Repoliticizing May 68: Postnationality and Postcoloniality in French (Alsatian) Regional Minority Literature

By Spieser-Landes, David | Essays in French Literature and Culture, October 2018 | Go to article overview

Repoliticizing May 68: Postnationality and Postcoloniality in French (Alsatian) Regional Minority Literature


Spieser-Landes, David, Essays in French Literature and Culture


Les années soixante-dix [?] commencèrent [?], pour moi, dès 1967. Le vent r ebelle parti des campus américains avait atteint en force 8 les universités allemandes. En Alsace, ce n'était encore qu'une légère houle que nous [?] inter prétâmes à notre façon et sur laquelle nous apprîmes à surfer, à l'alsacienne.[?]1

Mais, dans sa lucidité et sa défiance à l'égard de toute récupération, il [Weckmann] s'aperçoit que la 'révolution' qui s'opère est trop parisienne et que ce n'est pas de cette forme dont a besoin l'Alsace. Il lui faut certes des modifications profondes, mais des modifications qui seront propres à l'Alsace.2

Introduction: Re-provincializing Paris

In May 68 and its Afterlives, Kristin Ross famously argued that the common interpretation of May 1968 was in fact a reduction of May 1968, which is to say an "exclusively sociology-focused interpretation" insisting first and foremost on the cultural aspects of May 1968, such as sexual revolution and "moral modernization", rather than on its intrinsically political dimension. In her view, May 1968 has been in fact willfully "depoliticized". "The political dimensions of the event", she states, "have been, for the most part, dissolved or dissipated by commentary and interpretations" (1). Her argument rests on her criticism of some monopolizing "interpretations" which distill a "unified and singular", hence distorted, view of the essence of May 1968 - "interpretations" provided by some former key players of May 1968 to whom priority is systematically given over equally as important, but silenced, other key players. Not only does Ross point to this reasoning as intellectual fraud, for "moral modernization" has occurred in other countries as well, whether they experienced a "May 1968" or not (13), but what is even more disturbing, and serious, in her opinion, is that this "official history" of May 1968 -this hegemonic interpretation- is "erasing", "obscuring", "liquidating", "confiscating", "detracting from"3 the true nature of May 1968 which, to her, was essentially political. The academic's job, in this context, she argues, is to "repoliticize" what had been deliberately depoliticized.

In particular, she says, "the clear ideological targets of the May movement in France" need to be brought back to the forefront, namely: capitalism, American imperialism, and Gaullism. Very crucially, this change of perspective leads Ross to displace the center of May 1968 conceptually, but also geographically -from Paris to "provincial France" (9). Quoting Elisabeth Salvaresi, Ross notes that "the deepest political resonance of '68 today is found more frequently in the provinces than in Paris" (ibid). "A new optic unto '68 [opens up] that [makes] the legendary status of [?] a Daniel Cohn-Bendit recede, allowing other figures to become more visible in the theoretical and political roles they played during May and afterward" (ibid). While Ross gives as an example José Bové's antiGMO "Confédération Paysanne" movement, I suggest in this article that André Weckmann, an Alsatian regionalist writer who happened to be both "anticapitaliste" and an opponent of Gaullism's C'est-chicde-parler-français4 (as the posters covering the streets of Alsace after World War Two encouraged Alsatians to relinquish their Germanic, so called "peasant-sounding" Alsatian dialect and replace it with the allegedly more beautiful and pure/chic French language) is another one of these regional figures which Ross's approach helps to make "more visible". Ross concludes by saying that while the "official history" of May 1968 -again, the "sociologized history", the overly focused on the "génération étudiante" kind of history- likes to remember "freedom" as the main motto for May 1968, repoliticizing the event moves the cursor back to where lies the most important feature of May 1968 according to Ross -namely, not "freedom", but, very importantly, "equality" (10).

It is thus paramount to first explicate the resonance of the concept of "equality" in the context of May 68 and in the light of Jacques Rancière's political philosophy. …

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