Monday, 17 December 2012

The Commune of 1871

On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into outer space. In his space capsule he carried the remnant of the red flag flown over the Hotel de Ville in the heart of the Paris Commune in 1870.
the French insurrectionist Louis-Auguste Blanqui (1805-81), ... spent most of his adult life in prison, and whom Walter Benjamin (writing in the 1930s) judged the most famous revolutionary before Lenin. Blanqui was elected as leader in absentia by the Paris Communards who offered to release hostages in exchange for him, but were refused, and it was in the wake of the Commune’s failure that Blanqui wrote his cosmological treatise L’Eternite par les astres (1873). In an infinite universe made from atoms of a finite number of types, Blanqui argues, the same combinations must arise again and again.
“The entire universe is composed of stellar systems. In order to create them nature has only one hundred simple bodies at its disposal… Every star, whatever it might be, thus exists in infinite number in time and space, not only in one of its aspects, but as it is found in every second of its duration, from birth until death… What I write now in a cell in the fort of Taureau I wrote and will write under the same circumstances for all of eternity, on a table, with a pen, wearing clothing… The number of our doubles is infinite in time and space… These aren’t phantoms: they are the now eternalized.”
Whereas Tegmark emphasises spatial repetition and variation (the idea that there is another “you” reading this article right now), Blanqui additionally highlights temporal repetition, leading him to conclude that progress is illusory; everything that can possibly happen has already occurred. It was this aspect that led Benjamin to see Blanqui’s cosmology as a precursor to the doctrine of eternal recurrence in Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883-5).
In The Arcades Project, Benjamin considers Blanqui’s significance as both revolutionary conspirator and pseudo-scientist, concluding that Blanqui’s cosmology is a capitulation to the principles of bourgeois capitalism that Blanqui had spent all his life fighting against. Blanqui’s multiverse is, says Benjamin, “the phantasmagoria of history”, a nightmare projection of capitalism itself. 

Andrew Crumey

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