Hotspots of Violence, Narratives of Hope
Schoor, Rikst van der
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How do we deal with things that do not fit the story we want to tell? The Paris Commune was a short-lived workers’ revolution in the spring of 1871. After two months, it was bloodily put down by the French army, who massacred the Communard.e.s in the Semaine Sanglante. Despite attempts of the French government to suppress and villify the Commune, it has since lived on in songs, books, and films; inspiring artists, thinkers, and politicians; and has been celebrated all around the world. Little scholarly attention, however, has gone out to the acts of violence committed by the Communard.e.s themselves. This project seeks to rectify that by studying how recent cultural products deal with Communard violence. Four cases across different media and genres are examined to see how they deal with three different “hotspots”: the fire and destruction wreaked on Paris, the hostages who were executed by Communard.e.s, and the fighting against the French army during the Semaine Sanglante. The project demonstrates how all cases employ a range of argumentative and narrative strategies to legitimate these instances of violence, using the various affordances of their specific medium and genre to bring across a certain interpretation of the Commune. In particular, they legitimise the Communard violence by invoking self-defence, thereby effectively extending their own idea of self to that of the Communard.e.s. As a result, the participants in the Commune are humanised: they are not beasts or martyrs, but rounded and flawed people. In precisely this way, the Commune is kept alive and accessible for new generations at the 150th anniversary in 2021.