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Commemorating Trauma

The Paris Commune and Its Cultural Aftermath

Peter Starr

Publication Year: 2006

Nothing says more about a culture than the way it responds to deeply traumatic events. The Reign of Terror, America's Civil War, the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Kennedy assassination, September 11th-watershed moments such as these can be rich sounding boards for the cultural historian patient enough to tease out the traumatic event's complex cultural resonances.This book is about one such moment in the history of modern France. The so-called Terrible Year began with the French army's crushing defeat at Sedan and the fall of the Second Empire in September of 1870, followed by the Prussian occupation of France and first siege of Paris in the fall and winter of that year. But no event of the period proved so deeply traumatic as the Paris Commune of 1871 and the bloody reprisals that attended its demise.Commemorating Trauma engages the rich body of recent scholarly work on cultural trauma to examine a curious conundrum. Why do French literary, historical and philosophical texts written in the aftermath of the Paris Commune so often employ the trope of confusion (in both the phenomenal and cognitive senses of that term) to register and work through the historical traumas of the Terrible Year? And how might these representations of confusion both reflect and inflect the confusions inherent to an ongoing process of social upheaval evident in late nineteenth-century France-a process whose benchmarks include democratization and the blurring of social classes, a persistent and evolving revolutionism, radical reconfigurations of the city as lived environment, and the development of specifically capitalist logics of commerce? These are the two principal questions addressed in this important study of cultural memory.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix

Although written largely over the past several years, this book has its roots in my graduate work at Johns Hopkins’s Humanities Center. Of all the extraordinary scholars with whom I had the pleasure of studying at Hopkins, several had an important role in helping me to conceptualize the unpublished...

Note on Translations

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pp. xi

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Introduction: The Commune and the Right to Confusion

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pp. 1-12

In the opening chapter of his Mimesis, Erich Auerbach draws a famously sharp distinction between legend and history. In legend, he writes, thinking of Homer: ‘‘All cross-currents, all friction, all that is casual, secondary to the main events and themes, everything unresolved, truncated, and uncertain,...

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Chapter 1: Why Confusion? Why the Commune?

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pp. 13-40

Confusion, I have suggested, is both this study’s principal subject and its historiographical limit. How and why, we will be asking, were the events most central to the history of the Paris Commune of 1871 perceived as confounding by contemporary participants and commentators? How did these...

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Chapter 2: The Time of Our Melancholy: Zola’s Débacle

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pp. 41-59

If there is anything on which contemporary readers of Zola’s La Débacle have tended to agree, it is that the novel evinces an ideological complexity which belies the relative simplicity of its characterization. Lucienne Frappier-Mazur, for example, shows how competing conceptions of national...

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Chapter 3: Mourning Triumphant: Hugo’s Terrible Year(s)

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pp. 60-85

Reading the two literary works of Victor Hugo most marked by the events of 1870 and 1871—the 1872 poem cycle L’Annee terrible and his 1874 novelization of the Terror, Quatre-vingt-treize—involves a markedly different set of frustrations than does the reading of La Débacle. Where Zola’s novel...

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Chapter 4: Science and Confusion: Flaubert’s Temptation

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pp. 86-115

Flaubert speaks often in his letters of a desire to make criticism, literary style, and even politics ‘‘scientific.’’ Yet critics habitually assume that the meaning of Flaubert’s ‘‘science’’ lies elsewhere than in the practices of the natural sciences as he and his contemporaries would have known them. When...

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Chapter 5: The Party of Movement: Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet

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pp. 116-148

To set us on the track of the elusive Bouvard et Pécuchet, I have chosen a series of quotations whose subject is on.1 The first is from a letter that Flaubert wrote to his niece, Caroline Commanville, shortly before his death in May 1880: ‘‘From the moment you lift yourself up, on (that eternal and...

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Chapter 6: Democracy and Masochism: Zola’s Bonheur

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pp. 149-168

Unlike the literary texts with which I began this study, Emile Zola’s Au Bonheu des damesr is not about the Paris Commune, either directly (La Debacle, L’Annee terrible) or indirectly (Quatre-vingt-treize). Nor is its relation to the Commune essentially reactive and symptomatic, as I have argued for...

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Chapter 7: The Filmic Commune

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pp. 169-184

In the course of the preceding chapters, I have twice had occasion to reference a felicitous turn of phrase from Dominick LaCapra’s analysis of posttraumatic acting out. In scenes marked by the compulsive return of a traumatic past, LaCapra writes, ‘‘the future is blocked or fatalistically caught up...


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pp. 185-205


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pp. 207-219


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pp. 221-225

E-ISBN-13: 9780823246434
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823226030
Print-ISBN-10: 0823226034

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2006