Monday, 15 February 2010

Sous le pavé

I was wondering why mention of Paris in '68 by Tony Judt made me think of Roger Scruton's recollections of the time (apart from my being a reactionary bugger, that is). I went back to the latter's book, 'Gentle Regrets', and took a look. They were memorable as they were so well-written.

I'd described the memoir in the earlier post as 'beautifully judged' and reading this part again I recognise now that much of it is hardly judged at all. I found just a handful of words that could be construed as pejorative. There was no explicit condemnation; it was inferred by the reader from description and the odd telling juxtaposition. The description, though, does get through an awful lot of work:
In the narrow street below my window the students were shouting and smashing. The plate-glass windows of the shops appeared to step back, shudder for a second, and then give up the ghost, as the reflections suddenly left them and they slid in jagged fragments to the ground. Cars rose into the air and landed on their sides, their juices flowing from unseen wounds. The air was filled with triumphant shouts, as one by one the lamp-posts and bollards were uprooted and piled on the tarmac, to form a barricade against the next van-load of policemen.
The van - known as a panier à salade on account of the wire mesh that covered its windows - came cautiously round the corner from the Rue Descartes, jerked to a halt, and disgorged a score of frightened policemen. They were greeted by flying cobblestones and several of them fell. One rolled over on the ground clutching his face, from which the blood streamed through tightly clenched fingers. There was an exultant shout, the injured policeman was helped into the van, and the students ran off down a side-street, sneering at the cochons and throwing Parthian cobbles as they went.
Being put in someone's shoes is always more powerful than being told what to think.


Gadjo Dilo said...

It's a beautiful piece of writing, you're right. I'd always assumed that the 1968 Parisian riots were a bit of an irrelevence in the great scheme of things, but then, like a plonker, I'd spent most of my university days trying to study.

Barendina Smedley said...

That may well be the best thing Scruton's ever written:

came cautiously round the corner from the Rue Descartes, jerked to a halt, and disgorged a score of frightened policemen

not least because the juxaposition of Descartes and the self-indulgent, sloppy irrationality is almost, but clearly not quite, too good to be true.

Thanks so much, anyway, for telling me about a book I now very much want to read.

Gaw said...

Gadjo and Bunny: It's a very enjoyable read. Rather bizarrely, he spends a whole chapter being very rude about the Finns.