Monday, July 23, 2007

La Dalle, Universal Symbol


Prime Minister Fillon and High Commissioner for Active Solidarities Hirsch went to Argenteuil today to announce (yet again) the Revenu de Solidarité Active. As Cindy Skach pointed out in a guest post, La Dalle in Argenteuil has become the universal (and contested) symbol of the problem of "the excluded" in France and what to do about them ever since Sarkozy made his (in)famous remark about cleansing the place au Kärcher. I understand that the Kärcher company was not pleased, but the free publicity must have been an enormous boon. The name has now become almost as ubiquitous and as French as le Coca. (Existerait-il un Kärcher lite pour des voyous et loubards qui ne seraient pas tout à fait racaille?)

Argenteuil, né Argentoialum, used to evoke names like Pierre Abélard and Claude Monet before it became indelibly linked to la racaille and le Kärcher. T. J. Clark, in his fine book The Painting of Modern Life, observed how the painters of the late 19th-c. registered the intrusion of industrial civilization on the formerly pastoral landscapes visible beneath the arches of the bridge at Argenteuil in the painting above by Monet. I wonder what artists are registering the transformations occurring in Argenteuil today. In retrospect the balance between nature and industry at which Monet seems to hint appears to have been overly optimistic. Does optimism survive in today's art, or are the visions from Argenteuil generally bleak or even apocalyptic? If so, they may be no more accurately prophetic than Monet, but it would be good to know more about them in any case. If there are readers in a position to know, I'd like to hear from them.

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