Le rebâtiment de Notre Dame

Photograph by Philippe Wojazer

‘We will rebuild Notre Dame, because that’s what the French people expect; because it is what our history deserves; and because it is our deep destiny.’

– Emmanuel Macron, Président of the French Republic

The burning of Notre-Dame de Paris is a God-send to Emmanuel Macron, a divine Easter-egg for the Catholic Church that for 2,000 years has been on the side of the rich and the powerful, and as useful in his war against the French working classes as the equally serendipitous ‘collapse’ of the World Trade Centre in 2001 was to George Bush’s War on Terror. If the fire isn’t actually blamed on the gilets jaunes, it’ll be used to condemn their march this coming weekend as ‘unpatriotic’, provide a further excuse for the UK press to continue not to cover their protests; and its reconstruction – already announced by Macron – will serve as a symbol for the rebuilding of that entirely fictitious French national unity their 22 weeks of protests have exposed for the lie it is.

Macron shedding tears before Notre Dame last night is like Adolf Hitler raging on the steps of the Reichstag after the Nazis set fire to it in 1933, which they falsely blamed on a Communist and then used to justify suspending the civil liberties of all Germans, including freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press, outlawing all political opposition, and arresting and murdering thousands more Communists, their main political opponents. History keeps repeating itself, over and over, but we, like new-born babes of an immaculate conception, keep falling for the same lies, believing the same myths, rebuilding the same churches of our own oppression and stupidity.

But it needn’t be this way. May the conflagration of Notre Dame de Paris signal the downfall of all the symbols of authority by which the working classes are subjugated to the ruling class, whose obedient priests claim to speak for the God that legitimates their wealth and their power. Staring into these flames, I glimpse the outlines of a time when every last church, synagogue, mosque and bank has been burned to the ground – from the ashes of which we might, one day, build a humanity worthy of the name. À bas toutes les églises! Vive les classes ouvrières!

– That’s it, ASH! This time you’ve gone too far! I’ve followed your occasionally illuminating rants for four years now, but with this post you’ve revealed yourselves for what you truly are: arsonists at best, terrorists at worst, and – far worse than either – philistines, who would see the architectural legacy of a thousand years of art, culture and faith burned to the ground for some vague vision of a socialist future! I’m withdrawing my support, cancelling my donation. Vous me dégoutes!

– And after four years of listening to us with covered ears you have still failed to understand: L’architecture est toujours politique! If you don’t believe me, then tell me this. When France’s 62 billionaires have already pledged €620 million* to the rebuilding of Notre Dame (€100 million from François-Henri Pinault, €200 million from Bernard Arnault, €200 million from la famille Bettencourt), where were London’s 93 billionaires when the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire needed rehousing on the paltry £29 million donated? Why is it that, nearly two years after a fire which – unlike that in Notre Dame – killed 72 people, the survivors of 15 households are still living in temporary accommodation, and the charred ruin of Grenell Tower stands empty in a borough in which 1 in every 29 people are homeless? What kind of society is it in which stone and timber and the monuments they make have more value than the people who labour to build them? The answer to that should be obvious: a capitalist society, waging a violent class war, in which the ideological role of the Church – especially in Catholic France – is still crucial (which is why the answer is anything but obvious).

* Approaching €1 billion by Saturday, when the gilets jaunes took the streets for the 23rd week running.

The first time I saw the face of Emmanuel Macron, when he was still a Rothschild banker and not yet the President of France, I was unpleasantly struck by his physiognomic similarity to the French writer Georges Bataille, who in 1929 started writing a Critical Dictionary. It wasn’t by chance that the first term of this dictionary, which he published in the Parisian periodical Documents, was ‘Architecture’, a dictionary itself being a form of construction and spatial ordering. This is what Bataille wrote (and as you read this, imagine the words coming from the mouth of his lookalike, Macron, as he stood before the world’s media last night, forcing a choke into his lying throat, hiding his bloody hands behind his back, before the flames of Notre Dame de Paris):

‘Architecture is the expression of the true nature of societies, in the same way that human physiognomy is the true nature of the individual. However, this comparison is applicable, above all, to the physiognomy of officials (priests, magistrates, politicians). In fact, only society’s ideal nature – that of authoritative command and prohibition – expresses itself in actual architectural constructions. Thus, great monuments rise up like damns, opposing the logic of majesty and authority to disruptive elements; it is in the form of cathedrals and palaces that Church and State addresses and imposes silence upon the masses. Indeed, monuments, in effect, inspire good social behaviour and often even genuine fear. The taking of the Bastille is symbolic of this state of things: this mass movement is difficult to explain other than by the hostility of the people towards monuments that are their true masters. Whenever we find architectural composition elsewhere than in monuments, whether in physiognomy, dress, music or painting, we can infer a predominant taste for human or divine authority. An attack on architecture, therefore, whose monumental productions are now the true masters of the earth, grouping the servile multitudes under their shadow, imposing admiration and awe, order and constraint, is necessarily, as it were, an attack on the social order.’

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

ASH’s submission to Emmanuel Macron’s international competition for architects to redesign the spire of Notre Dame de Paris. Please cast your vote for us.

Le Rebatiment de Notre Dame


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