Blood in the City: Violence and Revelation in Paris, 1789-1945

Blood in the City: Violence and Revelation in Paris, 1789-1945

Blood in the City: Violence and Revelation in Paris, 1789-1945

Blood in the City: Violence and Revelation in Paris, 1789-1945

Synopsis

Drawing on historical, literary, visual, anthropological, and psychological sources, Burton develops a wide-ranging account of violence in modern French politics. He provides an insight into the widespread French obsession with conspiracy.

Excerpt

Blood in the City is the product of a threefold obsession; the word is not, I think, too strong. I have visited and revisited Paris for over thirty years, relentlessly crisscrossing it on foot until it seems—a total illusion, of course—that there is not a street or alley in the twenty arrondissements that I have not walked. Always impatient to arrive, I walk too quickly to be considered an authentic Baudelairean flâneur, but I hope that I have seen something in the course of my comings and goings. Over the years I have published a number of Paris-related books and articles, principally on the subject of the greatest Parisian poet of them all, Charles Baudelaire, and I have read widely in the immense descriptive literature on the city. With the help of the great nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers on Paris (Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Joris-Karl Huysmans, André Breton, Louis Aragon, as well as Baudelaire himself), I hope I have acquired the basic elements of urban literacy necessary to decode, at least in part, the immense historical cryptogram made up by the sites, streets, and buildings of this most hermeneutically inexhaustible of cities. “Tout pour moi devient allégorie” (everything becomes an allegory for me), with the emphasis equally on the “everything” and the “me, ” wrote Baudelaire in his greatest single Paris poem, “Le Cygne” (The Swan), whose title punningly invokes “Le Signe” (The Sign), the possibility of infinite interpretability. If nothing else, I hope that Blood in the City will help the interested reader share the pleasure I have found in learning how to read Paris as a historically meaningful text.

The second source of Blood in the City did not become an obsession until much later. Like everyone with even a casual, let alone a professional, interest in France, I was aware that periods of its history have been marked by violence of an intensity and extent unlike anything to be encountered in the history of England, if not of Britain: the Terror of 1793–94; the repression of the Paris Commune, the all too aptly named Semaine sanglante, or Bloody Week, of May 1871; the so-called FrancoFrench war, which pitted collaborators against resisters during the final months of German occupation in 1944; the Algerian War of Liberation, the violence of which was by no means confined to North Africa. As I

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