It is sweeter to wander with the wretched and outcasts than to sit crowned with roses at the banquets of the rich
Elisee Reclus

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Mapping the 1871 Paris Commune in 2009

What could be a better route to follow through central Paris than the flight of Maurice and Jean through the combat of the Paris Commune on 23rd March 1871 as depicted by Emile Zola in his novel 'The Debacle'?

It all starts here for the friends that had been separated finally by supporting opposing sides of Paris Commune. After the 400 pages of the trials and tribulations of the Franco-Prussian War, Jean (a Federale) and Maurice (a Communard) are reunited when unbeknown to Jean he comes across a weary rebel still firing his rifle at the barricade at the junction of rue de Lille and rue de Bac and stabs him 'through the arm near the right had penetrated between two ribs and probably involved the lung'. Realising that he had wounded his old friend, they begin a mad scramble across Paris to the supposed safety of Jean's room.

Dragging Maurice to the nearby Seine, 'out on to the embankment they were momentarily blided by the dreadful light from fires burning in huge sheaves of flame on both sides of the Seine'. They clamber down to the quayside and take a boat out into the river and drift 'with the current, hugging the bank in the shadow of the bathing establishment and barges'.

They take the boat under the Pont Soferino...'the boat seemed to be floating on a river of fire. In the dancing reflections of these huge conflagrations the Seine appeared to be bearing along blazing coals'...

...'He had only one urgent job, to land and get away from this awful sight. All the same he was prudent enough to go past the Concorde Bridge so as not to leave the boat until the towpath below the Quai de la Conference...'

Reaching the Place de la Concorde they move quickly across the square...'although the day was not yet dawning the light from the fires near-by threw a livid dawn over the huge square. They crossed it's empty spaces, their hearts aching at this dreary destruction'

'On the square itself, bullets made holes in the fountains, the collosal trunk of the statue of Lille lay on the ground broken in two by a shell, while the statue of Strasbourg hard by, veiled, seemed to be in mourning for so much ruin'.

Reaching rue de Rivoli, where the sturdiest of Commune barricades had been erected, they darted up the rue de St Florentin...

'Hurrying along the rue Saint Florentin at last...

...going down rue Saint-Honore...

...only a bit of the rue d'Argenteuil and...

...they would be in the rue des Orties, right at the top of Buttes des Moulins'...'what a deliverance when they had turned into it! It was dark, empty and silent and might have been a hundred leagues away from the battle. The house, an old and narrow one with no concierge, was sleeping the deep sleep of death'.

It was here That Ruinist was unable to go further as this whole area described above was demolished in 1876 and so I had to make do with a picture of the road from the time that I had brought along. I was also unable to find any sign of the Commune in any public text, graffiti, accidental symbolism or what have you. Here despite this momentous journey, the Commune had been erased from the streets of Paris. If you want to find out what happened to Maurice and Jean, then you'll have to read the book!

Today, the Commune's political visibility must be restored by a process of dis-incorporation: born of rupture with the Left, it must be extracted from the leftist hermeneutics that have overwhelmed it for so long.

Alain Badiou, The Paris Commune: A Political Declaration on Politics in the book 'Polemics', Verso, 2006

You can read the full essay here: Badiou The Paris Commune

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