The Revolution will not be blogged (just marketed)

by Yule Heibel on March 23, 2005

Jonathan Delacour’s recent Before the Revolution entry is excellent. I’m not sure I can really summarise it, but I think Jonathan sees a change in the purpose of blogging as it pivots, in a not-so-pleasant way, from exploration to strategy. His entry begins with a discussion of a quote by Talleyrand (b. 1754), which Bernardo Bertolucci used as an epigraph in his 1964 film, Before the Revolution:

He who has not lived in the years before the revolution cannot know what the sweetness of living is. (Talleyrand via Bertolucci)

Since we’re dealing with a French quote translated into Italian translated into English, we’re also dealing with a certain degree of uncertainty as to what Talleyrand really meant.

What emerges fairly clearly, however, is that Talleyrand was born an aristocrat, lived as an aristocrat, rode with the tide when the revolution came, secured advantages befitting the most scheming of aristocrats, and died in 1838 — many years after the 1789 Revolution (and well after the 1830 one) — as rich as any king could wish to be. What does one make of Talleyrand, and what does one make of Bertolucci quoting him? Both, from different positions of power, felt entitled or compelled to speak, to voice opinions and demands, to make politics.

“The art of statesmanship is to foresee the inevitable and to expedite its occurrence.”
~ Talleyrand

Both lived in times of social upheaval, when revolutionaries raised questions about who gets to speak. Who has the power to speak — and who gets listened to? Who manages to get into positions where she or he can speak for others?

Citing a New Yorker article by Louis Menand which talks about Bertolucci’s recent film, The Dreamers, Jonathan quotes Menand on Bertolucci’s earlier film, Before the Revolution:

Fabrizio [Before the Revolution‘s main (Marxist) character] is not a revolutionary; he is playing at being a revolutionary, because that is what young people in the postwar middle class do. His kind of revolution is just a chapter in the bourgeois family romance (thus the incest: it violates the norms of the nuclear family).

The bourgeois family romance is what blogging has always devolved to, and all the usual suspects are assembled. Mother, father, siblings, servants, as well as overlords who must be obeyed even by the fathers. In the bourgeois period, which Talleyrand helped inaugurate, the overlords would have been the bankers and financiers — today they are the corporate interests. Mom and Dad are… well, take your pick, it depends on whose blogs you’re reading, but clearly it would have to be an A-lister, someone who ranks high in the blog-cosmos. Siblings? Subalterns/ servants? That would be those trailing in the A-list comet’s tail, along with all the second-tier marketers…. squabbling and vying for rank and daddy’s or mommy’s favour (if fortune smiles and he or she rises to sibling-status), or consigned to scrubbing the bathrooms and not being seen or heard if, like most, he’s part of the servant staff.

If a sibling becomes distinguished (or fat-headed) enough, she or he can play at revolution, and start telling everyone else what to think about having power. She can tell us that we’re journalists, or he can tell us that we can make money (more power) with blogging — or that blogging will change the world.

All the overt references to (and manifestations of) power (including those boring attempts to define what blogging “is”), and the intrusion of a gold-rush mentality (as if bloggers have to be making money, or as if there’s something lame and shameful about them if they aren’t) indicate that the usual overlords are taking control of the neurotic, dipsy “nuclear” family (and its terrible and terribly awful romances). And the kids are noticing: any sibling worth his salt, wishing to be the next Talleyrand, senses that it’s pointless to squabble with co-siblings for the parents’ attentions. The state (now, the state of money and corporate power) wants “statesmanship” that can “…foresee the inevitable and expedite its occurence.”

In a bitingly ironic way, Jonathan Delacour, subverting Talleyrand’s quote as appropriated by Bertolucci, puts it like this:

Those who did not blog in the years before the revolution cannot know what the sweetness of blogging was.

Just go read his entry — it’s very good.


Doug Alder March 24, 2005 at 8:35 pm

Yes but sometimes I just like to see myself as one of the peasants storming Count Frankenstein’s castle with a flaming torch. Never the servant LOL

Yule Heibel March 27, 2005 at 12:39 am

Yes, there’s always us peasants, and “yeah!” for us. At the same time, you know very well, Doug, that you’re not so undifferentiated (part of a mass) that you’d be willing to be a pawn. The question might really be, “when is a peasant his own man [her own woman], and when is he [she] a pawn, used by the powers that be?” And when, I feel like adding, is it worth it to walk away from the battle, the storming, the siege, and to embrace instead a certain sovereignty of person, which is in many ways precisely the very thing one railed against when it manifested in an elitist or institutional context? (Or, I might add, when it manifested in an emerging [sic!] context of technological innovation and cutting-edge capitalism…?)

Appearances keep changing, but the underlying stuff retains uncanny resemblances to familiar things…

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