The indifference of trees to the historical moment. The indifference of dreams to interpretation. The indifference of the people to its own triumph. The indifference of the body to the revolution. The dazzling metaphysical spectacle of the sameness of faces the morning after the revolution. Their features haven’t changed. You expect a violent illumination and yet it’s just like sleeping with your sister. It doesn’t change your life.

Cool Memories by Jean Baudrillard, tr. by Chris Turner, New York: Verso, [1987]1990 p. 87. Google books.

Here the original French version:

L’indifférence des arbres au moment historique. L’indifférence des rêves à l’interprétation. L’indifférence du peuple à son propre triomphe. L’indifférence du corps à la révolution. L’éblouissement métaphysique de l’identité des visages au petit lendemain de la révolution. Les traits n’ont pas changé. On attend l’illumination violente, et voilà, c’est comme de coucher avec sa soeur, ça ne change rien à la vie. (éd. Galilée, Paris, 1987, p. 112)

It reminded me of this famous quote by French historian Edgar Quinet (famous for being quoted both in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and Hemingway’s Green Hills):

Aujourd’hui, comme aux jours de Pline et de Columelle, la jacinthe se plaît dans les Gaules, la pervenche en Illyrie, la marguerite sur les ruines de Numance; et, pendant qu’autour d’elles les villes ont changé de maîtres et de nom, que plusieurs sont entrées dans le néant, que les civilisations se sont choquées et brisées, leurs paisibles générations ont traversé les âges et se sont succédé l’une à l’autre jusqu’à nous, fraîches et riantes comme aux jours des batailles.

This quote comes from Quinet’s introduction to his French translation of Johann Gottfried von Herder’s Idées sur la philosophie de l’histoire de l’humanité (Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit written between 1784 and 1791). Quinet’s translation was first published in 1827. The quote appears on pages 36-37 (see Google books).
I wasn’t able to find a good English translation of this quote. The one offered by for example translates “riantes” (laughing) as “smiling”. The best approximation I could come up with is the English translation of James Joyce’s own version of the quote, as provided by Richard Ellmann in his famous biography (James Joyce, Oxford University Press, 1982,

Today as in the time of Pliny and Columella the hyacinth disports in Wales, the periwinkle in Illyria, the daisy on the ruins in Numantia and while around them the cities have changed masters and names, while some have ceased to exist, while the civilizations have collided with each other and smashed, their peaceful generations have passed through the ages and have come up to us, fresh and laughing as on the days of battles.

For more details about the relation between Quinet’s quote and Finnegans Wake, see “Edgar Quinet (1803-75) in Finnegans Wake” and “Joyce’s Sources: Les Grands Fleuves Historiques” (by Ingeborg Landuyt and Geert Lernout, in Joyce Studies Annual 6 (1995): 99-138).


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