En fait, on sait bien que ce qui a mis à sec les finances de la France, c’est la guerre d’Indépendance américaine, et pas les chaussures de Marie-Antoinette. Mais avec les femmes au pouvoir, on en vient toujours aux paires de chaussures. – Chantal Thomas
A recent LCC post got us interested in the new Coppola movie about Marie Antoinette – an obvious lure for people who have invested a lot of time in studying French culture. At the same time, I don’t have high hopes for it – Lost in Translation merely made me sorry that Bill Murray was lost in Lost in Translation, and everything I have read about the Marie Antoinette movie seems to indicate – take the Paris Hilton set, put big gowns and wigs on them, and voila, the decadent Frogs! A rather pitiful comparison. The French aristocracy might have been many things, but they were not the untutored ignoramuses of our current governing class.
Probably we will have to wait until video – we are rather crawling on the economic floor this week, and repeating our mantra: never become a freelance writer! Better strangle your child in the cradle. If they show any inclination to write down their feelings, or compose poems, or such crapola – send them immediately to military school! So we aren’t about to spring for the tickets to S.C.’s fun filled frolic at the moment, when that is certainly equivalent to a burger and fries.
Good films about the French revolution are hard to make. (We have heard wonderful think about Peter Watson’s film of the French Commune – but it is not out on DVD, so these are just rumors to us). However, we do remember back, what, twenty years, the awful film by Wadja that tried to make out that the French Revolution was Stalinism with the trimmings, with some rancid scenes about Robespierre that completely made him out to be a puritanical little Beria. Wadja really is a cunt, and he revived an old reactionary trope that is adored by the right, which likes to contrast the American Revolution (which preserved slavery and was premised on the westward march of Indian killing) as good and enlightened, whereas the bad Frenchies were sending butchers out to drown the Vendee in blood and such. It always amazes me how much sheer blindness goes into these things, but I guess I exist in a constant state of amazement. I, on the other hand, support (isn’t that a lovely word, support? It is often brandished in comments and blogs, and it has such faux gravity, as if one were stepping to a podium before a cheering crowd. This, my friends, my brothers, my mokes and geezers, is what pomposity is all about!) the Atlantic revolutions – the U.S., France, Haiti. Good thing I do, too! Otherwise there’d be the devil to pay.
Poor Marie A. was not her mother’s daughter until the end – I wonder if they show that in the movie? I don’t have a soft spot for many royals – for instance, I think Lenin did the right thing in ordering the execution of the Romanovs, save for the kids – but I think Paine was completely right about sparing Louis and his wife – a step that plunged France into the wars that eventually led to Napoleon. Anyway, Antoinette has been a great object for feminist historians in the last twenty years. In her time, Marie Antoinette was the anti-heroine of many a pornographic tract. Lynn Hunt, in the Family Romance of the French Revolution, and Chantal Thomas, in the groundbreaking La Reine Scelerante, have done some immense work in the archives, bringing to light these pamphlets and caricatures. Thomas, in her interview with Humanite, cites Madame De Stael:
“After having written that essay on the queen in the pamphlets (La reine scelerante), and chiefly in picking up once again the witness of Madame de Staël, I was intrigued that someone who was so politically opposite to the queen would take up the pen so courageously to defend her in saying that all women are humiliated by the way Marie Antoinette is treated.” Referring of course to the trial. Marie Antoinette’s boy was taken away, and given to a shoemaker named Simon, who caught him, one day, masturbating, and coaxed the eight year old into saying that his mother and her sister taught him. Hebert, prosecuting Marie, said this about the charge:
“There is reason to believe that this criminal enjoyment was not at all dictated by pleasure, but rather by the political hope of enervating the physical health of this child, who theycontinued to believe would occupy a throne, and on whom they wished, by this maneuver, to assure themselves of the right of ruling afterward over his morals.”
Now, Hébert is not just anybody. Actually, he is an influence on this very blog – I throw in words like cunt, fuck, and shit partly because Hébert used obscenity in Pere Duchesne, his newspaper. It was after reading Pere Duchesne that I decided, fuck, I’m gonna do that. Hebert had the genius to marry the language of the street to the language of revolutionary politics. He helped create the modern demagogic style. To make him Marie Antoinette’s accuser would be like appointing Larry Flynt Foley’s accuser.
In any case, the Queen was not going to put up with this confusion between reality and the stroke story. Her reply … is unfortunately untranslateable. A popular biography has her saying, I appeal to all the mothers in this room. “I appeal” is, technically, correct, but doesn’t have the electric force of Marie Antoinette’s speech, which is like the speech of one of Racine’s heroines. Here’s an excerpt from the Goncourt Brothers biography:
‘A juror arose: Citoyen président, je vous invite de vouloir bien observer à l’accusée qu’elle n’a pas repondu sur le fait dont à parlé le citoyen Hébert, à l’égard de ce qui s’est passé entre elle et son fils.”
“Si je n’ai pas repondu, dit la Reine, c’est que la nature se refuse à repondre à une pareille question faite à une mere; et se tournant vers les mères qui remplissent les tribunes: J’en appelle à toutes celles qui peuvent se trouver ici.
I love this moment. I absolutely love this moment.
ps - proof that our own court society, compared to Louis XVI's, is as pasteboard to diamonds, is provided by Sally Quinn, the Washington Post's most enjoyable doyenne, today. Quinn has always treated D.C. as though it were her private high school - after all, we all learn about court society in prom, don't we? - and is probably still rather miffed that, after all the introducing around she did for Chalabi, the man still wasn't elevated to the rank of proconsul in Iraq. Some greasy other Arab was (and I use greasy advisedly - her column about Chalabi and other Iraqi leaders made a point of how relatively non-greasy Chalabi was. As well as obviously having table manners - none of that barbarous scooping up the rice with your bare hands for OUR Iraqi leader.) Her column about Rumsfeld as a scapegoat today is riotously funny - Quinn seems to have the kind of fine mind that separates actions (especially actions about peons and peasants - I mean, my God, these are figures made by God to move about a chessboard, and we are supposed to worry that they bleed a little? Well, boo hoo) from high D.C. symbolism. So Rumsfeld is a scapegoat - I guess in the same way that Manson is a scapegoat in the murder of Sharon Tate. Charlie wasn't actually there, right?
But High School has its privileges, unto the grave. So my fave doyenne graf was this one:
"I suspect that he has already told the president and Cheney that he will leave after the midterm elections, saying that the country needs new leadership to wind down the war. And he will resign to take a job in some sort of humanitarian venture, thereby creating the perception that he is a caring person who left of his own accord to devote the rest of his life to good works."
Operator, get me a charity! "The perception that he is a caring person" - to parse that phrase completely, from the way in which perception is detached from subject and launched as a free floating variable, docking with various ectoplasmic communities, to the choice of 'person' - not man, not caring butcher of Fallujah, but 'person' - well, it would be to plunge into the maelstrom. The ride down would be fun, but much, much too long for a simple post.
“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears
Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann
"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads
"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads