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The Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps

A radical guide to Paris through art, literature and revolution.
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.

Reviews

  • “[Hazan] stalks the capital, fulminating about the nineteenth and twentieth centuries' artistic and political rebellions.”
  • “Detailed, passionate ... Any visit to [Paris] would be made richer by taking the time to read Hazan's book.”
  • “This is a wondrous book, either to be read at home with a decent map, or carried about sur place through areas no tourists bother with.”
  • “Hazan is all business. He trudges through Paris street by street, quoting what Balzac, Hugo, Baudelaire or Kafka said about a particular spot, pointing out where barricades were once erected and thieves gathered for drinks.”
  • “Amid the intellectual murkiness of the European scene, a few bright flames are burning: as witness the work of Eric Hazan.”
  • “[F]ew will be able to resist... Hazan's brick-by-brick account of the city's history of strife and political posturing is riveting.”
  • “Do you want to be happy? Buy this book and take a stroll.”
  • “Hazan wants to rescue individual moments from general forgetting and key sites from the bland homogenization of international city development; he is also a passionate left-wing historian seeking to rescue the truth of Paris’s revolutionary past.”
  • “One of the greatest books about the city anyone has written in decades, towering over a crowded field, passionate and lyrical and sweeping and immediate.”
  • “This book is both a political and aesthetic delight, uncovering the real mysteries of Paris.”
  • “With its astonishing breadth of reference and incredible detail, this is a must for all lovers of Paris.”
  • “[A] stunning book.”

Blog

  • Revolution — still the stuff of dreams? A conversation with Sophie Wahnich

    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.

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  • Save Those Who Weep

    Sophie Wahnich argues we need to expand the notion of civil war to include the whole set of social and political practices that destroy the social bond. Since market relations destroy sociability, we must unfailingly turn our attention to those who are falling through the cracks. First published in Libération. Translated by David Broder.  



    Eddie Constantine as Lemmy Caution in Alphaville (1965). 

    In Alphaville — imagined by Jean-Luc Godard in 1965 — the city’s all-powerful master Professor von Braun has abolished human feelings. A computer, Alpha 60, governs the whole city. The secret agent Lemmy Caution is charged with "destroying Alpha 60...and saving those who weep."

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  • Culture

    This piece first appeared in lundimatin. Translated by David Broder.


    Stendhal wrote cela [that] with a double l, which got him in trouble when he was working as a functionary at the War Ministry. In fact, he was no good at literature when he was studying, and his goal was to enter the École polytechnique — like Octave in his Armance, as well as his Lucien Leuwen. His whole life, he wrote in an unreadable spidery scrawl with countless errors – so much so that he had to dictate The Charterhouse of Parma. He did so in seven weeks, which is pretty quick for what is not a thin volume. Sainte-Beuve found Stendhal’s novels "frankly detestable." He could not stand Balzac, to the point that he refused to attend a dinner where he risked meeting him. He really liked Baudelaire, however, finding him a to be "nice boy, fine in his language and entirely classical in form." Balzac would have loved to be in the Académie française, but when he presented himself as a candidate he only got four votes, and it was instead the Duke of Noailles who was chosen to replace Chateaubriand. Baudelaire had also thought of putting himself forward, and when he withdrew his candidacy, Sainte-Beuve congratulated him on having left "a good impression."

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Other books by Eric Hazan Translated by David Fernbach