1789: Eric Vuillard on the storming of the Bastille

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ein a very amazing book. Especially with this author. He has deconstructed so far, what the stuff holds. The so-called great history, so for example World War I, rise of the national socialism, colonialism: All this shrank in the caustic liquor of Eric Vuillard together to lousy machinations of petty criminals in megalomania. Since you learned to see much in a new light, also lost in a refreshing way, the respect of many a so-called historical personality.

All the more amazing that the Goncourt Award winner of the year 2017 is going the other way round in this book. The French Revolution, or more precisely, the national holiday of July 14, established since 1880, which is known to stand for the storming of the Bastille: this event, which even contemporaries understood as the “day that changed the world” – it becomes of Vuillard with all Means of his art, history vividly and nacherlebbar to make, stamped to an event full of dignity and inciting enthusiasm. Reconstruction work on the myth so.

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How can that be? Ironically, the capture of the medieval Zwingburg on the border of medieval Paris, where began behind the city fortifications of the Faubourg St. Antoine, but has long been deconstructed as a grandiose misunderstanding. The Bastille had lost more and more horror during the 18th century. Certainly, the eight thick towers, the connecting battlements, the whole ominous old walls had the radiance of something survived. But the fear that had caused the architectural monster for centuries had given way to a certain indifference in the age of enlightenment.

The underground dungeons of this monster, long used as a state prison, had been orphaned for years. The Bastille was considered a preferred Verwahranstalt for Sittenstrolche from the nobility (the Marquis de Sade was until July 4, 1789 housed here). And many a system-critical writer considered a stay in this prison as promoting the image: In about 1760, the feudal-critical Abbé Morellet was heard as follows: “I saw some literary fame illuminate the walls of my prison: As a persecuted man, I would become better known. People of the world who love satire now received me more than before. A career opened up for me, and I could go through it with bigger advantages. These six months in the Bastille would be an excellent recommendation and would mean my luck. “

People from nowhere

Well, people of the world were not exactly the ones who conquered the “symbol of arbitrary rule” on July 14, 1789 and liberated the prisoners (number seven!) Who were supposedly languishing under inhumane conditions. Rather, they were uninformed, starving workers, and all kinds of rabble that had nothing to do, people whose “heroic epics lasted only minutes,” as Vuillard writes; People who were torn out of their anonymity by their sheer presence in this place at that hour, and then immediately “sinking into nothingness” again.

However, for the sake of fairness, it must be noted that “the people” actually made a remarkable victory on July 14th. The chutzpah of attacking just such a royal prison, forcing the captain to capitulate, then override them and capture the vast area, plunder, and eventually head off the apparently overburdened governor, then head down a pike through the streets it must be understood as an expression of considerable energy and criminal energy resulting from anger and indignation.

Shortly before, a further increase in the price of bread had been considered (not decided) (they were lowered on 22 July instead). But no question: the workers were actually bad in that Faubourg St. Antoine with its many small craft shops, from which predominantly came the rebels of July 14th. But much more to the success of their action probably contributed to the creeping loss of authority of the ancien régime, which is already expressed in the undecided action of the Bastille commander and can be read in the following days also on the behavior of the king and his family. This elite had given up!

July 14, 1789: The storming of the Bastille

July 14, 1789: The storming of the Bastille

Source: De Agostini via Getty Images

But back to the revolutionaries: It was on this fateful day and especially in the storming of the Bastille above all blind destructive rage. The descent into a desert, lustful barbarism was distinguished, which should become characteristic of the coming years. Thus, for example, the later poet and diplomat Chateaubriand, when he saw the head of the Bastille Governor pausing on the window, decided to leave the country as soon as possible.

But just such acts of violence: they have obviously done to Eric Vuillard. He bluntly writes of the “wonderful élan of the masses, who are in a rage”. He raves about the fires that these masses lay: “The fire is something wonderful. But even more beautiful is the devastating fire. “He literally resonates as he conjures up the ravages of July 14th, describing the” outrageous pleasure “they unleashed on the perpetrators. It's true, and everyone knows it, the feeling of finally resisting, shedding shackles, standing up for authority: It's so good. It has done well at all times. And the insecure Parisian underclass of the summer of 1789, which was directly threatened by fear of decline, apparently did very well.

Got the Prix Goncourt in 2017: Eric Vuillard

Got the Prix Goncourt in 2017: Eric Vuillard

Source: AFP / Getty Images

But what about this author's empathy in general terms today, in 2019, when? Sure, the book was written in 2015, released in France in 2016. There were no yellow vests. But the Volkszorn dominated, if not the street, at least the Internet and the social media. And since then we have been experiencing the released emotions, the unrestrained aggression, in short the whole dynamic of unleashed rage and indignation, which in 1789 discharged so far into France, in the western world again. So how can one, as a reasonably alert contemporary, not see the historical parallel?

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And Vuillard sees her too. He shows her up. He comes in the end in a kind of anarchic hymn to speak directly. He thinks we should take the rebels of the 14th of July as an example: “You would have to open your windows more often. Every now and then, just like that and completely unplanned, throw everything overboard. That would give relief. If the heart stirs us, if the order makes us bitter and confusion takes our breath away, we would have to enter the doors of our ridiculous Élysée palaces. ”

That goes quite a long way, at least as Stéphane Hessels “Outrage”, Although there are also in this book Vuillards again great miniatures of everyday people, who are virtuoso smeared in their joys and sorrows. But the author's desire to make a fool of himself leaves the strongest impression when reading this book. And he is ambiguous!

Eric Vuillard: July 14th. From the Frz. by Nicola Denis. Matthes & Seitz, 131 p., 18 €.

. (tagsToTranslate) Fiction International (t) French Revolution (Geo: Fri) (t) Krause-Tilman (t) Fears of Concern (t) Ancien Régime (t) History (t) National Socialism (t) Eric Vuillard (t) Bastille (t ) France (t) travel

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