We can sell memory

On Place de la Sorbonne, amidst the flood of tourists and vacationers, a set of panels bloc the view to the majestic building tucked inside the square. They are photos from the uprising that rooted out the pave stones of the Quartier Latin. The photos are humorous and respectful. The photos are titled and footnoted. First footnote, you can take the photos home in a book, which is literally in all bookshops. Second footnote, the celebration of anarchy is sponsored by HSBC, Epson and FNAC, among others.

I don’t want to put the past in a formaldehyde jar, locked in a cabinet. There is nothing in May 68 that I particularly care to preserve. I am merely fascinated by the irony, of how intentions of the past can matter so little for the uses of the present.

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3 thoughts on “We can sell memory

  1. Maybe the irony is even greater when it is noted that FNAC was actually founded in 1954 by two Marxist activists (one had been Trotsky’s bodyguard), who wanted to promote a fair trade of cultural goods. At the beginning, FNAC meant “Fédération nationale d’achats des cadres” and it was supposed to be a cooperative firm, a low-profit organization whose members were also consumers.
    On the other hand, HSBC sponsoring this exhibition makes me think of Perry Mehrling’s argument in his book Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance that the invention of modern finance at the end of the 1960s must be related to the movement of emancipation in Western society, the use of LSD and psychedelic art.
    It is possible that the development of firms like HSBC owes much to the 1968 movement and it is not without bitterness that I have to note that our beloved French President Sarkozy – or one of his advisors – used that argument to reject “May 68” as being partly responsible of last year’s financial crisis (no kidding).

  2. I did not know that about FNAC, I am sure to convey it to my friends in Lisbon where the FNAC megastores have become the culmination of consumerism.

    May 68 is abused, but stating this may wrongly suggest that there is some original “esprit” that can be rescued from memory. Better to think May 68 as an icon, totem, sign, whatever rocks your postmodern boat, it has all meanings and none. May 68 is saturated with meaning!

  3. Looking at some books on May 68 in a FNAC store (!), I was precisely wondering how many among those books are dealing with the “spirit” of May 68. the persistence of its “legacy” and how many are “real” historical accounts. One popular book on May 68 was written by Laurent Joffrin, who was a student activist at the CERES (home of the young socialists) with Denis Olivennes (who later became CEO of … FNAC!). Joffrin is now the chief editor of Liberation, the daily news which was founded by JP Sartre in 1973 and which is said to catch the “spirit” of 1968. It is advertised as a historical essay. However, if I wanted to see something more balanced, I would be tempted to opt for Raymond Depardon’s famous photographic essay, but I assume it would be a bias of my own.

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