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Unfinished Business: Reflections on the Occupation and May ’68 Lynn A. Higgins Q u’est-ce qu’un homme révolté? Un homme qui dit non. Mais s’il refuse, il ne renonce pas: c’est aussi un homme qui dit oui, dès son premier mouvement. Un esclave, qui a reçu des ordres toute sa vie, juge soudain inacceptable un nouveau commandement. Quel est le con­ tenu de ce “ non” ? —Albert Camus, L ’Homme révolté I N HIS STUDY of what he calls the “ Vichy Syndrome,” historian Henry Rousso outlines in four stages the evolution of French memories of the Occupation. The stage that interests me here came after the war’s immediate aftermath (1944 to 1954), that “ unfinished mourning” during which the country was incapable of processing the trauma or finding any acceptable collective representation of the Vichy period. It also follows the period of “ repressions” (1954-1971) which foreclosed debate by imposing a Gaullist myth of the Occupation that circumvented alternative interpretations. My focus here is on Rousso’s third stage, “ the broken mirror,” beginning in about 1971 and lasting for some four years, which was marked by an awakening of memory, the disintegration of the narrative of the heroic Resistance, and the emer­ gence of new countermyths. Among the cultural manifestations of this shift was Marcel Ophuls’s documentary film Le Chagrin et la pitié, filmed in 1969 and released in 1971. As Ophuls himself has linked his interviewees’ willingness to talk about the Occupation to the recent dis­ ruptions of May ’68, Rousso states too that “ the spirit of May” per­ meated the film, and he believes that “ the year 1968 marked a turning point in France’s thinking about the Occupation.” 1 Given the importance Ophuls, Rousso, and others attribute to the prises de conscience of May ’68 in reshaping memories of the Occupa­ tion, it is curious, to say the least, that the repressed national malaise about the Vichy period figures not at all in discussions of May. It is wide­ ly accepted that the 1968 rebellions were overdetermined and must be understood as a multidimensional crisis. As early as 1970, Philippe Bénéton and Jean Touchard were able to draw up a typology of explana­ tory theories. The outbreaks of 1968 had been described variously as: a Vol. XXXIII, No. 1 105 L ’E spr it C réa te u r communist conspiracy; a breakdown of the university; a youth rebellion; a spiritual revolt; a generalized “ crise de civilisation” ; a manifestation of class conflict; a political crisis; a chain of circumstantial events.2Sixteen years later, Michel Winock bases his analysis on the same general cate­ gories.3 Although most scholars of the period note that the rebellions were spearheaded by a generation born after the war, in no case are col­ lective or individual memories of the Occupation mentioned as a con­ tributing factor. If, as Rousso claims, “ In May 1968 a generation noisily proclaimed its repudiation of a certain type of society and therefore, im­ plicitly, of a certain vision of its history” (98), what role do memories of the Second World War play among the forces that shaped the rebellions? Remarkably, representations of the revolts made during the period of the “ broken mirror” almost inevitably contain some allusion to the Vichy period, and post-1968 works about the Occupation almost as invariably contain some allusion to May. What follows below is an examination of a few of these, after which I will offer some speculations about the meanings of this subterranean but insistent thread connecting 1968 to the 1940-1944 period. My reflections accept Rousso’s notion that the generation of May was challenging the elder generation to revise its memories of Vichy. I want, however, to add a reciprocal emphasis: that stories about the war contributed to the next generation’s developing self-image. The events themselves provide the clearest indications that the May generation was defining itself in terms of the Occupation period. The epithets “ fascist” and “ nazi,” hurled indiscriminately at bosses, fathers, government officials, the police, and any other available authority fig­ ures, might simply have been the worst political gauntlet the French...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 105-110
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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