Actress Julia Roberts attends the ‘Eat Pray Love’ press conference at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo on August 18, 2010 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

julia-roberts_416x416 forbes

(based on the equally frothy memoirs by Elizabeth Gilbert), or in a head shot for Forbes magazine.

What happened, Julia?

Did you suddenly discover the wonderful French habit of gloom? been reading too much Sartre?!

Happy Thanksgiving and a query on the political significance of cheese labels

Bonhomme de Normandie brieCamembert du Pere JeromeWhat is the deal with the bonnet blanc of the Bonhomme de Normandie on the circle of Brie cheese with his portrait?  And how does it compare, politically, with the striped white and red bonnet of his rival Père Jérôme of Camembert fame?

Are they supposed to resemble the head-ware for men of a certain age in the Norman peasantry?  Or are the modified, blanched out versions of the revolutionary bonnet rouge?  They certainly look a lot like the Phyrgian bonnet…  Any thoughts out there?

Bon appétit to you, reader, on this day when Americans coast-to-coast (with some exceptions) probably eat better than the French.

The Politics of Revolutionary Art Today: what news is really newsworthy?

Assassin's Creed Unity videogame-super  French

Today’s New York Times carries two splashy articles of interest to revolution-watchers, but a third, short piece buried in section C makes the most useful commentary on the way things are. The first article details the backlash of the Parisian intelligentsia to a new video game set during the French Revolution; the second article reviews Jennifer Lawrence’s role as leader of a people’s revolt in the Hunger Games series (Mocking Jay, Part One). Neither of them will surprise you much. The video game has incited anger because of its inaccurate portrayal of the Revolution, and especially its sympathetic depiction of the royal Bourbons. Reporter Dan Bilefsky suggests that such outrage is misplaced, given other more important issues facing the country, and dismisses the whole event in ironic ridicule, announcing: “only in France could a video game provoke an earnest philosophical debate over the decadence of the monarchy, the moral costs of democracy, the rise of the far right, and the meaning of the state.” Describing the sequel to the Hunger Games franchise, Manohla Dargis notes that the heroine’s “very survival has made her an existential threat to Panem” and that her bellicose actions in this installment “serve as a rebuke to the Capitol,” until the end at least. It appears that the film winds down to a rote handling of gender and war, where “Katniss Everdeen stands gaping at the rescue, with widening and watering eyes.” If it is unsurprising that an American reporter would scoff at the French outrage over the memory of the First Republic, it is also unsurprising that a Hollywood film would treat its heroine like “the girl.” Both media, the snide NYT reporting on French culture and politics, and the Hollywood film industry’s treatment of young women, can be counted on to perpetuate those stereotypes.

HAACKE-GALLERY6-superJumboFor a bracing wake-up call on the people’s power to change the world (or rather our impotence), readers have to look a little deeper into the paper. I suggest you look into the work of Hans Haacke, reviewed by Ken Johnson on page C24. Haacke’s work foregrounds the role of money, notably the money of the billionaire Koch brothers, who have helped conservative causes rise to unprecedented prominence in American affairs. It does so by making novel use of artistic media, such as the 13-foot-tall “Gift Horse” sculpture (soon to be displayed in Trafalgar Square in London), whose leg is harnessed to the London Stock Exchange. Or consider “Circulation,” which operates through a system of transparent tubes piping water–and power–across the gallery floor. As Johnson notes, this kind of art provides “sane thinking about the real world and its interwoven systems.”
Haacke’s exhibit at the Paula Cooper gallery is unlikely to lull observers into a feel-good sense of our superiority. It will most likely gnaw at your consciousness by reminding you of your insignificance.

And for that reason, exactly, it deserves our attention.


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