Monday, March 08, 2004

Fragile Hands 

In Paris, people are fighting against advertising in the Metro. I'm not sure if that means Paris leftists are stuck in their almost-glorious past or that American ones have become so numbed to the inescapable consumerist establishment that they are effectively useless as agents of revolutionary change.

In other words, does the fact that I don't notice subway ads anymore (except when there is amusingly vulgar graffitti) and feel no particular distaste for them mean that I am more realistic than my Parisian comrades, or that I am simply resigned?

It's simultaneously comforting and depressing to see that veterans of May '68 are still causing trouble and writing on things -- I don't mean that I wish they'd all become investment bankers or New York Times columnists, but part of me wishes they'd all disappeared along with their revolutionary ferver so they wouldn't have to continue to live with the results of their awesome, spectacular failure.

A Grin Without A Cat is, I think, the definitive film on May '68 and its relationship to the world political situation, as well as a sober examination of its defeat. For a philosophical and cultural context, as well as some wildly appreciative and over-excited rock journalism, read Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces.

The one time I went to Paris, I spent a lot more time in bookstores than is probably useful for someone who speaks no French. All of them had the same basic collection of works from the Canon, all under one of a couple easily recognizable publishing imprints (sort of the French "Penguin Classics"). At every single bookstore, along with Balzac and Rimbaud and Zola, was always Marcus' Lipstick Traces. Really, as a history of rock 'n' roll and radical politics, it is a book tailor-made for a French audience. And it even has slapstick, courtesy of the Dadaists -- the Jacques Tatis of the aesthetic/philosophical tradition.

Other than the fact that they appreciate the best and worst of our culture with more passion than we ever will, here is the difference between France and the US of A:
But in a small victory for the campaigners, the RATP on Monday and for the next 10 days was to free up space on 47 billboards in 24 stations for people to write what they like.

In New York, to curtail politically-motivated desecrating of subway ads, they probably would have banned pens.

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