Friday, November 27, 2009

Bookblogging: The Headless Republic

Of all the blogs I've ever liked, not one has ever posted any poetry. But these are special circumstances. First of all, I read Jesse Goldhammer's The Headless Republic: Sacrificial Violence in Modern French Thought, and I liked it. Moreover, I want Mr. Goldhammer, when he Googles his name, to know that I liked it, since I see from the back flap that he is currently employed at "one of the world's leading scenario-planning consulting firms." I'm sure he enjoys his work, but consulting is miles away from writing your PhD thesis on sacrificial violence in modern French thought. He may miss it.

I wish I could register my satisfaction with this 180-page labor of love by picking a fight with it, since that's how I usually show my respect, but Goldhammer didn't say anything that bothered me. Nor did he summarize his thesis in a single pull-able paragraph that might benefit the public internets. He could have, maybe with a sentence like this: Violence achieves real revolutionary results exactly to the extent that it can plausibly claim to fit some traditional narrative or ritual of violence. (Or maybe he did, with Michael Walzer's line that a monarchy "can survive a thousand assassinations but not one execution," which means the same thing.)

Without either a complaint or a pull-quote to fill a post with, I can only share a poem written by Robespierre a few months before his execution, which is the one passage in The Headless Republic that I marked:
The sole torment of the just, at his last hour,
And the only one that will tear me apart,
It is to see, while dying, the pale and somber desire
To distill shame and infamy on my brow,
To die for the people and yet be abhorred for it.
I'd add a comment, but of course I don't need to tell Mr. Goldhammer about martyrdom. He's the one wasting a PhD on consulting.

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