Academic journal article Romance Notes

Reframing the Commune: Violence, Intertextuality, and Event in Tardi's Cri Du Peuple

Academic journal article Romance Notes

Reframing the Commune: Violence, Intertextuality, and Event in Tardi's Cri Du Peuple

Article excerpt

1. THE PROCRUSTEAN BED OF HISTORY

Between 1871 and 1873, something on the average order of 12 titles were published per month on the Siege of Paris and the subsequent working-class revolution known as the Paris Commune (Lidsky 7). While the aims of such publications were frequently diverse, as Paul Lidsky has demonstrated, the cumulative effect was similar in nearly every case: writing about the Commune, whether in fictional or non-fictional genres, seized upon the event of the Commune and laid it upon what we might metaphorically think of as a hideous Procrustean bed of history. Events, agents, actors, and accounts were contorted, distorted, exaggerated, or mutilated so as to fit a discursive framework or narrative that sought not only just to delegitimize the Commune, but indeed to depoliticize this democratic upheaval born from the political and economic contradictions of French society at the end of the Second Empire. Initially, then, the Commune was written about and, more generally, represented as a kind of disaster of brought upon civilization by the classes dangereuses; the violent spasms of an urban proletariat either drunk or mad on democracy. (1) It was represented in both written and visual discourse, in other words, as a distinctly non-political uprising, if not a non-event (i.e., in the Badiouian sense of an event that reconfigures the very coordinates of the possible). (2) This discursive containment strategy is in some eloquently economical sense summed up in Maxime du Camp's assertion that "lorsque l'on verra dans son ensemble toute cette Commune ... on reconnaitra que la politique n'y fut pour rien" (qtd. in Lidsky 11). (3)

Our aim in this essay will consist rather in keeping in mind this frame of "evental revisionism" (4)--that is, the framing of an event which reduces it to a series of natural or descriptive propositions--as we consider the "re-framing" of the Paris Commune that Tardi proposes in his graphic novel, Le Cri du peuple. (5) In the following pages, then, I will propose that Tardi's work situates itself within--and problematizes--a genealogy of representations and narratives of the Commune, (6) such that his Cri du peuple becomes the site of a kind of para-literary politics, one that seeks to trouble the temporal divide separating the present from the past. It does so through interventions into (literary) texts that figure as attempts to intervene in the context of the Commune's (present) reception as a democratic ideal of social justice and equality, one whose scope and consequences--its "truth," one might say--far outstrips its rootedness in a given historical period or locus. In final analysis, then, I will propose a view of Le Cri du peuple as something approximating an ekphrastic instance of what Alain Badiou would call a "fidelity to the event" of the Paris Commune. Though Tardi's epic adaptation of Le Cri du peuple spans four volumes, the space available to us here inevitably entails that my analysis will be limited in scope. My study of the visual rhetoric of violence and of the relatedness of the past to the present will thus be restricted to two or three panels from the fourth volume of the series that appear emblematic of the way Tardi deploys the bande dessinee as a kind of speculum: a space for representing the senseless, if not random, mind-warping violence with which the Paris Commune was crushed, and for speculating on the relation between the last great revolutionary event of the 19th century and the dilemmas that face us at the dawn of the 21st century. (7) It should therefore be stressed that the (necessarily limited) present intervention ought also to be read as a hermeneutic invitation; I mean, an invitation to undertake further, or simply explore other, readings of the visualization and the violence of History in Tardi's understudied masterpiece, Le Cri du peuple.

2. THE WAR OF IMAGES, REDUX

In a 2008 radio interview with France Culture, Jacques Tardi remarked that, in some form or another, his work has long been haunted by the intersecting themes or problems of crime, history, and limit experiences. …

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