Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune

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9781781688397: Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune
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Reclaiming the legacy of the Paris Commune for the twenty-first century

Kristin Ross’s new work on the thought and culture of the Communard uprising of 1871 resonates with the motivations and actions of contemporary protest, which has found its most powerful expression in the reclamation of public space. Today’s concerns—internationalism, education, the future of labor, the status of art, and ecological theory and practice—frame and inform her carefully researched restaging of the words and actions of individual Communards. This original analysis of an event and its centrifugal effects brings to life the workers in Paris who became revolutionaries, the significance they attributed to their struggle, and the elaboration and continuation of their thought in the encounters that transpired between the insurrection’s survivors and supporters like Marx, Kropotkin, and William Morris.

The Paris Commune was a laboratory of political invention, important simply and above all for, as Marx reminds us, its own “working existence.” Communal Luxury allows readers to revisit the intricate workings of an extraordinary experiment.

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About the Author:

Kristin Ross is a professor of comparative literature at New York University. She is the author of numerous books, including Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture and May ’68 and its Afterlives.

Review:

“No work specifies more fully Marx’s claim that, the greatest achievement of the Paris Commune was its ‘actual working existence.’”
Jacobin

“In recent years, the Paris Commune has again moved to the center of political thinking. Kristin Ross’s new book now, virtually for the first time, gives us an account of the intellectual antecedents of the Commune as well as its contemporary impact. This is an indispensable text for all current left theory!”
—Fredric Jameson

“Although this is a book of ideas, it is neither dry nor overburdened by scholarly references. Ross’s vision of the Commune extends beyond the 72 days, and beyond the space of Paris (and indeed of France), to encompass its echoes throughout the rest of the 19th century ... For Ross, the story of the Commune is not a tragedy, because it is not finished.”
Financial Times

Communal Luxury is a rich and complex book. It is an inspired rereading of the Paris Commune. It is a critique of historical accounts that ignore the ways in which the practices of insurrectionary movements generate their own theory. It is a call to historians to attend to the alternatives offered at decisive moments of political and economic consolidation. It is, as well, Ross’s own manifesto about how we might think our futures differently. This is a history with enormous relevance for our contemporary political moment.”
—Joan W. Scott, Institute For Advanced Study, Princeton

“Ross argues that the spirit of the Commune is alive today among ... the Indignados in Spain and inside the Occupy movement [and] discusses the ‘political imaginary’ that fuelled and outlived the Commune.’”
—Philippe Marlière, London Review of Books

“A timely, elegant and rather useful cartography of the Paris Commune ... This small book is a sort of parable, about another time and place, but not really about the past as past. It is more about the possibility of other kinds of action in time, as indeed are most parables.”
—McKenzie Wark

“Rendered with economy and ease and an engaging array of portraiture that can only be noted here... For all its rich interest and value as a work of historical retrieval and remembrance, Communal Luxury is a book with designs on the future ... Ross anholds out the immensely appealing prospect of an integrally green communism in a society freed from capital, state and national passions, a general instance, perhaps, of her preferred intellectual orientation, which she presents as an undoctrinaire exchange between Marxism and anarchism.”
—Francis Mulhern, New Left Review

“One of the most important political books of the year...The ingenuity and collective good sense of the communards will challenge any reader who struggles to reconcile egalitarian politics with concerns over state violence and power.”
Flavorwire

“A timely and fecund work that should stimulate anarchist thought and action on the relevance of the Commune to the contemporary politics of occupation, resistance, and prefiguration.”
Anarchist Studies

“Ross is the perfect guide for such a journey: few critics are more attuned to how words and images can travel ... [she] has an acute eye for this juxtaposition of the pastoral and the political, how the vines of nature can overtake the monuments of empire, how revolutionary events can interrupt the silence of the countryside.”
—Corey Robin, Salon

“Ross brilliantly remaps the political topoi of the Commune in a narrative that is short but densely interwoven, a pattern of lively and vibrant connections not unlike the floral design by Morris on the book’s cover. What the attentive reader gains is the ability to feel the surge of ideas and movement of people that transformed a situation of insurmountable crisis into a moment for revolutionary change”
caa.reviews

“Ross implies that the political horizons of our time share something with the maximalist project produced by the Commune and elaborated by its survivors and exponents, who glimpsed in its fragile and unexpected manifestation the furthest possibilities of social revolution.”
—Jasper Bernes, Critical Inquiry

“The strength of Communal Luxury lies in the combativeness and perceptiveness with which it wrests the Paris Commune from the conformism that has always threatened to confine it in an almost unimaginable past.”
—Matthew Beaumont, Journal of William Morris Studies

“Ross evokes the exhilaration of art freed from the museum and being lived as something ‘vital and indispensable to the community.’”
Marx & Philosophy

“At its most literal, the ideal of communal luxury could just mean public art but the demand the slogan evokes is more expansive and far-reaching, namely, the demand that beauty flourish in social spaces and therefore the later avant-garde expectation of the full integration of art into everyday life exemplified in Constructivism. Ross evokes the exhilaration of art freed from the museum and being lived as something ‘vital and indispensable to the community.’”
—Jeremy Spencer, Marx & Philosophy Society

“An essential resource for all those on the Left.”
—Mark Hutchinson, Art & the Public Sphere

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