Plus ça change
This week on Facebook: My five reprises this week reflect the epigram Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The epigram is probably familiar to most of my generation and needs no translation (Google it), but perhaps some of my family may read my reflections so it was a somewhat cynical remark that translates as, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1808-1890) wrote this epigram in the January 1849 issue of Les Guêpes (“The Wasps”), the year following the European 1848 Revolutions. A number of broadsheets¹ at the time extolled or attacked the presidential candidates General Cavaignac and (most of them) Louis-Napoleon, both of whom Karr described as Les Guêpes.
The Revenant Archive contains forty-four volumes of Karr’s rare, self-published avant-garde satirical magazine Les Guêpes, which was a milestone series in the history of avant-garde and DIY publishing, and an important potential resource for researchers of the counter-cultural milieu of the time. Some 150+ years after it was written by Karr it would seem that Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
The first issue of Les Guêpes opens with a cogent and pretty detailed analysis of the way in which, after the French Révolution de Juillet, also called July Days, an insurrection in 1830 that brought Louis-Philippe to the throne of France. The new moderate-liberal Monarchy exercised effective censorship through economic rather than political means, destroying the artist- and activist-run Small Press community in favour of a few huge corporate press conglomerates. Karr’s response to the situation was to start this self-published venture (which lasted ten years) with an intentionally tiny audience whom he called his “unknown friends”.
This move was extremely rare at the time, when printing technology was expensive and inaccessible, over a century before the ‘Mimeograph Revolution. Karr’s rationale in this essay for self-publishing as political and literary dissent, shows him laying the very early groundwork upon which ‘zine and micropress publishing would eventually emerge. Karr’s discourse in each issue swerves and merges unpredictably, almost as if by stream of consciousness, between political tirades, comedy sketches, gossip and in-jokes about the avant-garde community, literary and social criticism, and sarcastic observations about daily life.
I’m sure that were he alive Karr would have a blogsite (there is already a Facebook page dedicated to him).
Perhaps Karr would disagree with David Rieff’s hypothesis In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies, in that only remembering enables us the say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.
Monday 24/4/2017 Welfare and Unemployment [September 2, 2008 ]: Unemployment was redefined rather than reduced. As the unemployment rate went down, disability cases rose.
Tuesday 25/4/2017 The party of inequality [June 27, 2009]: Even before the onset of the UK’s deepest recession in a generation, official figures showed that only the better-off families were spared from a squeeze on living standards that saw median income virtually unchanged and fresh cuts in real pay for those on the lowest salaries.
Wednesday 26/4/2017 The Faustian Pact [April 10, 2010]: “I don’t know what is sadder: the government’s demands that the working and middle classes bail out speculators, who earned more in a year than they will earn in their lifetimes; or the self-delusion of a once-honourable party, which abandoned its traditional suspicion of bankers and was then shocked when the world fell apart around it”.
Thursday 27/4/2017 PFI – Politically Financed Insanity [January 24, 2011]: The taxpayer originally loaned moneys to the banks and is going to pay (not loan) the banks more moneys in the form of returns on PFI schemes, from which profits the banks will then repay the original loan.
Friday 28/4/2017 Financial Repression [February 15, 2012]: The UK government has already achieved partial control of directed lending given that it owns half of our banking system. Both of the Anglo-Saxon economies (USA & UK) have also achieved saver theft status by the manipulation of interest rates. Next on the list will be a creeping abuse of those captive domestic audiences and, perhaps, regulation on capital controls.
¹French Newspapers And Ephemera From The 1848 Revolution: To set the collection in its historical context, the third French Revolution began in February 1848. Harvests had been bad in 1845 and 1846 and potato blight had also struck in 1846. The drop in demand for goods produced in Paris had lead to half of the Parisian workforce being unemployed. During 1847 public banquets had been held to call for universal suffrage, but Louis-Philippe and his chief minister Guizot resisted reform. A ban was placed on a banquet and a huge procession of workers scheduled for 22 February, but the procession and demonstrations took place. Attempts by soldiers and police to clear the streets lead to street fighting, an attack on Guizot’s mansion, and the erection of barricades. That evening, a gun was fired at the municipal guards, perhaps by accident, perhaps as provocation, and the guards fired on the crowd, killing fifty-two of the demonstrators. The dead were dragged on carts through the poor districts. Fighting and destruction ensued.
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