Saturday, May 26, 2018

FRANK BROWNING - Paris, May '68: You Say It Was a Revolution?

Paris ’68 was not about power so much as it was about breathing. Drawing life in the fullness of each moment.

PARIS—Fifty years. Half a century since what’s been called France’s second Revolution:  May ’68 when millions of angry students and workers filled the streets and brought the nation to a halt. And already the memories are beginning to fade once again. For weeks this spring, you couldn’t go anywhere in France, watch any TV or listen to any radio without being transported back to la révolution du temps passé.  Le Centre Pompidou, Le Musée des Beaux Arts, the Palais de Tokyo, the National Archives, La Bibliothèque Nationale, bookshops and private galleries everywhere.  “The events of May ’68 remain anchored in France’s collective memory because they embody an optimistic moment of concrete utopia,” declared the director of the Beaux Arts, Éric de Chassey, a scion of France great noble families.

So it would seem as all the now creaky-kneed heroes of ’68 were carted out to celebrate the “revolutionary” memory.  Several of those heroes, however, were having no part of it. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one of the key “revolutionaries” spoke for half an hour one recent morning on France Inter, the country’s leading news station, about ’68. His message: Forget it! ’68 was never a real political revolt but rather a cultural scream against a top-down, stuffy cabal of old men who, bowing to church dogma, suppressed women, beat up gays, and treated France’s one-time Arab subjects like dirt.  

Paris ’68 was not about power so much as it was about breathing. Drawing life in the fullness of each moment. In the United States there were the movements for civil rights, and for free speech at Berkeley, and against the Vietnam war. But in America “The Movement” was rooted in the resistance to death by lynching or the fear of death as your broken skull oozed out your brains into the jungle mud of Southeast Asia.  Hell No, We Won’t Go was about surviving American insanity, while for French students and workers le mouvement was about throwing off the shackles of moribund cultural codes and opening the class-bound educational system to everyone—a streetwise cry to enact Jean-Paul Sartre’s call to live fully within each second of your existence. Vive Le Moment!

Or to recall one of the most memorable of ’68 slogans, also credited to Cohn-Bendit, “It is forbidden to forbid,” a direct reaction to the stuffy, quasi-Catholic moral dogma that dictated which hours boys and girls could visit each other’s dorm rooms. It was also a blunt rejection of a law that forbade divorcés from even entering the presidential palace.  Even the sale of birth control pills then was barely legal… read more: