L'éternité par les astres
[Eternity by the Stars]
mixed media installation, 2011
During the Commune, Blanqui was held prisoner in the fortress of Taureau. There he wrote L’Eternite par les astres. […] The naive reflections of an autodidact, which form the principal portion of this work, open the way to merciless speculations that give the lie to the author’s revolutionary elan. […]
The impression left by the book is depressing rather than triumphal. Blanqui’s aim is to sketch an image of progress. It turns out to be a magical image of history itself. The most important passage is as follows:
This renunciation without hope is the last word of the great revolutionary.The whole universe consists of astral systems. To create them, nature has only one hundred elements at its disposal. […] The universe repeats itself endlessly, marking time on the spot. Unwaveringly, eternity performs the same play over and over again, in infinity.
– Walter Benjamin, from “The Arcades Project”
French political activist Louise Auguste Blanqui (1805–1881) was active in all three major upheavals in nineteenth-century France—the revolutions of 1830 and 1848 and the Paris Commune of 1871—and was imprisoned following each series of events. Blanqui's radicalism, and his determination to enforce it by violence, brought him into conflict with every French government during his lifetime, and as a consequence, he spent half of his life in prison.
L’éternité par les astres ("Eternity by the Stars", 1872), Blanqui's last published book, was written in prison, and it constitutes an unusual break from the author's constant socio-political focus. It is an astronomy treatise, constructed as a hypothesis on the shape and the functioning of the universe.
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Two French partisans from the Second World War were asked to choose a sentence from Blanqui’s L’éternité par les astres, and to write them on a sheet of paper.
The two partisans were then asked to read excerpts from L’éternité par les astres, while being recorded in their houses in Lyon. The video is composed by a visual exploration of the partisans' domestic spaces, as if trying to construct a pictorial counterpart to the cosmological descriptions of the text.
The soundtrack comprises recordings of the background sound emitted by the empty exhibition space of the Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation (“Resistance and Deportation History Centre”) in Lyon, housed in the building previously used as the headquarters of the Gestapo.
The first presentation of the project took place in September 2011 at the Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation in Lyon, as part of the Résonance program during the Lyon Biennial 2011.