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history and heritage |
Saturday November 21, 2009 18:59 by iosaf mac diarmada
(me thinks French highbrow news might be of interest to the Irish highbrow peoples at the moment)
The French chattering classes are reacting to the news that Sarkozy wishes to move the body of Albert Camus from his grave in Lourmarin in southern France where he was buried after the car crash which killed the then recently Nobel Laureated writer and his publisher to the Pantheon in Paris where France has collected over 70 "illustrious dead men" and one "radioactive woman". Camus will be the second individual claimed by anarchism to be given a place in the Pantheon following the pacifist and anarchosyndicalist opposer to WW1, Jean Jaures moved there in 1924). Camus would be the first Pantheon resident to have been born in Algeria. His kids don't want him moved at all. However, I see in this a consistent concern I have articulated over the years at how contemporary regimes and society abuse the memory of the dead and use their legacy :-
.:.The Selective & Collective memory : Memory as fetishised community : Communality as fetishised memorial.:.
Foucault's pendulum at the Pantheon in Paris. "still swinging away over the stolen dead - thus turneth our world"
Every nation state with an exagerated and selective notion of its dead knows full well the importance of relics & dead bodies. Leaving aside any deep contemplation of the lack of remains and marked graves of many of humanity's most noted individuals (e.g. Mozart, Jesus, Muhumad) & those of the Irish nation's bosom who simply disappeared in the lime pit - the symbolic importance of Daniel O Connell's body enterred below a fake round tower in Glasnevin cemetery Dublin without its heart which is buried in Rome well exemplifies a 19th century habit of honouring the dead. The Polish composer Chopin likewise is one of those much admired individuals who died in that century whose body was seperated and is now found without heart in Paris and without body in Warsaw. So if we have a a garden of remembrance in Ireland without any bodies & a lime pit in Kilmainham without any bones - so too do the English enjoy their poet's corner of Westminister Abbey. The Americans have long excelled all the world with the city of Washington which is little more than a walking tour of war memorials and the bone marrow curdling lists of names which serve little purpose but to put Arlington Cemetary with its once racially segregated graves in context.
Over 70 of the "illustrious dead" of France are to be found in the Pantheon a neo-classical building in the 5th arrondisement of Paris. The last notable to be upped out of his grave and moved in a splendid bodybag in 2002 was Alexander Dumas the author of "the three musketeers" and "the count of monte cristo". Presumedly the then president of France, Chirac had wanted to make a statement about the contribution of French literature to Disney movie franchises. For in truth no body gets moved to the Pantheon without a little political point being made & as is often the way with petty political points the presumped honour granted the dead body ages badly with time.
There is only one woman in the Pantheon. Madame Curie was given her slot in 1995 alongside her husband. Their papers and lab equipment are still too radioactive to be be handled by researchers & so this couple who lost more than one laboratory technician in an age without worker safety guidelines or union representatives to the perils of hazardous materials were given extra lead lining once they were moved to the Pantheon.
Sarkozy has never really given anyone the impression that culture in general or the height of French philosophy in particular ( if it is possible to classify philosophy as coming in national types) is important to him. I recently reported on the pederast scandal touching his minister of culture, Frédéric Mitterrand (c/f "The Culture Minister nonce & Sarkozy's government" http://www.indymedia.ie/article/94378 ) It is odd how the French chattering classes as can be read in this weekend's Liberation Culture supplement & the pages of Le Monde as well as blogs which seem to focus as much of the angry French chattering classes that Jean Paul Sartre is not being moved from his resting place at Montparnasse. Why indeed Jean Paul Sartre is for the French chattering classes the obvious man to get moved to the Pantheon (without lingering too much on whether or not Simone du Bouvoir ought go with him) without actually challenging the presidential executive privilege of Sarkozy who alone decides which graves to rob & which dead to move is a mystery to me. Especially considering the children of Camus don't want their dad moved at all....
Yet, even if I find the idea of institutionalised graves utterly reprehensibile and nothing more than at attempt by political regimes and establishments to co-opt the achievements and splendour of the dead without any legitimate reason especially considering they raise some dead in importance over others - I think of the other notable recent deaths. I have in my capacity as one of the regular contributors who publish obituaries on this site over the years, noted the passings of Jacques Derrida, who like Camus was born in Algeria with the wonderful line (even if I say so myself - the father of deconstruction has turned to decomposition ) http://www.indymedia.ie/article/66979 & The death of Paul Ricoeur : http://www.indymedia.ie/article/69930
Perhaps both Derrida and Ricoeur have for the moment a greater influence and notable place in the development of contemporary linguistic theory, philosophy and derived political or social movements than either Camus or Sartre.
Or if you forgive me handling the ball and nudging it in another low brow direction, surely even Raymond Devos, the commedian who died the same week we marked the passing of Charles Haughey and worked with Jean Luc Godot deserves a slot in the Pantheon?http://www.indymedia.ie/article/76648
Why not Jean Luc Godot?
The Pantheon in Paris is more than a graveyard of snatched bodies selectively turned to fetishised memorial. It was the place where the mathematician Foucalt set up his pendelum experiment to prove the rotation of the planet Earth. Foucalt's pendelum still swings there yet his body is still unmolested in its coffin at Montmarte.
................why isn't he under his pendelum?
At end, I don't give a fig who is buried in the Pantheon & I would argue heartily that more than a few dozen of those men there don't really merit the status of arrondisement 5 residents.
But if we are to honour the work and thought of Albert Camus without getting pissed off and huffy that Sartre has not been elevated - then quite simply all we should ask of Sarkozy is a complete apology for and acknowledgement of the atrocities committed by France in Algeria.
history is not made by posh graves : it is made by mass graves of unmarked names.
I have previously dealt with this theme of "The Selective & Collective memory : Memory as fetishised community : Communality as fetishised memorial" in a comment to a report on the civil war mass graves of Spain & the politicisation of the dead here : http://www.indymedia.ie/article/94637?&condense_comment...61744 & here "Bring out your dead" http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2008/09/408060.html & in a "sunday papers" article "the recollection of fools" here : http://www.indymedia.ie/article/69934
You can read about Albert Camus and find ample links to his material here :-
Foucault's Pendelum here
the Pantheon here
French media reaction may be read in the French language here (& most people aren't happy with Sarko over this) :-
Spanish anarcho umbrella site reports reaction of French communists
The children of Camus reject the Sarkozy idea