woe betide those who forgive such moments

“I don’t pity them. For, I confess it madam, I differ of little from your taste in political colors; I find pink (rose) charming, when it is transformed into a proper name; I find it infinitely lovable to perceive it on a pretty face like yours; but in opinions, I confess, I find it repulsive (je le repousse). Continue, then, madame, I pray you, to be pink in complexion and name, but not in politics.” – Alexander Tocqueville, letter to Rose Margaret Phillimore, 30 December, 1848.

It is interesting, ghoulishly interesting, to be writing about Herzen’s reaction to the collapse of the revolution of 1848 on the day that the Iranian military disperses protests in Teheran. From the Other Shore strikes deep chords – and one of them is surely about the meaning of oligarchic reaction. In many ways, Ahmadinejad’s Republic resembles that of Louis Phillipe - vast fortunes are made by shady men, sieved off the public and become part of the structure of rot. At a certain point, hazard, in the form of an election, cannot be tolerated. And it isn’t. The people wake up to the fact that the rules of the game changed when they were asleep.

Herzen, of course, throbbed with the revolution that seemed to promise so much when it took Paris and crumbled all the old structures in February, 1848. By the end of the year, the new structures – especially the attempt by the state to simply employ people in the ateliers nationales, which was the breaking point for the liberals – had been in turn smashed. Tocqueville was, as in that rather disgusting letter to his friend, happy about the smashing, and had some hand in putting General Cavaignac in charge of the worker massacres.

Herzen does not sketch the details of the fight – rather, his point is to give an impression of Paris and himself during this time. Here is how he describes what happened:

The liberals dallied and jested with the idea of revolution until they joked themselves into February 24. The popular hurricane carried them to the top of the belfry, whence they could see where they were going and leading others. And the chasm they saw before them made them blanch for they saw that not only that wh8ich they had regarded as prejudice was tumbling but all the rest as well, the things they had regarded as true and eternal. So frightened were they that some of them clutched at the tumbling walls while others halted midway, remorsefully assuring all passers-by that this was not at all what they had wanted. And thus the very people who proclaimed the republic came to be the hangmen of freedom.”

When the liberals in the government gave untrammeled reign to the White terror in order to uproot the Parisian proletariat, Herzen was a witness. His account of this is not famous in the English speaking world, so I will quote some of it. But I want to end this post – on this dark day – with this:

“On the evening of June 26, after the victory of the National over Paris, we heard salvoes with brief, regular intervals between them… We glanced at each other; everybody was green in the face. “These are executions,” we said in unison and looked away. I pressed my forehead to the window-pane. Such moments kindle hatred for a dozen of years, call for life-long vengeance. Woe betide those who forgive such moments!”

A cry that has been uttered millions of times since.


Duncan said…
Another beautiful, upsetting and correct post, Roger. I hope your ear stops tormenting you soon...
roger said…
Duncan, thanks! At least I am being treated to a spectrum of sense distortions that I hope I can remember. Today's is: where'd my balance go to?
Anonymous said…
Spleen II

J’ai plus de souvenirs que si j’avais mille ans.

Un gros meuble à tiroirs encombré de bilans,
De vers, de billets doux, de procès, de romances,
Avec de lourds cheveux roulés dans des quittances,
Cache moins de secrets que mon triste cerveau.
C’est une pyramide, un immense caveau,
Qui contient plus de morts que la fosse commune.
— Je suis un cimetière abhorré de la lune,
Où comme des remords se traînent de longs vers
Qui s’acharnent toujours sur mes morts les plus chers.
Je suis un vieux boudoir plein de roses fanées,
Où gît tout un fouillis de modes surannées,
Où les pastels plaintifs et les pâles Boucher
Seuls, respirent l’odeur d’un flacon débouché.

Rien n’égale en longueur les boiteuses journées,
Quand sous les lourds flocons des neigeuses années
L’ennui, fruit de la morne incuriosité,
Prend les proportions de l’immortalité.
— Désormais tu n’es plus, ô matière vivante!
Qu’un granit entouré d’une vague épouvante,
Assoupi dans le fond d’un Sahara brumeux;
Un vieux sphinx ignoré du monde insoucieux,
Oublié sur la carte, et dont l’humeur farouche
Ne chante qu’aux rayons du soleil qui se couche.


roger said…
Isn't 1848 charged with the whole of Fleurs de Mal - as though it prehended it? And the post-revolutionary letdown:
L’ennui, fruit de la morne incuriosité,/
Prend les proportions de l’immortalité

And one way to look at Paris under Louis Napoleon. On the other hand, it also took the "proportions" of La belle Helene, and every Nana in the pack.

But I'm not yet ready for my boredom thread.
roger said…
I hope that comment made sense. In the middle of it, my ear tried out a new trick on me, and tipped the room slightly one way and then the other. Proving that it, he, she, is an unbelievable power, a little eardrum, middle ear god, which I promise to obey all the rest of my days on earth!
Anonymous said…
LI, your comment makes sense, at least to me. But then again I sort of knew you would pick up on the lines you did.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed that your ear situation gets better soon. But you know the well-educated West could use ear bleeds and rooms teetering one way and another. So fucking well educated we only ever hear ourselves speak, never a voice or a sound from the other shore, even when the West is so sympathetic and becomes the spokesman for others, their hopes and suffering. An education for the deaf and dumb, and to keep one that way.
The phrase in the poem, "oublié sur la carte". To speak only of the "present", there are quite a few forgotten on/by the map, aren't they. In Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Tibet, Burma, Congo, Guadaloupe...; in the detention camps all over Europe and the US; in the human "product" trafficking throughout the "civilized world"; the poor and exposed out there in the Zona while the fucks in appropriately named "think tanks" ramble on about economic recovery and global affairs.
In the Third Empire in France, we have the president elect who says things like "France has nothing to be ashamed of." And, the "heritage of 68 has to be liquidated." Nothing to be ashamed of about the massacres in 1848 and 1871, Vichy and Drancy, the Algerian War and colonial horrors, and quite a few since.
You're right, it seems to me, to evoke Belle Helene and the pack of Nana's. The other day I was looking at "images" of the protests in Iran, and I couldn't help but be struck by the women protesting together, wearing dhurbas or jeans. I wanted to be able to hear their voices.
It is not by chance that the poem ends by evoking song. One might want to join the song from the other shore. But first one has to listen. And it just might make the ear bleed and the room sway back and forth.

roger said…
The sphinx's song. One of the ironies is that we are so wrapped up in the world of corporate media that even distrusting it - by making x into not-x - doesn't work The same eager beavers who fucked over Iraq seem determined to set themselves up as the new interpreters of Iran to the rest of us - in fact, I read on some blog a rather hilarious and heartfelt aria by George Packer, the guy who, while on the "left", just knew that Bush and Co. were what Mesopotamia was longing for - well, he's using his amazing mental powers again to get inside your average Iranian protester. While you might think that they think about their system, their rights, their economy, it turns out, via Packer, that all they can think about is: is America on our side?
Oh, the imbecility!

What I'd love to know is: how did people like Packer become the marketmovers in the bloodshed market? The Bernard Henri-Makemebarf set, these experts on the Middle East that speak not a single Middle Eastern language and have no, no, no sense of the history of the Middle East (for instance, no sense that Ahmadinejad's holocaust denial is a very Pahlavi thing, as the Pahlavi shah was removed by the British in 1940 for leaning towards Germany - and that Aryan shit was very popular among that set).
But no, they sit on our necks and crow they like are the kings of the dunghill. Our morally vacuous moral overlords.

Oh well, that is them, Amie, and sorry for going off on a tangent. Still, I have an idea that the song of the Sphinx isn't something I can just get right away, every bit of it. It is the amazing universal understanding of the unversal humanitarians - not a word but they understand it all already.

To quote another sphinx, Hanin Elias, about these warmongers: "we know their names, but not their tricks..."
Anonymous said…

roger said…
That is an oddly hopeful link, Amie!
Here's a darker link to Hanin's last video: you face is deep under pressure