The Palais Royal as modernity
[W]hat a day, not of laughter, was that, when he [Duc d’Orléans] threatened for lucre’s sake, to lay sacrilegious hand on the Palais-Royal garden! The flower-parterres shall be riven up; the Chestnut Avenues shall fall…. Philidor, from his Café de la Régence, shall no longer look on greenness; the loungers and losels of the world, where now shall they haunt? In vain is moaning. The axe glitters; the sacred grove falls crashing, for indeed Monseigneur was short of money…. He will surround your Garden with new edifices and piazzas: though narrowed, it shall be replanted; dizened with hydraulic jets, cannon which the sun fires at noon; things bodily, things spiritual, such as man has not imagined; and in the Palais-Royal shall again, and more than ever, be the Sorcerer’s Sabbath and Satan-at-Home of our Planet.
All men forgot themselves. The place, that strange place where the scene was passing, seemed, at such moments, to forget itself. The Palais Royal was no longer the Palais Royal. Vice, in the grandeur of so sincere a passion, in the heat of enthusiasm, became pure for an instant. The most degraded raised their heads, and gazed at the sky; their past life, like a bad dream, was gone, at least for a day; they could not be virtuous, but they felt themselves heroic, in the name of the liberties of the world! Friends of the people, brothers to one another, having no longer any selfish feeling, and quite ready to share everything.
THE PALAIS ROYAL AS MODERNITY
Near the Louvre in Paris stands a rather grand building known as the Palais Royal. It was built on the site of the Hotel de Mercoeur and Hotel Rambouillet for Cardinal Richelieu in 1629 and originally named the Palais-Cardinal. After Richelieu’s death, the Palais was left to Louis XIII who left it in turn to Anne of Austria and her son, later Louis XIV (Dark 1926). After several other changes of residency, the Palais was sold to the Orléans family, cousins to the Kings of France. It was inherited by Louis-Philippe, the Duc de Chart res, who, on his father’s death, became the Duc d’Orléans in 1785. He was later to renounce that title and become famous during the French Revolution as Philippe Egalité.
In the early 1780s, Louis-Phillipe made a number of substantial changes to the Palais Royal, giving it a more commercial orientation, in order that he might offset the costs of his lavish expenditure on high living and boost his dwindling financial resources. Not least, he had built, originally in wood but later in iron, galleries or arcades filled with shops and boutiques selling all manner of consumer goods and services (see Geist 1985). These galleries were the forerunners of the famous Parisian arcades of the early nineteenth century, which in turn became the inspiration for the later department stores and shopping malls (see Benjamin 1973; Geist 1985).
Before the Revolution in 1789, the Palais Royal was one of the places in Paris for people of quality, and those who aspired be part of the cultured elite, to be seen. Strolling around its gardens, arcades and shops one would find:
[F]inanciers, musketeers, judges, dukes, women of the court, writers and doctors. In short, the crowd was elegant. The women came in their finest gowns, often arranging nightly trysts in the dark shadows of a tree.
It was here also, in the Palais Royal, that men and women would come to buy the books of the Enlightenment philosophers and to read the latest journals and newspapers. The Palais Royal, as well as being the residency of one of the leading members of the aristocracy in France, also contained gardens with fountains, a masonic temple (the Duc d’Orléans was a leading figure amongst French freemasons at the time of the revolution), theatres and an opera. It boasted cafés and restaurants, a stock exchange, and pavilions were constructed to contain the variety of commercial enterprises and entertainments that were open to the public. In addition to being a leading site in the consumer culture of eighteenth-century Paris, the appearance of the Palais Royal, therefore, would seem to be in keeping with the idea of a public sphere of Enlightenment: it was a site of openness, tolerance and civility as well as a space for rational and enlightened debate that played a significant part in the emerging civil society of the bourgeoisie (see Sennett 1986; Habermas 1989).
That at least was the surface appearance, but we shall see that there was more to the Palais Royal than this. For the moment, however, that well travelled English agriculturalist and diarist Arthur Young, visiting France in the late 1780s, can speak, albeit in the typical manner of the English tourist abroad, for this public sphere. He found the Palais Royal an interesting place in which to find out the latest news, obtain the latest books and pamphlets and to entertain his friends:
Dine with my friend at the Palais Royal, at a coffee-house; well dressed people; everything clean, good and well served; but here, as everywhere else, you pay a good price for good things; we ought never to forget that a low price for bad things is not cheapness.
If the Palais Royal was a place where the enlightened bourgeoisie came to mingle and promenade with members of the elite of French society, for the common people it was valued more as a site of spectacle. Popular theatre, festivities and all manner of circus entertainments found their way into the Palais Royal. As well as a site of civility then, the Palais Royal was also a site of the carnivalesque (Bakhtin 1984); a space of playful cultural inversions, with the highest and lowest strata of society able to mingle, which offered a moment of freedom from some of the hierarchical constraints of French society. The gardens, for instance, were a source of much pleasure, offering a place where both women and men could come to promenade. As with other gardens in Paris, like the nearby Tuileries (which, however, by the end of the eighteenth century, had fallen out of fashion after the court had relocated from Paris to Versailles):
Regular and occasional visitors to the gardens of Paris went there to see and be seen in a social pageant that, whether it was a balletic ritual composed according to the rules and conventions of society or a free improvisation on the visitors’ own themes, was the outward manifestation of a silent, secret battle between order and pleasure, decorum and fantasy.
(Conan and Marghieri 1991:29)
The Comte de Sirrac also rode one of the world’s first hobby-horse-style bicycles in the gardens of the Palais Royal, and one can only wonder what sort of reaction that might have received from passers by.
I have not chosen the Palais Royal to stand as a metaphor for modernity arbitrarily. As well as being an important site in the genesis of a consumer culture and a space of the Enlightenment, the history of the Palais Royal during the revolution of 1789 places it clearly at the centre of an event that has been taken by many as the threshold of modern society. Symbolic as this may be, this space can be seen as exemplifying an emerging, modern bourgeois sociality in France at a time of major social change. It was the space of a marginal class of people soon to lose their marginal status.
While considerable attention within cultural studies and sociology has recently been given to the Paris of the mid-nineteenth century, seen either as a world of panopticon-style social discipline (Foucault 1977; Rabinow 1989); or a world of bohemians, Haussmanized boulevards, arcades and strolling flâneurs, a world of the so called ‘fleeting and fragmentary and contingent’ conditions of modernity (see for example Grana 1964; Benjamin 1973; Berman 1982; Clark 1984; Frisby 1985; Wolff 1985; Buck-Morss 1989; Wilson 1991, 1992; Tester 1994; Prendergast 1995), this modernity can be found crystallized in this one particular site some seventy years earlier. In many respects, it was to such places as the Palais Royal, around the time of the French Revolution, that the mid-nineteenth century poets, painters, bohemians and historians (if we include Michelet) looked back to with a degree of nostalgia.3 The Palais Royal can tell us a good deal about modernity. Modernity, however, is a broad topic and my particular focus is somewhat narrower. More precisely, I am interested here in the space of modernity, or what might be called the utopics of modernity and their relationship to the ordering of society.
The history of how modern society has developed, and the question of social order that is often at its heart, in many ways the main preoccupations of classical sociology, whether that be about modes of production (Marx), divisions of labour and moral individualism (Durkheim) or rationalization and bureaucracy (Weber), have been discussed in many books over the past century. It is only recently, however, that the significance of spatiality to the shaping of modern society and modern outlooks, notably in the work of Foucault, have become apparent (see in particular Foucault 1977, 1989a, 1989b; also Rabinow 1989; Lefebvre 1991). Also in recent years, a new cultural geography, overlapping at the fringes of sociology, has emerged and has sought to place space at the centre of social theory. This cultural geography, while originating in a neo-Marxist perspective (see Harvey 1973, 1989; Massey 1984; Gregory and Urry 1985; Soja 1989; Lefebvre 1991; Thrift 1996), has broadened to include Foucauldian, feminist and postmodern perspectives as well (leading examples include Shields 1991; Wilson 1991; Massey 1993; Rose 1993; Sibley 1995). In particular, the emphasis has moved away from an interest in the dominant space of capitalist society, towards the margins and the marginal use of space by those who have, in various ways, been located on the fringes of society.
Major themes within this work have included: the different and multiple meanings attached to space; the Otherness of place; and especially the relationship between marginal spaces and forms of cultural resistance, transgression and alternative identity formation. The work in this field has offered us important insights into spatiality and its relationship to questions of agency and power, especially around the political issues of how acts of resistance by those marginalized within society are distinctly spatialized. Recent attempts to theorise these Other or marginal places, these badlands, have also been made by analysts of postcolonial and postmodern culture such as Bhabha through his concept of third space (1994). Another approach has centred upon the anthropological concept of liminality and liminal space (van Gennep 1960; Turner 1969) to show the importance of spaces like the shopping mall to the ludic character of lifestyle politics (see Shields 1990, 1991, 1992; Featherstone 1991). The Palais Royal provides us with an important historical opportunity through which to begin to critically explore some of the issues raised in this recent analysis. In some ways, what was happening in the Palais Royal in the 1780s and its consumer culture was not that different to the shopping malls of today.
The features of the Palais Royal I have described so far show it to be a site of pleasure, consumption and civility, but the Palais Royal had another side to it, a side more associated with the issues of politics and resistance. One of the galleries, the Galerie de Bois, was known at the time as the Camp of the Tartars (Geist 1985:452). The gallery:
[B]ecame the hangout of debauched youths, thieves, petit-maitres, swindlers, prostitutes, and financiers…where libertines screamed indecent propositions at the women and rude youths jeered and taunted the crowd.
Below the public gardens and promenades were grottoes that housed cafes that were used for more seditious purposes; these were places where Jacobins and freemasons would meet and plot. In the newly built arcades, prostitutes would rent small shops with rooms above, in order to be able to provide sex for their clients. Streetwalkers would mingle with the fashionable crowds and dress up, to disguise their intent, as ‘mothers tending rented children, others grieving for husbands who had never existed’ (Conan and Marghieri 1989:5). The bookshops sold not only the latest Enlightenment works, political pamphlets, newspapers and journals, but alongside them pornography and seditious writings. Nicholas Rétif de la Breton, archpornographer, author of several hundred books, perhaps best known for his writing on foot fetishism (and, incidentally, for inventing the word communism), the so-called ‘Rousseau of the Gutter’, was fond of wandering late into the night, voyeuristically observing and writing about the prostitutes at work. The Marquis de Sade also at one time had a bookshop in the Palais Royal from which he sold his writings (Billington 1980:29).
From a space of intellectual and cultural liberty, to one of hedonistic consumption and illicit pleasure, it was but a short move to sedition and open revolt. It was here, after all, on 12 July 1789 at the Café de Foy, one of the most famous of the many coffee-houses to be found in the Palais Royal, that Camille Desmoulins clambered up onto a table and delivered his speech that was to lead to the storming of the Bastille, an event which has been seen as the spark for the French Revolution (Dark 1926:47; Rudé 1967). As Billington suggests:
The Palais Royal played a central role in Revolutionary Paris…[it offered] a privileged sanctuary for intellectuals where they could turn from speculation to organisation…[also] the Palais provided a living link with the underworld of Paris and with the new social forces that had to be mobilized for any revolutionary victory.
Rudé is equally clear in the role that the Palais Royal played in the French Revolution of 1789, such that we can say that the Palais Royal was the space of the Third Estate, most notably associated with the Orléanists:
In June 1789 the centre of agitation, which had lain for a while in the eastern faubourgs, shifted to the Palais Royal, where the Duke of Orléans and his retinue of orators, pamphleteers, and journalists had established their headquarters. It was from here that the crowd set out on the night of 30 June to release the eleven Gardes Français from the Abbaye prison, where they had been locked up for refusing to fire on Parisians who had demonstrated at Versailles against the attempt to dismiss Necker a week before. It was at the Palais Royal, too, that Camille Desmoulins and others gave the call to arms on 12 July, which touched off the Paris revolution; and it was from here that parties set out to destroy the barrières, to search religious houses and gunsmiths’ shops for arms, and to fetch grain to the central markets from the monastery of the Saint-Lazare brotherhood. The Palais Royal played its part again in preparing opinion for the march to Versailles in October; it was in its gardens and cafés that the Marquis de Saint-Huruge and his associates tried to force the pace by inciting Parisians to march at the end of August; and with greater success, its orators repeated the incitement on 4 October. In the years to come the arcades and gardens of the Palais Royal (soon to be renamed the Maison de l’Egalité) became notorious as a haunt of prostitutes, money jobbers, speculators and gamblers rather than of political journalists or orators; but it reappeared as a centre of agitation after Thermidor: it was the scene of verbal exchanges between muscadins and sans-culottes in the spring of 1795, and of more violent outbreaks between royalist youth and republican troops in the days before Vendémiaire.
(1967:215–16, original italics)
We have in the cosmopolitanism and the activism of the Palais Royal not only a metaphor for modernity, but also a strange combination of the socially central with the socially marginal, which leads me to suggest that we characterize the Palais Royal not as a utopia, an island of a nascent but perfectly formed modernity within the midst of a society still defined by the Ancien Régime, but as a heterotopia, or a place of Otherness, that expressed an alternate ordering of society through its contact with the society that it despised (see Foucault 1986a). The cosmopolitanism and apparent freedoms of the Palais Royal from courtly codes of social behaviour, represented in a space like Versailles (see Elias 1983) allowed those who were otherwise excluded from office to use this place as a site from which they were able to give voice to their views and to mobilize popular support for change. The Palais Royal was not, however, defined by everything that was Other to the Court and to Versailles, but through its mingling of the old of the aristocratic order, courtly manners and interactions with the new of bourgeois commerce, philosophy and politics. And both were at the same time enmeshed in hedonism and consumption. The issue of what was central or dominant and what was marginal was not always clearcut and that is important.
Across both the social sciences and the humanities over the last thirty years or so, a major impetus has been to allow the voice of the powerless or marginalized within society to be heard. While such a position has long existed within Marxism, recent feminist, black, gay, third-world and ‘subaltern’ perspectives have both questioned the orthodoxies of academic study and put onto the agenda formerly marginalized issues for research. The position of the Other and the validity of difference, hybridity, transgression and uncertainty have become significant political as well as academic issues and some writers have given them the slant of geographical analysis (see Bondi and Domosh 1992; Keith and Pile 1993; Rose 1993; Bell and Valentine 1995). The margins have come to be re-evaluated as the space for the empowerment of the marginalized, and of the importance of marginal practices (see Shields 1991). In effect, margins have come to be seen as sites of counter-hegemonic resistance to the social order. ‘Other places’ have become the space of Other voices. In marginal spaces, people not only raise their voices to be heard but are seen to live different, alternative lives, openly hoping that others will share in their vision or at least accept their difference (see Hetherington 1996b). In sum, the major theme of cultural geography over the past few years has been the valorizing of margins in terms of their importance as sites of resistance, protest and transgression.
All of these acts can clearly be seen in the example of the Palais Royal in the 1780s. However, my main concern in this book, paradoxical as it might appear at this stage, is less with the issue of resistance and marginality, and more with that of order. My general criticism of this approach to margins is that the image of a counter-hegemonic margin tha...