”There exists in this era, for thoughts written in stone, a privilege absolutely comparable to our current freedom of the press. It is the freedom of architecture” ~Victor Hugo~
I was leaving my girlfriends apartment yesterday morning when I saw on twitter that Notre Dame was on fire. I stopped my car and scrolled through to see what the details were, if any.
Perhaps you found this inconsequential, perhaps you found it significant. I found it significant. Notre Dame is living physical embodiment of the soul of France, it was built 800 years ago, a pinnacle of the Gothic style of architecture (and Gothic architecture originated in France).
Aside from being a Catholic Cathedral, its been symbolism of the French soul since the early 1800s, when Victor Hugo wrote “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, a dense novel that can be interpreted (by my perspective) as a meta level social allegory of the history of the Catholic Church in France, the history of the French people to that point, and as a love letter to the Cathedral itself, which is the greatest “character” in the novel.
Hugo recognized that architecture goes beyond utility, and can beautifully represent humanity and divinity. Notre Dame embodied this as much as any significant building in nations history.
I don’t know what the cause of the fire was. I’ve privately heard through my grapevine that arson is strongly suspected, but this is likely to be suppressed information. There has been a pattern the past year in France of vandalization of Catholic churches, largely by Muslims. This is not politically correct of course to share or circumspect or imply, as if such a thing was to be true, France would fall into a Civil war (and its already going through immense Civil strife now).
As it stands currently, its a tragic incident, one that felt globally significant obviously
I thought it might be helpful to take a mimetic perspective to make sense of it, (what could also be called a Structuralist perspective),
To establish some Big ideas
-Plato considered Architecture to be Non-mimetic; meaning that architecture doesn’t imitate anything, but rather it Idealizes it. While human beings are flawed, architecture can physically embody truth and beauty. This is significant, as beautiful structures present us with an environment of idealization and AWE. They quite literally can bring out the more ideal qualities in a human being
-Religious buildings hold immense significance since not only are they (hopefully) beautiful, but they also represent the transcendent; the extraordinary and the Godly and the immaterial that is beyond us but that we can access through witnessing and inhabiting.
-Notre Dame was and is the spiritual center of France. Built over 800 years ago, the Church was an anchoring heart to the past and a guide to the future. Seeing it burn would be the equivalent of the Jews of the bible watching the Temple be destroyed. Or Mecca burning for Muslims.
A Psychic Wound of the Global Psyche
When social calamities strike in such a way that an entire population of people have their attention captured by it, you can regard this as a “psychic wound” on the collective conscious. It’s a phenomena in which millions of minds at once have their sense of reality deeply disturbed. The reverberations of this can be felt globally, as they were yesterday.
From a Mimetic perspective, this type of wound can go proceed two ways
-If the wound is from an outside perpetrator, this individual or entity will be scapegoated, and war is the outcome. A society that is hurt en masse will seek to return the pain in kind. 9/11 would be an example of this.
-If the wound is simply an internal disaster, you will have a mass outpouring of community and collectivism. People will unite. An example of this would be Hurricane Harvey in 2017 in Texas.
There is a wrinkle in this however
While the overall sentiment towards France was one of support, there was also an element of derision, with various people laughing at the misfortune and that “white people” deserved it for Colonialism. Or that this was selective outrage and Americans and Europeans weren’t upset when Syria was being blown apart. Even some Leftist academics chimed in with the sentiment.
This may seem inconsequential, but highlights an honestly critical divide in modern society
-There is an “Other”, and they do not share our values at all. I do not want to share a society with people who find an 800 year old church burning to be “funny”. That is pathological
-In a globalized society, all tragedies are NOT equal. Its a false expectation to expect Western Civilization to grieve for countries which do not share its collective history, that same way it would be unrealistic to expect China to express an outpouring of grief. All civilizations are NOT interconnected, and expected each one to be equal to the other is myopic
Where does this wrinkle come in?
Because tragedy highlights who is with you and who is against you
I expect France to have a unifying moment in the coming months, but there will also be a third order effect that will highlight everyone within France who does NOT support or have love for France, and that will accelerate France’s current splintering.
As my man Pat said on twitter “I would not try to be in Paris on Bastille Day this year”