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Sound bites wear out when they are overused day after day. It’s a form of pro­grammed obso­les­cence in pub­lic speech.

Like all the oth­ers, the French Pres­i­dent no doubt has his ver­bal pearls redact­ed by a polit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion expert. And this is how we now find our­selves with: “the day after”.

Quick, go to a search engine and you will eas­i­ly find book and movie titles that match up to this find. Crime nov­els, polit­i­cal analy­ses by the great minds in tele­vi­sion stu­dios, books by unknowns, dis­as­ter movies or for­got­ten third-rate movies, oh… here’s a clas­sic… The expres­sion is well-worn and in these stormy weath­er days, one is tempt­ed to respond with a “so all’s not so qui­et on the West­ern Front”.

The day before, the sound bites had more to do with “since life expectan­cy is ris­ing”, fol­lowed by a num­ber; 49.3, if mem­o­ry serves me well (1 Arti­cle 49.3 of the French Con­sti­tu­tion allows the adop­tion of a text by the Nation­al Assem­bly, imme­di­ate­ly and with­out a vote.) How all that seems far away now…

There was not one kopeck avail­able for the social mon­ey jar, not one pen­ny for salaries, and the polit­i­cal class was whin­ing over the 17 bil­lion required to save France’s Arc de Tri­om­phe from moth­balling, while, at the same time, bless­ing the big for­tunes who had rushed to Notre Dame’s bed sude. There was the promise of a vac­cine with­in five years, for its guar­an­teed res­ur­rec­tion.

And then, a “lit­tle flu” came out of the East, just in time to cel­e­brate the Chi­nese New Year, short­ly after a French ex-pres­i­dent who was a fan of beer-type Coro­nas and Asian antiques had died as a reminder that we were mor­tals, all of us. A few evan­ge­lists lat­er, we could­n’t keep track of the dead, after mock­ing our Ital­ian friends for being “ill pre­pared”. The fol­low­ing day, it was pan­dem­ic time.

So the first one who takes the risk of say­ing “things were bet­ter before” will have to describe that old world bet­ter than I can sketch it. Not for­get­ting to men­tion the police vio­lence, the list of vic­tims who lost an eye or had their hands torn off, so that order would pre­vail and the reforms be reformed. The days before were filled with talk about those who are noth­ing, who are too lazy to cross the street to get a job, accord­ing to some. The day before was plain, ordi­nary cap­i­tal­ist and neolib­er­al real­i­ty.

Yes, the cur­rent gen­er­al with his winged wand, the one who shook dirty hands and did not even mask his degrad­ing words and, at the same time, his immod­er­ate love of busi­ness firms, attempt­ed “on the day before” to re-thread the climb­ing rope he was no longer sure would bring him to the top. Now, his troops are con­fined under the avalanche and he has noth­ing else to cling to except the State’s inti­tu­tion­al skele­ton, while an entire coun­try, as is the case every­where, goes in search of its own resilience, by mobi­liz­ing those live forces that were spared in those fine days of “before”.

This polit­i­cal “day before” final­ly rests on noth­ing but a con­sen­sus obtained because of the fear of death or of the trun­cheon in the case of the stub­born or the rebel­lious. For cos­tumes, and as cos­tume design­ers, an entire arma­da of Repub­li­can politi­cians play­ing the part of nation­al uni­ty or prepar­ing the changeover in their video-con­fer­ences. The sad spec­ta­cle of those from before attempt­ing to stage an after.

But lift­ing your eyes away from the din flow­ing out of the “spe­cial edi­tions” on the screens allow you to see all of sud­den that a good num­ber of those “who are noth­ing” have final­ly crossed the street, not to find a job, but a com­mon mean­ing to their exis­tence. Death will not get the best out of their liv­ing time.

And as “their lives are worth more than your ben­e­fits” some who were not even at the tail end of the climb­ing rope yes­ter­day are weav­ing social links under social dis­tanc­ing. Look at them well now, those of today, because on the day after, they will be thrown back into invis­i­bil­i­ty, you can be sure of it. The nurse, the nurse’s aid, the fire­fight­er who was gassed and trun­cheoned yes­ter­day, the cashier on her short-term con­tract, the the grumpy truck dri­ver, the dis­so­ci­at­ed asso­ci­a­tions, the researcher being active­ly researched… All those every politi­cian in the TV stu­dio thanks first and fore­most these days, as if the elec­toral ket­tle was still on the fire. Once the de-con­fine­ment sets in, bit by bit, they will get used again to how things were before.

It seems like my columns are veer­ing toward the con­fine­ment diary.

Did I men­tion the UN’s Gen­er­al Sec­re­tary call­ing for a gen­er­al­ized cease fire across the world. And the Mar­ket’s vis­i­ble hand creas­ing the bank notes so as to pre­empt health sup­plies and mol­e­cules wher­ev­er they may be found? I would­n’t even be sur­prised if those financ­ing world-wide arms were to con­vert into whole­sale mer­chants of san­i­tary masks, see­ing as the war zone has shift­ed onto anoth­er ter­rain.

They say that on the day after, a soc­cer play­er on île de Ré will have a small­er salary than an emer­gency doc­tor… I wrote that on an April 1st, an ordi­nary day of gen­er­al suf­fo­ca­tion.

(To be continued)

Pho­to: Robert Doisneau

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges |
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Daniel Fleury
Let­tres mod­ernes à l’Université de Tours. Gros mots poli­tiques… Coups d’oeil politiques…