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Revolutionaries

February 20, 2010

Tony Judt for The New York Review of Books Blog:

For real revolution, of course, you went to Paris. Like so many of my friends and contemporaries I traveled there in the spring of 1968 to observe—to inhale—the genuine item. Or, at any rate, a remarkably faithful performance of the genuine item. Or, perhaps, in the skeptical words of Raymond Aron, a psychodrama acted out on the stage where once the genuine item had been performed in repertoire. Because Paris really had been the site of revolution—indeed, much of our visual understanding of the term derives from what we think we know of the events there in the years 1789-1794—it was sometimes difficult to distinguish between politics, parody, pastiche…and performance.

From one perspective everything was as it should be: real paving stones, real issues (or real enough to the participants), real violence, and occasionally real victims. But at another level it all seemed not quite serious: even then I was hard pushed to believe that beneath the paving stones lay the beach (sous les pavés la plage), much less that a community of students shamelessly obsessed with their summer travel plans—in the midst of intense demonstrations and debates, I recall much talk of Cuban vacations—seriously intended to overthrow President Charles de Gaulle and his Fifth Republic. All the same, it was their own children out on the streets, so many French commentators purported to believe this might happen and were duly nervous. [More]

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