Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Monday, July 25, 2011

The symbolism of the storming and demolition of the Bastille

The Storming of the Bastille. Watercolor painting. 1789. By Jean Pierre Houël.

The notion of a respect for cultural heritage, especially one that lay outside one´s own tradition, was in large part an Enlightenment idea. But the Enlightenment also ushered in a new period of heightened destruction -the French Revolution- and new reasons for the demolition of monuments where their deliberate erasure took on an ideological flavour: this was an iconoclasm that was anti-clerical rather than intra-clerical. (...) In the Revolution, rationality was to replace superstition and divine right with equality. Many churches and cathedrals were desecrated and closed or turned into Temples of Reason. Manor houses, castles and abbeys burned. The storming and demolition of the Bastille (....) was an attack on the embodiment of royal authority. Teh Bastille prison was targeted despite holding only seven prisoners, none of them remotely political. It was a symbol of state oppression rather than a significant site of the practical exercise of that power.
The critic Georges Bataille went further, suggesting that monuments do not just symbolize an enemy but are in themselves the enemy:
It is obvious, actually, that monuments inspire socially acceptable behaviour, and often a very real fear. The storming of the Bastille is symbolic of this state of affairs: it is difficult to explain this impulse of the mob other than by the animosity the people hold against the monuments which are their true masters.
Tha Bastille´s stones were broken up and sold as souvenirs -secular relics almost- a commodification process repeated with the fragments of the Berlin Wall 200 years later.

Plan and view of the Bastille. From Project Gutenberg eText 16962.jpg From The Project Gutenberg EBook of Historical Epochs of the French Revolution by H. Goudemetz 

Introduction of the book The Destruction of Memory. Architecture at War. By Robert Bevan. Page 21. London, 2007.

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