In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Introduction
  • Robert St. Clair and Seth Whidden

This special issue of Nineteenth-Century French Studies, long in the making, arrives at a moment of contradictions. Commemorating an event seen by many of its contemporaneous actors as the culminating point of a decades-long collective struggle for freedom and democracy in nineteenth-century France1—an event whose name, to this day, still conjures up ideals of freedom and direct democracy, as well as the conscience-shaking act of repression with which it was put down—the present issue seeks to take stock of the past and to bring some clarity to blind spots that may have heretofore remained obscured. Its relevance in the present, however, reveals nothing short of urgency: this issue comes to print amid acute crises and breakdown of political forms while across the globe citizens struggle to find new forms and spaces for collective political actions, contest anti-egalitarian forms of a partage du sensible (Rancière) bolstered by the State's proverbial monopoly on violence, and challenge at its core the notion that the present in which we find ourselves is inescapable—that is to say, futureless. It is therefore in a broader context of leaping into the past in the hopes of better sounding out a way forward—a manoeuvre perhaps best materially emblematized, if not put into practice, by the déboulonnage of public monuments to oppressions not so much past as on-going which spread across transnational contestatory movements and spaces, from Richmond, VA to Nantes, in the summer of 2020—that we have convened the following essays. Each bears witness to the imperative of grappling with the past in the hopes of understanding the present, and of understanding that past in the hopes of finding a way out of a present that seeks to present itself as timeless. In a word, each bears witness to what Paul Verlaine once referred to as "le besoin pressant d'opportuns lendemains."2

It is doubtless more than a little tempting to search for a solitary strand running through each of the essays and interventions assembled in the present volume—however richly multifarious they may be in object or approach, or at [End Page xi] times only uncomfortably compatible in the conclusions they reach where the question of the Commune's significance is concerned—that might allow us to pull them each together in a single dialectical stitch. A red thread connecting each story about the 1871 Paris Commune to, as it were, a larger story, a collective story, that might bring into clearer relief something like the "matter(ing)" of the Commune, the meaning of our "entanglement" with the Commune today.3 Why is it that, in a century which was at no loss for massive revolutionary upheavals, insurrectionary events or world-shaking transformations followed by cruelly dashed hopes (1830, 1831, 1834, 1848, 1851, etc.), nearly alone the Commune retains a particularly intense, perduring grasp on our historical imaginations and perhaps our political aspirations? Revisiting the Paris Commune with 150 years of hindsight is a daunting task, and we could not hope to be exhaustive in our reach. Consistent with the journal's remit of "nineteenth-century French studies and related fields," the Commune's resonance stretches the notion of what is "related" beyond what regular readers of Nineteenth-Century French Studies find in a typical issue. Paul Lidsky's statement that "il n'y a plus deux visions antithétiques de la Commune, mais des lectures plurielles, éclatées, complémentaires de l'événement"4 could well explain the various voices, disciplines, modes, perspectives, and even oppositions that the Commune requires throughout this issue's texts, divided into six groupings, movements, or phases.

Despite (or perhaps because of) this fundamental and irresolvable lack of simplicity and the Commune's resistance to facile summary, its potential to endure was always already there, from its earliest moments. On 17 April, when it was just barely one month old, Karl Marx saw the lasting resonance of this event that was still in its infancy: "Whatever the immediate results may be, a new point of departure of world-historic importance has been gained."5 Twenty years later...