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6 Judgments of Paris
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Les hommes de littérature, de philosophie et de science, se lèvent de toute part, au nom de l'intelligence et de la raison.
Émile Zola, Declaration to the Jury

Men of literature, of philosophy and of science are rising from all over in the name of intelligence and reason.

This reconceived urban space at the end of the century, de-urbanized and de-revolutionized, produced a distinctive personage. As the


city early in the century produced its characteristic figure in the flâneur, so the very different Paris at the end of the century begat the intellectual. Although it by no means invented the intellectual, Zola's spectacular intercession in the Dreyfus affair unquestionably fixed the figure in the cultural repertory of modern France and the West. The debates began immediately, over who should be counted an intellectual, over whether the identification was a matter of individual choice or collective affiliation, and over whether, in the end, intellectuals, however defined, were a good or bad thing. At a moment of deep crisis in French society, Émile Zola thrust the intellectual to stagecenter, fueling on-going debates over the nature of contemporary society and the roles particular groups play within that society.

Much is made, and rightly so, of how unusual, and how unexpected, it was for this established writer—president of the Société des Gens de Lettres, Officer of the Legion of Honor—to take up the cause of the disgraced army officer and to embark upon a campaign that he knew would cost him dear (in the event, two trials, fines, close to a year's exile in England, suspension from the Legion of Honor, threats on his life, and public vilification that did not end even with his death). Neither the sympathy for the downtrodden and the oppressed evident in the Rougon-Macquart novels, nor the battles in defense of naturalism, nor again the spirited vindication of Manet would lead anyone to predict that this writer would set himself so intractably against the combined powers of the government and the army.

Even though Zola's action was unprecedented, he was not unprepared for the part that he undertook with such zeal. A close reading of Paris reveals, on the contrary, that the writer was in fact preparing himself for the role that he invested with such conviction and performed with such consummate skill. Although it would be excessive to see Paris as Zola's dress rehearsal for his engagement in the Dreyfus affair, the novel nevertheless provides strong evidence that the writer already possessed a firm sense of the special role that should devolve upon the intellectual in contemporary society.

A simple juxtaposition of dates speaks volumes: having completed Paris in August 1897, Zola entered the dreyfusard lists only three months later on 25 November, with an article in LeFigaro. The explosive "J'accuse" hit the newsstands the following 13 January. The novel was serialized during the fall and appeared in volume form in March, that


  Plage 19. 
Émile Zola at the time of the Dreyfus affair. The writer's impassioned defense 
of the military officer condemned for espionage took the case out of the military 
courts and put it before the civil courts and the public. If the novelist in 
Paris  could look with equanimity to "the future harvest of justice and truth,
" the intellectual who took up the cause of Alfred Dreyfus was not so patient.
 His very metaphors, from a future harvest to an imminent explosion, show his 
urgency, and suggest his complete identification with revolutionary rhetoric. 
"J'accuse," Zola specified, was "a revolutionary means to hasten the explosion 
of truth and justice." (Photograph courtesy of Roger-Viollet.)  

is, between Zola's first trial in February and his second in July of 1898. Finishing Paris indisputably afforded Zola the time and the psychological space necessary for the Dreyfus adventure. Had he been in the middle of a novel, he later admitted, he wasn't sure what he would have done.[18] Still, it has not been appreciated how much this work has to do with Zola's intervention in the course of the Dreyfus affair—far more than juxtaposition of dates alone allows. For Paris proposes something of a blueprint for the model intellectual. This novel in which


Zola articulates the rights, the duties, and the mission of the intellectual prepares as it confirms the impassioned defense of Alfred Dreyfus. The dramatization of the intellectual coincides with the end of the revolutionary city, and Paris confirms both phenomena.

For Zola as for French society as the century draws to a close, the intellectual is a new figure, indisputably a product of modern society. In Zola's later work, representatives of intellectual milieux make a notable addition to the social classes recognizable from the Rougon-Macquart novels. The Dreyfus affair would reveal how modern the intellectual was. In contrast to earlier champions of justice, who typically spoke from a moral high ground, the intellectual also bases claims to a public hearing on knowledge. To take the most striking of Zola's predecessors in France (examples he had in mind), neither Voltaire nor Hugo claimed to know more than the authorities about the condemnation of Jean Calas, on the one hand, or the coup d'état that established the Second Empire, on the other. They knew more or less what everyone else knew but saw things differently. Accordingly, they make their case almost entirely on moral grounds. Of course, Zola passes a moral judgment. His strident rhetoric is overwhelmingly a rhetoric of morality. But he grounds that moral judgment in facts, in knowledge, or, to use the term to which he returns again and again, in "truth." In "J'accuse" (officially a letter addressed to Félix Faure, president of the republic), Zola assumes that Faure does not know the truth ("For your honor, I am convinced that you are ignorant of it") and needs only to be enlightened. The explosive list of accusations that gave "J'accuse" its name and provoked Zola's trials occupies fewer than two of the twelve pages of the letter. The rest retell the narrative of Dreyfus' condemnation, citing "facts" and making a "demonstration." Again and again Zola invokes "truth" as the necessary constituent of the justice that he demands for Dreyfus.[19]

The precise nature of the connection between the intellectual's moral stance and knowledge has been a vexed question ever since, usually revolving around the question of who is, or can claim to be, a bona fide intellectual. Why should membership in the inelegantly termed "knowledge professions" qualify one to speak on issues outside the realm of professional expertise? Contemporaries like the conservative critic Ferdinand Brunetière rebuked Zola for meddling in things that he had no reason to know anything about. In both cases,


judgment turned on the question of knowledge much as it would in innumerable instances in the twentieth century—the "truth" about the Soviet Union for the intellectuals of the 1930s, a different "truth" about the Soviet Union for the intellectuals of the 1970s.

Intellectuals dominate Paris. For in this novel haunted by the idea of the future, these representatives of modernity—the scientists, the scholars, and the professors—bear the burden of bringing the new century into existence. Guillaume Froment is an experimental scientist who works on his own, but the chemist Bertheroy (who most directly articulates Zola's faith in the beneficence of science) is a member of the Institut de France and lectures at the École Normale Supérieure, where Guillaume's son François is a student. The three sons cover several of the possibilities of this newly prominent social configuration: Thomas, the applied scientist (the motor is his invention), François, preparing to be a teacher-scholar, and Antoine, the artist.

Even the master solar metaphor focuses on the intellectual classes. The sun, explicitly equated with truth ("truth finally exploding like the sun" [590, of. 599]), singles out the Left Bank with all its schools, which "occupies a vast field in immense Paris" (200). In one of the structuring scenes of Paris as field, the rays of the sun fall alternately on the Latin Quarter with its great schools and on the neighborhoods of factories and workshops, thereby highlighting the alliance of knowledge and commerce necessary to bring the new era into existence (383). Further, Pierre Froment's conversion from the priesthood to the ethos of science clearly signals the shift in spiritual direction that society will and must take.

No matter what alliance is made, within the moral and social hierarchy established in the novel, it is nonetheless the intellectual who leads. Disinterested, unmoved by material considerations, the intellectual devotes himself to the common good. Guillaume will give his new explosive powder "to everyone." More than banter is at issue in François' self-conscious observation, as he watches the setting sun, that the École Normale and the Panthéon remain in the light long after night has plunged the commercial districts into obscurity (553). Politics fade before this unbeatable combination of science and commerce as Paris vanishes in the luminous apotheosis of the sun. The fin-de-siècle intellectual works from and with a very particular conception of space, one that embraces the whole that is somehow dis-


connected from the parts. The juxtapositions of synecdoche give way to the displacements and transference of metaphor.

The intellectual whose engagement in the body politic so marks the late nineteenth century differs from earlier types of "public writers" on a number of dimensions.[20] Zola in the 1890s confronted an array of literary institutions more numerous and more complexly stratified than those with which Hugo had contended only twenty or thirty years previously. Political institutions too altered. The most vocal and most dramatic opposition to the Second Empire had come from dissidents outside the political sphere, and, for Hugo and others in exile, from outside of France altogether. By contrast, once the serious crises of the 1870s settled, opposition in the Third Republic played out almost entirely within the established rules of the game. Zola was denied the distance that allowed Hugo the implied mastery and omniscience of a bird's-eye view of politics.

What is notable about Zola's writing during the Dreyfus affair is the dissociation of his eminently political act from a particular time and from a particular space. In Paris those with the greatest attachment to the actual city are, paradoxically, the anarchists who seek with their bombs to obliterate specific signs of history and symbols of contemporary society. Guillaume finally chooses to dynamite Sacré-Coeur because it symbolizes the old society, the unenlightened world, the obscurantism of the church, and also the repression of revolution.[21] Against Guillaume's obsession with this church and the anarchists' fixation on topography, Zola sets out the ahistorical visions of Paris that punctuate the novel. Only when he has renounced the project to blow up the basilica is Guillaume able to see the ecstatic vision of the future harvest. Here is the real explosion of truth. The potential destruction of Guillaume's invention turns to construction of a new world.

When Zola invokes the Revolution in his articles on the Dreyfus affair, it is as a set of eternal principles. With the exception of the anarchists, revolution has lost its connection to Paris, to the city whose stones bear witness to this seismic event. Revolution becomes a function of overriding principles and metaphors of illumination. "J'accuse," Zola specifies, "is only a revolutionary means to hasten the explosion of truth and justice. . . . I have only one passion, that of light, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and which has a right to happiness" (124). Precisely these terms abound in Paris,


which similarly divests "revolutionary" of any specific political content. Rather, Zola associates the legacy of the Revolution with an idea of France. His declaration to the jury during his first trial in February 1898 speaks to and for the nation: "We have to know if France is still the France of the rights of man, the France that gave liberty to the world and should give it justice. Are we still the noblest, the most fraternal, the most generous of peoples?" (132). "I have on my side solely the idea, an ideal of truth and justice" (134), he declares, echoing the many declarations of Paris. In the "Impressions d'audience," written during his first trial, he exhorts France to fulfill its promise. "To stay at the front of nations, to be the nation that will hasten the future, we must henceforth be the soldiers of the idea, the combatants of truth and right. Our people must be the most free and the most reasonable. It must fulfill at the earliest possible moment the model society, the one that is being born in the decomposition of the old society that is crumbling" (246).

The Dreyfus affair "is small indeed,. . . far from the terrifying questions that it has raised" (132). It is no longer a question of a man's fate but of "the salvation of the nation" (132). "The innocent man who suffered on Devil's Island was only the accident, a whole people suffered with him. . . . In saving him, we were saving all the oppressed" (204). France itself fades into the background before the vision of a transfigured society of supranational proportions that, once again, recalls the final scene of Paris. Accordingly, although Guillaume Froment originally plans to give his invention to his country to enable France to win the inevitable war with Germany, he eventually puts it at the disposal of humanity (reasoning that if every country possesses ultimate destructive potential, none will dare to use it). He will derive no personal gain from his invention, which he leaves for others to market. In an article written from his exile in England, Zola too insists that he has no desire to take personal profit from his action (152). In the disinterested intellectual, Zola reiterates again and again, lies all hope for the future. "Intellectuals [savants ] tomorrow, the hope for more truth and more justice; . . . Who does not feel that we are heading toward this truth, and to this justice, and who would dare to not side with this hope of work, of peace, of intelligence that is finally mistress of universal happiness?" (246).

In the Dreyfus affair Zola had only to follow the logic of his own metaphorical constructions, a "sower" of light and truth, who, like


his fictional characters, cultivates the future harvest of truth and justice. To the ideal that he propounds Zola adds a very distinctive ingredient, an element that is often lost in the campaigns of intellectuals in the twentieth century. Intelligence and reason do not suffice. Love is also essential. And it is not a universal love for all mankind, but the love generated in the family and focused on the individual, and especially the individual child. This is the sense of Pierre's marriage and the final scene in Paris that unites the family of scientists around the infant as well as the motor—both creations, infant and engine, equally necessary for the new society and the new century. The love embodied in the one is the necessary counterpart to the intelligence that materializes in the other.

Such is also the signification of Zola's claim at the very end of "J'accuse" to speak "in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and which has a right to happiness" (124). He speaks of humanity but through and for an individual. Zola's unequivocal condemnation of the Communards in La Débâcle and the anarchists in Paris originates in just this indifference to the human element. His ideal intellectual is moved by compassion as well as reason. Otherwise, woe to humanity. In the single usage of "intellectual" as a substantive in Paris, Zola denounces the "cold intellectual" who fails to temper intellect with understanding and sets a bomb that kills three people. This young man, an erstwhile student, does not resemble any of the other anarchists in the novel. Within the economy of the novel, his execution is not only inevitable but appropriate. For there is

no excuse for his abominable act, no political passion, no humanitarian lunacy, not even the exasperated suffering of the poor. He was the pure destroyer, the theoretician of destruction, the energetic and cold intellectual who put all the effort of his intelligence in justifying murder . . . And a poet as well, a visionary, but the most horrifying, . . . (581)

Only by renouncing his delusion of absolute justice can Guillaume Froment become the complete intellectual, just as Pierre must resolve his spiritual crisis by abjuring his passionate desire for absolute belief. "Did not his torment come from the absolute. . .?" (378). The absolute, whatever the domain, is deeply asocial, whereas the intellectual, for Zola, is profoundly social, deeply committed to humanity and to individuals even as Zola himself serves the idea of justice and the case of Alfred Dreyfus. The Parisian field and its abundant harvest


join the opposites in a vision of what human effort can accomplish. This vision of a new golden age is Zola's legacy of Paris to the twentieth century.

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