- 30 mai 68: le sursaut populaire par Xavier Louy
The fiftieth anniversary of the French events of 1968 has been accompanied by the now traditional outpouring of material surfing the wave of commemorative fervour. Such decennial staging-posts have become useful markers for plotting the trajectory of the collective memory construction of this crucial period. Each juncture has been marked by interesting developments and trends, and 2018 was no different. One of the most notable departures was the surge in material that sought to tell the story of l’autre côté des barricades. Xavier Louy’s book fits into this trend and provides a revealing insight into the Gaullist experience of the events. Louy’s account of how he, as a young pro-Gaullist, lived through and remembers these events certainly offers some interesting anecdotes about the mindset of those who considered the revolt of 1968 as a threat. The inclusion of such testimonies in retellings of the story is to be applauded and encouraged. Not only do they enhance our understanding of the vécu of this time, but they also underscore the perpetuation of contested perspectives of this moment whose marginalization from the dominant narrative is to no one’s advantage. However, while we welcome such an intervention in the interests of inclusive multiperspectivity, the overt and, at times, exaggerated one-sidedness of this account runs the risk of doing more harm than good. The problem with interpretations such as this is that their stand-alone status and failure constructively to engage with counter-narratives leaves one wondering how such a piece can further our understanding of an event that continues to solicit much debate and discussion. In the absence of essential balance, this study falls short of contributing helpfully to debates in the saturated market of ‘1968 studies’. It is little more than Louy’s love letter to Charles de Gaulle, blinded to the true magnitude, depth, and significance of the events of 1968 in France (arguably just as was the General during the events). Its throwaway comments concerning the nature of the revolt are very much in keeping with the rather narrow and restrictive ‘convenient consensus’ that has taken a firm grip on how the events are remembered and which seeks to reduce it to an irresponsible, Paris-based, gauchiste-led student psychodrama. Given the great strides that have been made in recent years in breaking out of this telescopic paradigm, it is somewhat frustrating to see the continuation of such reductive perspectives. This sense of frustration is grounded in the genuine belief that making such divergent narratives part of how the French events of 1968 are recounted is indeed an essential and potentially positive step forward in helping enhance how this period and its consequences are to be remembered and understood. However, if those contributing to this broadening of perspectives do so with the same objectives as Louy, then this will be an opportunity missed. The present work is certainly useful to make sense of how the events of May–June 1968 were experienced from within the pro-Gaullist camp, and has the potential to contribute to our understanding. However, by failing to see beyond the outdated, reductive optic that has been the focus of much challenge over [End Page 493] recent years, and by refusing to engage with the true magnitude of what happened, one wonders what this book actually brings to an already over-populated debate.