The Invention of Paris is a tour through the streets and history of the French capital under the guidance of radical Parisian author and publisher Eric Hazan.
Hazan reveals a city whose squares echo with the riots, rebellions and revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Combining the raconteur’s ear for a story with a historian’s command of the facts, he introduces an incomparable cast of characters: the literati, the philosophers and the artists—Balzac, Baudelaire, Blanqui, Flaubert, Hugo, Maney, and Proust, of course; but also Doisneau, Nerval and Rousseau.
It is a Paris dyed a deep red in its convictions. It is haunted and vitalized by the history of the barricades, which Hazan retells in rich detail. The Invention of Paris opens a window on the forgotten byways of the capital’s vibrant and bloody past, revealing the city in striking new colors.
No past revolution, she says, can be attributed to professional revolutionaries. Usually it was the other way around: “revolution broke out and liberated, as it were, the professional revolutionaries from wherever they happened to be – from jail, or from the coffee house, or from the library.”
Five great amateurs whose work changed the world, from author of The Amateur, Andy Merrifield.
In any case, what sticks out amidst this mass vote is a feeling of absurdity. The absurdity of a mechanism that brings to power a man we know nothing about, and who has grounded his success precisely in his capacity to say nothing (the back cover of his book Révolution has not one line of text, but just a full page photo of Macron himself). The absurdity of a system that gives a crushing majority to such a man, in order to avoid a danger that is largely imaginary. Most of all, the absurdity of a focus on elections that we all feel have nothing to do with our lives, and which we all feel are playing out on a sort of flying carpet, above our heads.
Éric Aeschimann's interview with Sophie Wahnich was first published in L'obs on 23 March. Translated by David Broder.
From Danton (1983).
The last time that the French Revolution was the object of real public discussion was in 1989, with the bicentennial ceremonies staged by François Mitterrand, Jack Lang, and Jean-Paul Goude. Since then, there has been silence. Who today still refers to the Tennis Court Oath, the night of 4 August, the vote on the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" in 1793? At the Elysée [presidential place], 14 July has become the occasion for a presidential chatter where we speak more of political rehashes than of any revolutionary vision. And when leaders or intellectuals refer to the nation’s history, they cite the Resistance, the Popular Front, the Third Republic’s laws on laïcité and schooling, or even the Enlightenment. Rarely 1789. One exception was Manuel Valls’s allusion… to Marianne’s naked breasts. But things are starting to move. In autumn the philosopher Jean-Claude Milner published Rélire la Révolution, where he rehabilitates the project of universal justice asserted by the Revolution by way of the 1793 "Declaration of the Rights of Man." At the Amandiers theatre, Joël Pommerat has staged Ça ira (1) Fin de Louis, first part of a far-reaching depiction of the Constituent Assembly, which has encountered quite an echo around France. In June the film-maker Pierre Schoeller (L’Exercice de l’Etat) will shoot a film on this subject.
Most importantly, the Arab revolutions and the square occupations à la Indignados have shown that the time of popular movements may return. And together with this, crucial questions: how to avoid one-upmanship, chaos, violence? How to avoid returning to a worse state than before? The men of 1789 confronted these dilemmas already; it might be useful to see how they responded to them.