Thursday, April 10, 2008

Forty Years into the Future...

Il est interdit d’interdire.

That Faulkner line about the past never being dead is certainly true in France where historical events are generally discussed as heatedly as current events. Hiromi recently linked to this NY Times article, which mentions that historical figures sell magazines here. Currently, every magazine, and all of the television channels are doing features about Mai ’68 leading up to the fortieth anniversary of the student uprisings in Paris. So far, my favorite is a porno magazine whose cover reads “Mai 68. Mes 69…”

L’action ne doit pas être une réaction mais une création.

1968 was a tumultuous and fairly tragic year nearly everywhere. And 1969 was even worse. There were the student protests, riots, and assassinations in the United States, of course. But there were in fact protests and riots in several other countries, and Prague’s ill-fated summer. All of this sound and fury was great for culture, of course; but soon gave birth to a cottage industry in reactionaries and future reactionaries. Alas, it seems to be an iron-clad rule that there are revolutions and then the boot falls. The times they ‘a change back too, unfortunately.

Un flic dort en chacun de nous, il faut le tuer.

In Paris, the students occupied the Sorbonne at roughly the same time as a general worker’s strike was going on, which they soon aligned with- probably the only time that’s ever happened in history! They were angry about the arrests of students protesting the Vietnam War; but one thing led to another and, within days, the Rue Saint Michel was barricaded with burning cars and piles of paving stones and the students were facing the riot police.

Sous les pavés, la plage.

Two things are surprising when you watch newsreels from that era: the first is that it really does look to be on the verge of civil war in several cities at the same time. Revolutions in Paris aren’t unheard of, of course, and the level of destruction in 1968 was startling; probably startling enough to turn the tide of public opinion back in the direction of law and order. In Prague, on the other hand, public opinion never turned towards the Soviets, and the despair in the faces of the Czech crowds is evident as the tanks roll in.

Jamais les femmes été plus belles ni plus fières.

The second surprise is in how seriously people took these attempts at revolution. The students clearly believe that what they’re doing is critically important. I don’t know if they really believed that they were going to change the world; but they clearly believed that they had a civic duty to fulfill. The idea that our lives and actions actually matter seems somehow naïve and archaic for those of us living in the society of the spectacle. And it’s arguable just what the protesters accomplished in 1968. On the other hand, nobody ever looks back on those years and brags that they were in the riot police.

Le rêve est réalité.

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