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Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Decrepit Beacon of Enlightenment

Blagnac Histoire &; Memoire is an historical society dedicated to the history of, ta-da! Blagnac, a small city and suburb of Toulouse.  It's a wealthy city with lots of tax revenue generated by Airbus and its well-paid employees, so the association gets a decent subsidy from the Mairie to print their review, Blagnac, Questions d'Histoire.  In 2013 the association published a special edition exploring the histories of the city's street and place names.  Almost an entire page is dedicated to the Place de la Révolution, discussed many times here on LoS because of the curious monument located there which has been dubbed the "Illuminati Pyramid" but more accurately is named Le Temple de la Sagesse Supreme.  Oh what a monster we unleashed upon the English-speaking world!  (I can't tell you how many sites reproduce several of my photos and field observations without attribution.  The French pull little these little tricks as well....I just tried to right-click and save an image of the world map from another website but they'd blocked that function and a little message popped up to tell me the image was protected by copyright.  Fair enough, but I'd originally created the image!  The author  had copied a photo I took and had the nerve to claim copyright!)

I've decided to translate the entry regarding this curious plaza for your edification.  For further elaboration, feel free to peruse our posts bearing this tag.


Conceived as the Southern port of entry into the Grand Noble quarter, this plaza was built in 1989 as a solemn commemoration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution; it is also officially known as the Place du Bicentenaire, (Bicentennial Plaza)It displays more or less easily identifiable symbols that recall one of the great founding acts of our history.

A large rectangle, delimited by monumental arcades, the plaza combines a play of circles, ovals and spokes. It starts as a central tumulus, crowned with a pyramid pierced by a window, inserted into a frame in the form of a house.  The pyramid is a fountain where from hundreds of holes water gurgles into a basin in the form of a double hemisphere world map.  In front of the pyramid, bronze stelae represent the cosmos and bear the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.  Facing the pyramid on the North is a large belvedere-gallery and to the South an ensemble with a long shaft surmounted by a tricolor flag and a votive column wearing a Phrygian cap and a cockade.

When he presented his project in 1988, architect Jean-Philippe Dubourg, winner of the contest organized by the city, explained that all these are linked: 
"The belvedere emits a laser, a ray of light pure and abstract, on a North-South axis....This light will modulate, taking on the essence of the Rights of Man as it passes through the Temple of Supreme Wisdom (the pyramid) and the House (allegory of the Homeland)...Thus symbolically metamorphosed, the ray of light will be refracted in the parabola (the cockade) of the votive column of the French Revolution, spreading  the incontrovertible truths contained in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen into the ether....the central tumulus is a also a subtle botanical garden, metaphor of France as a gentle garden of liberty, planted with a Liberty Tree and a multitude of perennial plants, from gaillardia to santolina, plants dating from the Revolution."

In the opinion of his colleagues and fellow architects, Jean-Philippe Dubourg's project paid homage to Enlightenment philosophy and to the revolutionary ideals which it inspired; without a doubt, through the pyramid, to Freemasonry (whose role in the genesis of the Revolution has been greatly exaggerated); and finally to the great architects of the 18th century (Boullée, Ledoux and Lequeu); all the while applying the precepts: 
"A rational architecture using simple geometric forms and having a moral bearing on Man."
Since 1989 the plaza has suffered from the wear and tear of time and from technical failures.  The laser, victim of recurrent outages, never really functioned.  The double hemisphere world map has disappeared under a coating intended to plug leaks.  On the stelae, on looks in vain for the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen; the support panel is loose and damaged...Perhaps it will one day recover its place?  Finally, the garden has lost its luxuriance, the maintenance requiring too much care....Despite all this, the plaza has retained a certain allure.

The plaza has gained, despite itself, a renown well beyond the limits of Blagnac, thanks to the Internet.  According to Internauts fond of esotericism, it symbolizes the "New World Order", a world dominated by a small elite of initiates: the Illuminati.  This thesis hasn't failed to astonish and amuse the citizens of Blagnac; maybe they were flattered to discover that a monument in their city illustrates such a remarkable plan? 

B.Q.H n. 1-2-3-4-8

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Battle of the Battle of Liberty Place

White League propaganda. These are the fellows honored by the Battle monument.... (Wikimedia Commons)
When the Battle of Liberty Place monument, a memorial honoring those who died in an attempt to overthrow the city government after the Civil War, came down two weeks ago, contractors did the work in the middle of the night wearing kevlar and face masks.
WaPo: Tensions rise....

It irks me a bit that this article conveys the message that everybody against removing Confederate memorials are either racists and/or apologists for slavery.  Camo-clad, pistol-packin', Trump-lovin', flag-wavin' good ole boys sittin' on the porch with a moon-pie in one hand and a Mason jar of RC Cola in the other.  That said, take a good look at that cartoon.  One would hope that the Liberty Place monument's defenders are ignorant of exactly what it was they are defending when it comes to this particular chicken-fried obelisk.  Sadly, I can't escape the fact that many of them know exactly what it means.  David Duke certainly did when he tried to hold a rally there.  And I'd bet the phoned-in threats that made spiriting it away like thieves in the night a necessity weren't made by kindly old ladies dividing their Golden Years between the Daughters of the Confederacy and the flower-arranging club.

I think that somehow contextualizing these kinds of monuments would be better than just taking them away in the dead of night.  Are we eventually going to take down any memorial to the Confederate war dead?  If you look at the history behind the Liberty Place monument, and the literal white supremacist messages inscribed upon it, it's hard to lament its removal.  But its presence at least reminded people of the events which it honored, and those are events worth remembering.  I would suggest a kind of counter monument that incorporated the original, a way to re-interpret both the event itself and the earlier monument that sought to glorify it.  Becoming a kind of monument about a monument.  A meta-monument.  Or shit, just take it down and put it in a museum.  But doesn't stealing it away under cover of darkness send a message of fear, or give the impression that there's more support for it than there actually is?

It's like the KKK gravestone in Deland, Florida I've written about.  It would be a forgotten bit of local folklore if removed.  As it is, the stone radiates a kind of forlorn air, covered as it is with the stains of piss and beer bottles, perhaps other effluvia.  It reeks of defeat.  At worst, neglected; at best, covered with marks of loathing for what it represents, pooh stains on a white sheet.  The dank drapery of a defunct douche-bag.  But trying to erase history is always a bad move.  That grave inspired a lot of research on my part, edging me me towards investigating many facets of African-American history I might not otherwise have been motivated to learn about.  I felt I had to counteract a monument to the despicable.

Some kind of interpretive stelae for the Liberty Place monument may have been more powerful than a midnight removal.  Imagine coming across a glorious obelisk and then learning it carried blatant messages of white supremacy and sought to honor a white supremacist army?  A good number of people would check it out, learn something about how the end of the Civil War didn't necessarily mean the end of racial bloodshed and armed civil strife.  About how the League operated in the open, explicitly agitating for the overthrow of the Reconstructionist government and then trying to make it happen through intimidation, murder and in Liberty Place, armed insurrection.  And where they failed in violence, they succeeded through democracy.  Democrats regained control of the state legislature in 1876, two years later.

So now they're preparing the removal of statues to Generals Lee and Beauregard and President Jefferson Davis, and the situation is fraught with tension, primed for some kind of violent reaction.  Interesting story.  I wrote about the decision to remove the statues back in 2016 and had some more cogent comments.  As a historian, I'm simply loathe to cover up the past, no matter how loathsome.  Although I'm not really torn up about it, I do think it would be a shame if the next targets are monuments to Confederate war dead.  People should be able to honor their ancestors.  I know, why would I bother to defend these people?  I just don't "get it".  I do get it, but this kind of controversy doesn't do nuance very well.  Some of those soldiers were despicable men, but many of the grunts were just kids, protecting their lands and their sovereignty.  Call me naive, but I've always been in the "better to let ten guilty men go free than convict once innocent man" camp.  One of the pitfalls of actually believing in the ideals of the Founding Fathers.  Beauregard and Lee I could care less about.  History will remember them.  But who will remember those poor young dudes they led to the slaughter?

In any event, the people have spoken, the monuments will fall.  I really do hope they do something though, to explain the story of Liberty Place.  That was pretty messed up.  The White League that initiated the insurrection was a nasty bunch.  The whole business had started in 1872 over a disputed election and had already led to one conflict, or massacre, at Colfax, where 150 freedmen were killed by a white militia.  At least 50 of them had been killed after having been taken prisoner.  These were not the gallant warriors of myth, and many of these militiamen were part of the White League that later tried to capture New Orleans, and succeeded, until Federal troops moved in and ousted them.  No one was ever prosecuted.  The 1891 monument interpreted the ensuing events in order to honor the insurrectionists and in 1932 the city added an inscription stating that the election of 1876 vindicated the insurrectionists, recognizing white supremacy in the South.  No tears here to see it go, but mightn't it have served a better role as a kind of elaborate public urinal?

If the vow to set these statues in a museum is honored, I think the public would be better served than placing them in secret warehouse next to the Ark of the Covenant and the alien cadaver.  The monument is a powerful shock to our modern sensibilities, which is a good sign that times have changed.  That they had to take such extraordinary precautions to remove it shows just how much times haven't.

So I guess this is a contradictory mass of feelings about the issue after all.  Many people want them removed and I think I want them to stay for the very same reasons.  A question, then, not of the goal, but of the strategy on how to attain it.  Or maybe not.  I don't want people to forget this stuff.  I want them to remember....