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6 Judgments of Paris
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Paris flambait, ensemencé de lumière par le divin soleil, roulant dans sa gloire la moisson future de vérité et de justice.
Zola, Paris

Paris was all ablaze, fertilized with light by the divine sun, turning over in its glory the future harvest of truth and justice.

The evacuation of the social and the political by the natural becomes still more pronounced in Zola's next cycle of novels, Les Trois Villes (Lourdes, 1894; Rome, 1896; Paris, 1898). Even more than La Débâcle, Paris splits between the city that is the setting and the city that is dreamed, both by various characters in the novel and by the narrator. With its antagonistic social classes, implacable anarchists, corrupt politicians, and decadent upper classes, Zola's republic of the 1890s resembles nothing so much as the Second Empire of the Rougon-Macquart. Zola's rare achievement in this novel is to have transformed this familiar city into something uncommon. Paris "deurbanizes" Paris by reconceiving the city as country. The return to the land on which La Débâcle places all hope is effected, paradoxically enough, in the reimagined and rewritten city of Paris.

In this naturalized Paris, revolution is a thing of the past, a distant memory of the failures of 1848 and 1871. Political action of any sort is a delusion. Instead of a model of democracy at work, the parliamentary debates of the Third Republic expose a morass of corruption, venality, and moral turpitude. At the opposite end of the political spectrum, Zola's anarchists place themselves outside society altogether. Their rage for destruction, wild dreams, and delusory mysticism tie the anarchists of Paris to the Communards of La Débâcle. In Paris too the "wind of violence" passes over the city in a "contagion of madness" (603), and the crazed dream of annihilation, the longing for a purified society and a "golden age" (566-67), produce a "chimera" (575). These hallucinations consume Guillaume Froment, the scientist, and his anarchist associates in Paris much as the "black dream" of destruction and the vision of a new golden age ravage


Maurice Levasseur and the Paris of the Commune in La Débâcle. But there is a difference. The fraternal reconciliation of Paris balances and overcomes the fratricide of La Débâcle. In a highly charged, overwrought scene in the crypt of Sacré-Coeur, the unfrocked priest, Pierre Froment, persuades his older brother, Guillaume, not to ignite the fuse that would explode the basilica and massacre the ten thousand pilgrims gathered for mass. The scientist must, Pierre insists, turn his scientific knowledge to positive account.

Guillaume Froment converts from the destructive vision of the anarchists to the pacific vision of beneficent science enunciated by the eminent chemist Bertheroy early in the novel. Politics, for Bertheroy, are totally irrelevant. Only science counts, for "only science is revolutionary" (476). The anarchists are "too dumb" if they think that bombs c n change the world. Is it possible, reflects Guillaume Froment, that this "singular revolutionary" actually works harder and more effectively than any anarchist, than any politician, to overthrow the "old and abominable society?" (476). The motor powered by Guillaume's explosive that purrs away to everyone's admiration in the final scene—here is the "real revolution" (604). Intellectual creation, not mindless destruction, engenders a new world. "Science alone is revolutionary, . . . beyond miserable political events, beyond the vain agitation of sectarianism and ambition" (605). Revolutionary Paris has moved full circle from the destruction of the Bastille as the primal, emblematic revolutionary act. Against Hugo, against Vallès, Zola removes revolution from the public space of the city and encloses it within the eminently private space of the laboratory, the workshop, and the home.[10]

Although Paris draws upon a number of the traditional images of Paris, Zola radically alters their sense. In affirmations that recall Hugo's impassioned statements of Paris-Guide, Zola's new city "rule[s] over modern times," "the center of all peoples," "the initiator, the civilizer, the liberator." In and through Paris the one century ends and the new one will begin (606). But Zola's city is not Hugo's. Its sovereignty no longer derives from the revolutionary tradition but from science. "Science . . . makes Paris, which will make the future" (477)

Paris is doubly powerful because it draws on the vitality of nature as well as the intellectuality of science. The city that Bertheroy perceives as a "boiler where the future is bubbling, under which we scientists maintain the eternal flame" (606) appears to Pierre Froment


as a vat or cask (cuve ) "where the wine of the future [is] fermenting."[11] Despite the obvious differences between the two containers—the one tended by the scientist, the other tended by nature—the two domains converge insofar as nature, like science, exists beyond conventional morality. The wine made in this cask is produced from "the best and the worst" (591), the dissolute no less than the pure. Zola invokes the image several times at the end of the novel to resolve, metaphorically at least, the moral dilemma that has beset Pierre ever since his trip to Lourdes and his subsequent loss of faith. In the long run and in spite of itself, the profoundly degenerate society that Zola condemns nevertheless does its part in the great work of nature. Revolution conceived as purposive, directed action disappears in a world no longer determined by Hugo's march of history but by the discoveries of science. Its conversion into a historical event relegates the Revolution to the past, a moment of preparation for the new century and its singular revolutionaries.

In redefining revolution, Zola reimagines the city. In place of the synecdoches by which Balzac and Hugo, even Flaubert and the earlier Zola, convey a powerful sense of the lived city, of the streets and the neighborhoods, of the houses and the shops, in Paris Zola detaches the idea, or the ideal, of the city from the urban site. True, the novel situates the action squarely in Paris, and we follow the characters all over the city, from the elegant neighborhoods of the rich to the squalid hovels of the poor. There is an amazing scene of a manhunt in the Bois de Boulogne that is characterized as a curée, and a moving narration of an execution in the Prison de la Roquette. But, in the end, the scrupulous location of familiar characters and their actions in an easily recognizable city counts for little. Zola's Paris lies elsewhere, in the space constructed by the metaphors that take Paris off location, off site—and beyond revolution.

Very much unlike that of writers who display urban topography as a means of leading the reader to an understanding of the city, Zola's metaphorization in Paris ends up denying the city as a distinctively urban space. Balzac and Hugo count heavily on metonymy for their portrayals of Paris. Notre-Dame de Paris is a synecdoche for Paris, which Hugo elaborates into a metaphor for the medieval city and the civilization that it subsumes. Even organic metaphors have an urban resonance. The notorious associations of Paris with a woman, and particularly a sexually aggressive woman, owe much to the readily observable prostitutes in the city streets. Or again, the metaphor of


Paris as the "head" of France appears especially appropriate in view of the concentration of French intellectual life in the capital. So too Zola in L' Ventre de Paris (1873), a novel about the central food market, takes the metaphor of the "belly" of the city to such an extent that it acts like a synecdoche. Then too, in L'Assommoir (1877) the constitutive metaphor for working-class life in Paris is suggested by the city itself. The bar called L'Assommoir which takes its name from the machine that dispenses the alcohol (assommer means "to beat up, to knock out") offers a striking and powerful example of metonymy veering into metaphor.[12] Indeed, the metonymic associations of many of the metaphors of Paris are what give that myth its characteristic intensity. Clearly, as well, the metaphor of "revolution" also draws its vitality on the associations with place.

When the metaphors of Paris begin to lose their metonymical foundation, because either the metaphors themselves change or the altered city fails to offer the places or the practices to generate the metonymy and ground the metaphor. Paris confirms this shift away from metonymy. The cask of wine, of which Zola makes so much as a metaphor for the city and the civilization beyond, and, later, the field have nothing to do with Paris. Lacking metonymical associations, they seem foreign, imposed from without, unjustified. They can almost be seen as anti-metonymies. Within an urban context the cask is surely an oddity if not an outright anomaly. Its associations are not with the city but with vineyards, the land, and the countryside. These associations with the land reconfigure both Paris and revolution and convert urban culture into agriculture. To the extent that the strength of the myth of Paris lies in the affinities between Parisian metonymies and metaphors, then the anti-metonymic force of Zola's metaphors undermines that myth. Zola simply discounts the public city and its narratives of corruption, seduction, venality, and misery—all traditional associations with the city, and, moreover, associations of which he had made much in earlier novels. Finally, what counts in Paris is not the familiar dramas of the public city but the very private drama of the ideal (and idealized) family that takes place within the home, within the artisanal workshop, that is, within the space of the novel itself.

Paris charts the inner voyage of Pierre Froment from doubt to a new faith, a voyage that takes him from the dark, cold city to the light and warmth of a field ready for harvest. Appropriately enough, given the solar logic of the novel, Pierre embarks upon his spiritual journey on


a dark, cold January morning in front of the Sacré-Coeur basilica on Montmartre. Alone, the priest tormented by uncertainty and the failure of human charity looks down at a Paris "drowned under a dreary, shivering thaw" under a sky "the color of lead," enveloped by "the mourning" of a thick mist (1).[13] Paris seems a "field of houses . . . a chaos of stones . . ., veiled with clouds, as if buried under the ash of some disaster . . ." (2). Notwithstanding the banality of the parallels drawn between life and the seasons as a literary strategy, the properly ideological nature of this vision is nevertheless remarkable. And Zola keeps Pierre in tune with the sun throughout the novel. The priest chooses "a bleak twilight falling on Paris" (380) to confess his anguish at his loss of faith. Not surprisingly, his future wife, the exuberantly healthy, tranquilly atheistic Marie, sees Pierre as "crazy" and suffering from "a black madness" (380). Pierre can emerge from uncertainty and darkness only in the brilliant, resplendent sun of a September day, surrounded by his family, with Sacré-Coeur resolutely out of the line of vision. "Paris was all ablaze, fertilized with light by the divine sun, turning over in its glory the future harvest of truth and justice" (608).

To connect the dark beginning and the luminous end Zola elaborates what turns out to be the constitutive metaphor of the book, by which Paris is transformed into a field planted by the scientist, nourished by the sun of truth, and to be harvested by all humanity. Paris moves from the almost sinister sterility of the church in the opening scene to the fecundity and productivity of the happy extended family at the end, from visions of the Last Judgment visited on the iniquitous city reminiscent of Maurice's "black dreams" in La Débâcle to a divination of the future reign of truth and abundance.

Zola does not entirely abandon more traditional associations of Paris. The panoramic view of the city that he surveys in the opening scene reminds Pierre, conventionally enough, of an "immense ocean," and the image recurs in one form and another a number of times throughout the novel.[14] But the defining image of the novel, which both charts Pierre's regeneration and contains Zola's vision of one century ending and another beginning, remains the field. The comparison is by no means original (although it is far less conventional than the ocean / sea parallel). Yet the weight that it bears in Paris makes the metaphor a distinctive interpretation of the city that gives striking expression to Zola's depoliticized politics for the Third Republic.


Four visions of the future, each closing a chapter and the fourth closing the novel, establish the field as the key to the novel and to Zola's revelation of a new Paris. The very first page sets up the movement of darkness to light and the transformation of the city that structure the book as a whole. The chapter opens on a grey, cold Paris day, but it ends with Pierre's dream of "a great sun of health and fecundity, which would make the city an immense field of a fertile harvest, where the better world of tomorrow would grow" (25).

His first visit to his brother's home on Montmartre gives Pierre a sense of what that Paris might be. Instead of the city of working-class poverty and upper-class degeneracy that he knows so well as a committed working priest, he finds his atheist, scientist brother and his three sons hard at work in a vast, open studio-laboratory. In place of the "terrifying" Paris and the "endless sea" to which he is accustomed, the late afternoon sun over the city outside the window discloses an endless field over which the sun seems to be scattering seed. The urban landscape of roofs and monuments covers the field, the streets become the furrows made by a giant plow. Is this, Pierre wonders, the planting that will lead to the future harvest of truth and justice?[15]

Later that spring, when Pierre has become part of the household, the scene recurs with still greater insistence on the connection between Paris and a field, between the sun and a planter sowing wheat. Zola renders spectacularly visual the associations of Paris with birth, germination, and growth that recall Hugo's introduction to Paris-Guide and his affirmation that "Paris is a sower" ("Paris est un semeur") [16] The scattering of the grains of wheat by the sun specifically implicates the Froment family (froment means "wheat") in the destiny of the city. And it is specifically the earth of Paris that will yield the longed-for harvest: "This good earth. . ., worked over by so many revolutions, fertilized by the blood of so many workers," is the "only earth in the world where the idea can germinate" (384).

The final scene in the novel brings together the three controlling images of Paris: the motor that turns Paris itself into a vibrating engine, alive and strong like the sun; the gigantic cask where the next century will be born; and finally, the field covered with wheat that now stands ready to be reaped. The time of planting is past. The light of science has engendered the motor ("the father and the son had given birth . . . to this marvel" [584]) as the warmth of love has pro-


duced Pierre and Marie Froment's child. So moved is Marie by the splendid sight of Paris in the sun that she "offers" her infant son to the city below "as a majestic gift." He, his mother prophesies, will harvest these Parisian fields and put that harvest in the granary. The novel ends in this apotheosis of the city transformed by nature and science. [17]

The concluding paragraph of the novel transforms Paris yet again, this time into a heavenly body, a lesser sun revolving in the universe, in tune with the divine laws of nature. The warmth of the sun that brings all life revolutionizes the City of Light by eliminating revolution. The City of the Sun succeeds the City of Light, Zola's Parisian fields replace the City of Revolution. The dreams of a new golden age that haunt the Communards of La Débâcle and the anarchists of Paris are impossible because they depend on an act of destruction. The new world is, for Zola, profoundly an act of creation.

In this manner, Paris affirms for society as a whole what Le Docteur Pascal (1893), the final novel of the Rougon-Macquart cycle, only suggests for the individual. The science defended as knowledge by the earlier novel is legitimated in the later work by the promise of a better society that it holds out for all humanity. The children born at the end of these novels speak to fundamentally different hopes. The fatherless infant alone with his mother in the last scene of Le Docteur Pascal becomes, in Paris, Jean Froment surrounded not only by an impressive extended family of parents, uncle, cousins, surrogate great—grandmother, and friends but also by three generations of scientists: his cousin Thomas (the inventor of the motor), his uncle, Guillaume (the discoverer of the explosive that powers the motor), and Bertheroy (the "master"). Surely, Jean Froment will make good on the combined pledge of his name, his family, his milieu—and Zola's very extended metaphor! The scientist will sow, and the next generation will reap. Indeed, the three novels of the Quatre Évangiles that follow Paris trace the reaping of that harvest, with the three younger sons of Pierre and Marie: Matthieu in Fécondité, Luc in Travail, and Marc in Vérité. (Jean was to be the protagonist of the unfinished Justice. )

And where is Paris after Paris? The force of the metaphor is such that the city all but disappears in the "luminous dust" (164), the "golden rain of sun" (383), and the "gold dust" (607) that suffuse the novel. The city of Paris would seem to be the antithesis of the misty, passably dreary city of L'Éducation sentimentale, its contours


clouded by the omnipresent rain, fog, drizzle, and haze. Yet, the glittering motes and specks of Zola's golden Paris achieve much the same effect of unreality, paradoxically dissolving the cityscape in an abundance of light. In these crucial scenes, the actual city of streets and monuments all but evaporates, whether under the moon's "calm dreamy light" that renders the city "vaporous and trembling," or in the morning sun that fashions a "city of dream" (467). The city of revolution, the city of historical events and monuments and politics, melds into the infinite field of grain, everything subsumed in a blaze of light.

The utopian impulse so evident in the determinedly apolitical yet highly ideological stance of Paris becomes even more pronounced in the novels that follow, which make even less place for Paris and a visionary conception of revolution. In the Quatre Évangiles Paris either serves as the traditional source of immoral ideas and depraved practices (contraception in Fécondité, the exploitation of the working class in Travail ) or is altogether irrelevant. The new society demands new sites: Chantebled ("Singing land"), the joyous, fruitful farm of Matthieu Froment's extended family in Fécondité; Luc Froment's cooperative industrial venture of Travail; and Marc Froment's public schoolrooms in Vérité.

In their exaltation of fertility, work, and education, Zola's modern gospels offer so many utopics—that is, texts that themselves constitute the ideal society, in a time and space that exist outside history and beyond topography. These novels are utopic chronotopes. But they are not, strictly speaking, "no place," as the term utopia implies. For all that they exist outside of contemporary society and ostensibly outside contemporary political debates, these works conceive and represent the future as a direct extension of the present.

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