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“Oui, Paris Est Une Fête”
Paris, After the Attacks

essay by Anna Aublet

French literary scholar Anna Aublet teaches at Université Paris Ouest, Nanterre, La Défense. PRRB invited her to write from her city following the terrorist murders of November 13. She writes in honour of her friend Robert who lost an eye and whose jaw was destroyed in the Bataclan concert hall attack and thus cannot yet talk or eat. 

* * *

To Bob, whose tongue was taken away

“Ma patrie, c’est la langue française” ~ Albert Camus

[…] […] […]
“Acte de barbarie”
“les barbares sont à nos portes”
[…] […] […]
barbarus, balbus

Paris, usually synonymous with refinement and the epitome of civilization, has been painted over with the word “barbarous,” its moveable feast shattered. (Car oui, Paris est une fête!) We hear it always, endlessly, it has become the banner under which to bury the unutterable —a long repetitive string of the same syllable bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar like so many bullets and shots mimicking the baffling, illegible bursts and outbursts of history. Barbarous has come to signify: “a means of communication unintelligible to us”. The word has somehow recovered its etymology. Balbus, Balbutier, Balbutiement, a stuttering, stammering, spluttering act of language. It is the irruption of that ejaculatory bomb followed by a deafening silence. […] […] […] It is the inarticulate chaos of history, unfathomable to us, of which we are all witnesses. The word itself is performative with its grotesque repetition of the same syllable as if to warn us about the dangers of reiteration.

N’oublions jamais. [Let us never forget]

I woke up on Saturday and walked the streets of Paris with husband and sister, listening to the unrelenting flow of whispers from the cafés, the ceaseless murmur of the French language, our language. We talk a great deal about loving our country, about loving our city, flag and anthem, but we never mention our native tongue, our idiom, or what truly shaped us. What makes us French is not our love of frogs, bread, cheese, and good wine, it is that we call it grenouilles, pain, fromage, et bon vin. When I wander around my city, I don’t have a feeling of communion with my fellow citizens because of the place I was born in, but because of the language and literature I share with them. That is what we tend to forget when we talk of national unity. I am not proud of my country because I was born, by chance, within its borders but because of its rich literary and cultural history. When I hear grenouille, I think of Jean De La Fontaine and “La Grenouille Qui Veut Se Faire Aussi Grosse Que Le Boeuf”, when I think of pain I go to Marcel Pagnol’s La Femme du Boulanger, fromage conjures up La Fontaine again and Balzac’s servant in La Rabouilleuse, and vin is Baudelaire’s “Vin des Amants” or Rabelais’ gargantuan orgies.

Notre langue comme refuge contre la violence de la barbarie. [Our tongue as a refuge against the violence of barbarism]

As I write this piece, sitting in the French National Library, surrounded by archives, manuscripts written by the best minds of past generations, I cannot help but feel grateful for the repository it represents and the freedom I am granted to unearth them. In the aftermath of the attack, after the surge of monstrosity and dismemberment within our reality, most of us feel our jobs and daily tasks to be most trivial and insignificant. To those who feel helpless I say we need to slowly re-member —the difficult task of weaving and mending pieces together awaits us all collectively.

Exhumons nos archives. [let’s start exhuming our archives]

Anna Aublet lives in Paris where she is currently doctoral fellow and lecturer at Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense. Her dissertation is entitled “The Prophet in the Garden, William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg”. The title of her article, Paris Est Une Fête, is the English translation of E. Hemingway’s book A Moveable Feast, and it has become a signal phrase for solidarity in Paris since the attacks.