". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, September 8, 2012

In the Age of Revolutions

Talleyrand coined the famous, "Women are politics!" and did so long before the Revolution or the Directoire.

We haven't produced a public -- or private -- figure anything like Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-PĂ©rigord, prince, bishop (defrocked), statesman, diplomat, imperial elector and much else besides.

We couldn't, one would consider, for this nation hasn't had the interlocked three ruling class estates to lock down all opportunity for itself: the Roman Church (Talleyrand received Jesuit training, among other training), the aristocracy and the army.  The Church and the aristocracy owned the land, and the the Church and the army was run by their enlisted and appointed aristocrats.

This is a very different world in every way than Atlantic seaboard North American colonial culture and economy, where there was always land to be had, one way and another, and labor = cash.  It is enlightening then,  to contemplate this defrocked French aristo, dislocated to Philadelphia,  fled from the Revolution that he'd done his best to assist into being, walking with the help of his cane and his black mistress, the icy streets of the early Republic's capital.

Talleyrand in 1794 - 1796 Philadelphia personifies culture shock. He was a most unwilling immigrant and refugee. It was leave England where he'd initially escaped from the Terror, or be deported back to France and certain death.  This reminds one of other refugees from yet another revolution: the slaveholding escapees from the San Domingue Revolution, coming to safer haven in Cuba.  Then it was either swear allegience to Spain or leave.  So again they packed up their mistresses and families of color -- whatever the planter's tone of skin -- and flee, this time to New Orleans – *which either is in negotiation for purchase or just recently purchased by – the Americans.

For Citizen-Prince Talleyrand, there was only one place in the world in which any man of value could live, Paris, the City of Light and Salons, salons hosted and dominated by brilliant, witty women, women who ruled both the art of flirtation and the art of politics. He didn't much care for Philadelphia, America or Americans.  The only person he'd encountered that he judged worthy of respect was Alexander Hamilton.  This judgment of Talleyrand's would bode badly, then, for the self-exiled, disgraced Aaron Burr's hopes to have a meeting with Napoleon, during which he hoped to offer his talents in service of the Emperor. Talleyrand ensured that the Emperor never encountered the only American who resembled himself at all, and who resembled him more closely than he liked to admit.


* el V takes some issue with that statement, observing: "It was 1809 -- Louisiana safely in Claiborne's hands since dec. 20 1803. "

Still, I stand with my statement as I intended it to convey not a specific date, but this: "It didn't happen all at once.  There were greater waves, but the movement was constant for decades. The multiple revolutions in the old world and new – had far more forced refugees and immigrants -- and even deportees --  than many realize. It was a continuing churn in population and individuals that also churned culture and ideas. This took place separately and outside traditional culture churn that comes with armies encountering places, people, languages and culture different from that they were born into. After Napoleon's fall, this movement was felt even more strongly in South America with her revolutions and wars of independence.  One great example are the consquences of Napoleon’s occupation of Egypt, and England’s successful campaign to drive him and his army out. The furnishings of the era are only one areas in which we can see the force of that impact, in Europe, in South America and the young USA Republic.

 I didn't explain what I meant, and what I said, I expressed poorly.

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