The 1870s in France – Rimbaud’s moment, and the subject of this book – is a decade virtually ignored in most standard histories in France. Yet it was the moment of two significant spatial events: France’s expansion on a global scale, and, in the spring of 1871, the brief existence on the Paris Commune – the construction of the revolutionary urban space. Arguing that space, as a social fact, is always political and strategic, Kristin Ross has written a book that is at once a history and geography of the Commune’s anarchist culture – its political language and social relations, its values, strategies, and stances.
Central to her analysis of the Commune as a social space and oppositional culture is a close textual reading of Arthur Rimabaud’s poetry. His poems – a common thread running through the book – are one set of documents among many in Ross’s recreation of the Communard experience. Rimbaud, PaulLafargue, and the social geographer ÉliséeReclusserve as emblematic figures moving within and on the periphery of the Commune; in their resistance to the logic and economy of the capitalist conception of work, in their challenge to work itself as a term of identity, all three posed a threat to the existing order. Ross looks at these and other emancipatory notions as aspects of Communard life, each with an analogous strategy in Rimbaud’s poetry. Applying contemporary theory, to a wealth of little-known archival material, she has written a fresh, persuasive, and original book
Kristin Ross’s highly acclaimed work on the thought and culture of the Communard uprising of 1871 resonates with the motivations and actions of contemporary protest, which has found its most powerful expression in the reclamation of public space. Today’s concerns—internationalism, education, the future of labor, the status of art, and ecological theory and practice—frame and inform her carefully researched restaging of the words and actions of individual Communards. This original analysis of an event and its centrifugal effects brings to life the workers in Paris who became revolutionaries, the significance they attributed to their struggle, and the elaboration and continuation of their thought in the encounters that transpired between the insurrection’s survivors and supporters like Marx, Kropotkin, and William Morris.
The Paris Commune was a laboratory of political invention, important simply and above all for, as Marx reminds us, its own “working existence.” Communal Luxury allows readers to revisit the intricate workings of an extraordinary experiment.
“Communal Luxury is a rich and complex book. It is an inspired rereading of the Paris Commune. It is a critique of historical accounts that ignore the ways in which the practices of insurrectionary movements generate their own theory. It is a call to historians to attend to the alternatives offered at decisive moments of political and economic consolidation. It is, as well, Ross’s own manifesto about how we might think our futures differently. This is a history with enormous relevance for our contemporary political moment.”