INTRODUCTION
R
C E N T LY, A YOUNG GERMAN STUDENT TOLD THE STORY
of her first trip to Paris. At the earliest opportunity, she got
out at the metro stop "Bastille" in order to visit the famous
prison of which there had been so much talk in her history lessons,
a place that was the first thing she thought of whenever the French
Revolution was mentioned. To her surprise, however, she found a
square busy with traffic surrounding the July Column with its Genius
of Liberty instead of the ruins of the fortress conquered by the people
of Paris on
14July 1789and
was ashamed of her ignorance.
This anecdote is not as banal and insignificant as it may sound at
first. For it seems to be symptomatic of the continuing presence of a
phenomenon that long ago materially disappeared with the immedi-
ate demolition of the Paris Bastille
(1789-9°)
but that still exists in
people's imagination. Primarily, this is of course true in France. The
Bastille is not invoked only on the national holiday every year. The
opening volume of a new series of juvenile historical
fiction,'
a com-
petition of modern painters and graphic
designers,'
and the project of
a monumental glass picture mural for the bicentennial of the French
Revolution
3
are dedicated to the Bastille as a matter of course. Asked
what symbolizes the republican ideal, almost all French name "relics"
of the French Revolution, not the least of which are the celebration of
14July (19percent)
and the Place de la Bastille
(9
percent)." And even
in a philosophical work such as Jean-Paul Sartre's
CritiqueofDialecti-
calReason(1960),the
Bastille is present. Here,
14July 1789serves
as a
historical paradigm for the theoretical reflection on how freedom be-
comes possible, and how social action comes into being from isolated
actions of individuals under the pressure of a common threat."
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