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Posts Tagged ‘French history

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”*…

 

Chateaubriand’s tomb, Saint-Malo, France

Because history “belongs to the victors”– is shaped, both consciously and preter-consciously by writers looking back through the lens of their often very different presents– memoir can be an especially valuable as a vehicle for understanding a time in its own terms.  François-René (Auguste), vicomte de Chateaubriand’s Memoirs from Beyond the Grave are especially precious.  His autobiography helps us as readers locate ourselves in a time of tumultuous transition– from the ancien régime to the modern era: the Revolution of 1789, the downfall of the monarchy and the execution of the king, the advent of Napoleon Bonaparte and the empire, the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty after the definite defeat of Napoleon by the powers that joined in the Holy Alliance, its overthrow by the Revolution of July 1830, the inauguration of Louis-Philippe and the establishment of the July monarchy, and finally the birth of the short-lived Second Republic.

But more, Memoirs helps us understand the psychological reality of living through– and in Chateaubriand’s case, playing a series of engaged roles in– that social and political sea change.

Chateaubriand was attached to the past and its centuries-old traditions, but he was also a liberal, open to modernity: this is one thing that sets him apart in the history of ideas. He had been repulsed by the discourse and the violence of the French revolutionaries and was deeply impressed by the powerful composure of George Washington, “the representative of the needs, ideas, intelligence, and opinions of his epoch.” He had a vision of social transformation that did not entail the obliteration of the past, and was proud to declare himself “Bourboniste by honor, royalist by reason, and republican by inclination.”…

Anka Muhlstein on the significance of the Memoirs: “A Passionate Witness“; get the book here.

(Literature can play a similar role: consider the Prince in Lampedusa’s The Leopard and Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.)

* newspaper reporter Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young), in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

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As we struggle to understand, we might send tasty birthday greetings to the culinary genius behind green eggs and ham, Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA “Dr. Seuss”; he was born on this date in 1904.  After a fascinating series of early-career explorations, Geisel settled on a style that created what turned out to be the perfect “gateway drug” to book addiction for generations of young readers.

The more that you read,

The more things you will know.

The more that you learn,

The more places you’ll go.

I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)

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Written by LW

March 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Happiness is not something ready made”*…

 

Hedonometer reading for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

A collaboration of data scientists at the University of Vermont and the Mitre Corporation, the Hedonometer was created to gauge happiness by assessing word use.  It was first applied to Twitter, as readers can see here.  More lately, it has been turned on the repository at Project Gutenberg, so that users can test the “happiness” of thousands of classic books… as above.  The chart in the top left shows happiness metrics through the whole of the book; the chart on the right shows a comparison of book sections, which one can select in the first chart.

As our friends at Flowing Data observe, “I wish I could say this meant something to me…”  Still, it makes one happy to know that they’re on the case.

* Dalai Lama

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As we search for word replacements codes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1977 that Hamida Djandoubi became the last person to be legally executed in France by guillotine.

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Written by LW

September 10, 2014 at 1:01 am

“In the beginning was the Word”*…

Pope Francis has been widely lauded in the media for his focus on serving as an example of Christian humility and engaging the marginalized and poor. His decision to live in the the Vatican guesthouse rather than in the Apostolic Palace, his handling of extreme opulence within the Catholic Church, and his priority for frequent, visible acts of charity all point to the direction Pope Francis wishes to guide the Church… Since the beginning of his papacy both the pope’s actions and his words have suggested a shift in focus as compared to his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI…

In order to glean more clues about Pope Francis’ philosophy and how he will communicate it, I analyzed word frequencies in the first 104 official speeches given by Pope Francis, from March 2013 to November 2013. For comparison, I did the same analysis for the first 102 official speeches of Pope Benedict XVI, given between April 2005 and November 2005. For both popes I used only speeches that had English translations. To visualize the results I created word clouds below, where the sizes of words are proportional to their usage (the differences in color are meaningless and intended to help the reader focus on specific words). Finally, I removed the top five words used by both popes, to better discern differences in word usage. These top five words were: God, Jesus, Lord, Christ, and Church…

Read more of Chris Walker‘s analysis on his site, Vizynary.

*John 1:1

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As we ponder pontiffs, we might spare a thought for a saint; it was on this day in 1431 that investigations began for the trial of Joan of Arc.  Joan had entered history in spectacular fashion during the spring of 1429: following what she maintained was the command of God, Joan led the French Dauphin’s armies in a series of stunning military victories over the English, effectively reversing the course of the Hundred Years’ War.  But she was captured in 1430 by the Burgundians, a faction (led by the Duke of Burgundy) allied with the English.  The French King, Charles VII, declined to ransom her from the Burgundians who then “sold” her to the English. In December of that year, she was transferred to Rouen, the military headquarters and administrative capital in France of King Henry VI of England, and placed on trial for heresy before a Church court headed by a Bishop loyal to the English.

Joan was convicted and executed in May of 1431.  She was exonerated in 1456 when the verdict was reversed on appeal by the Inquisitor-General. She became a French national heroine, and in 1920 was canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

Joan of Arc interrogated by The Cardinal of Winchester in her prison 1431. Painting by Paul Delaroche (1797-1856).

source

“The cities and mansions that people dream of are those in which they finally live”*…

 

 

 

https://i0.wp.com/farm9.staticflickr.com/8477/8236708012_a74c563641_o.jpg

In 1939, the American Institute of Planners released the documentary The City.  It was an all-star endeavor: directed by the photographers and filmmakers Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke, from an outline by the renowned documentarian Pare Lorentz, with commentary by urban theorist Lewis Mumford and a score by the extraordinary Aaron Copland.

The film begins with a look back, a nostalgic celebration of the bucolic: “Working and living, we found a balance. The town was us, and we were part of it. We never let our cities grow too big for us to manage. We never pushed the open land too far away.”  Then it screeches into the Industrial Age, documenting the crowded, dirty, slum-lined streets of the then-modern metropolis… building to the challenge, “Who built this place? Who put us here? And how do we get out again? We are asking.”

The balance of the film, redolent with a powerful Positivist optimism, looks to science– and the “science” of planning– for answers.

What’s fascinating, as Sarah Goodyear observes in Atlantic Cities, is that the blissful visions of 1939 are not far removed from our own:

…the idealized suburb/cities presented in the film are all walkable and bikeable. Autos are part of the urban disaster that is to be left behind by progress. We see from the air the familiar cul-de-sacs of today’s America but there are no six-lane arterial roads, no massive shopping centers with enormous parking lots. Kids ride around on bicycles along paths that look very much like what you see in the Netherlands of today, and in a few American cities such as Boulder, Colorado, or Davis, California.

The film was made at a historical moment when artists and thinkers like the ones who worked on it believed that rational, humanistic approaches to planning could triumph over entropy, corruption, and simple thoughtlessness. It seems like an impossibly idealistic view to have held, especially on the eve of World War II. Watching The City, it’s easy to feel a longing for that idealism, not to mention the level of craftsmanship that went into the film itself. Even the “fast food” presented with humorous disdain in the movie looks positively artisanal compared to the fare at McDonald’s.

The City is now more than 70 years old, and yet the dilemmas it presents are if anything more acute than they were in 1939. The urban areas of India and China, in particular, are facing exactly the same issues of industrial pollution and slum proliferation that plagued the American cities of the early 20th century. Will they be able to avoid even a fraction of the mistakes America made as it idealistically moved forward into the perfect, planned future? Here’s how The City wraps up:

Order has come, order and life together….We can reproduce the pattern and better it a thousand times. It’s here, the new city, ready to serve a better age. For you and your children, the choice is yours.

The full film:

* Lewis Mumford (who also advised, “Forget the damned motor car and build the cities for lovers and friends.”)

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As we reach for our copies of Jane Jacobs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1803 that Charles Fourier published his utopian Universal Harmony.  A social philosopher considered something of a radical in his own time, Fourier pioneered a number of notions now more mainstream (e.g., he was a supporter of women’s rights and is said to have coined the term “feminism’; he championed a “minimum wage”).  Fourier’s urban vision was one that reflected his belief that concern and cooperation were the secrets of social success; he believed that poverty (not inequality) was the principal cause of disorder in society.   He proposed cooperative communities built around phalanstère, units of 1500-1600 people living and working together for mutual benefit.  Fourier’s ideas influenced French politics (e.g., the 1848 Revolution and the Paris Commune) and writers from Dostoevsky (The Possessed) to Walter Benjamin (Passagenwerk); and they inspired a number of utopian communities in the U.S.

https://i2.wp.com/farm9.staticflickr.com/8207/8236708044_cf5c3864c2_o.jpg source

 

Written by LW

December 3, 2012 at 1:01 am

In memoriam…

From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.

Napoleon, on the invasions of Russia (10 December 1812),as recorded by Abbé du Pradt

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“Napoleonland”, the brainchild of former French minister and history buff Yves Jégo, is being touted as a rival to Disneyland – assuming, that is, it can gather the £180 million needed to leave the drawing board.

The plan is to build the unlikely amusement park on the site of the brilliant but doomed French leader’s final victory against the Austrians in the Battle of Montereau in 1814 just south of Paris.

With its reenactments (including a water show re-staging of Trafalgar), a ski run through a battlefield “surrounded by the frozen bodies of soldiers and horses,” and a recreation of Louis XVI being guillotined during the revolution, “it’s going to be fun for the family,” Mr Jégo promises.

Read the whole story in The Telegraph.

As we contact our travel agents, we might compose a birthday verse in dactylic hexameter for Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, AKA Juvenal; the author of the Satires was (at least insofar as tradition has it; the records are scant-to-the-point-of-nonexistent) born on this date in 55 CE.

quis custodiet ipsos custodes (Who will watch the watchmen?)

Satires, 6.347-48

 Frontispiece of Dryden’s translation of Satires (source)

Written by LW

March 2, 2012 at 1:01 am

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