More slowness – “L’affaire des Quatorze”

Googling on information for the slow networks post below, I came across this excellent paper from Princeton about communication networks in 18th Century Paris. The article gives an analysis of ‘Laffaire des Quatorze’ – an investigation by Parisian police into the author of some seditious poetry that had been circulating amongst students, clerks and priests. The interesting thing was that when they started tracing the route of the poetry, there was not the straight line back to an author that they expected, but a complex network of alterations, repurposing and adaptions that criss-crossed between 14 main protagonists (hence ‘The Affair of the Fourteen’). Its almost like a political combination of slow networks and a ‘rip.mix.burn’ philosophy, where the adaptation is part of the condition of a slow network. Very interesting…

I thought it worth quoting this summary paragraph in full, but please go and read the full essay:

“But as the investigation broadened, the picture became more complicated. The poem crossed paths with five other poems, each of them seditious (at least in the eyes of the police) and each with its own diffusion pattern. They were copied on scraps of paper, traded for similar scraps, dictated to more copyists, memorized, declaimed, printed in underground tracts, adapted in some cases to popular tunes, and sung. In addition to the first group of suspects sent to the Bastille, seven others were also imprisoned; and they implicated five more, who escaped. In the end, the police filled the Bastille with fourteen purveyors of poetry – hence the name of the operation in the dossiers, “L’Affaire des Quatorze.” But they never found the author of the original verse. In fact, it may not have had an author, because people added and subtracted stanzas and modified phrasing as they pleased. It was a case of collective creation; and the first poem overlapped and intersected with so many others that, taken together, they created a field of poetic impulses, bouncing from one transmission point to another and filling the air with what the police called “mauvais propos” or “mauvais discours”, a cacaphony of sedition set to rhyme.”

I love the phrase ‘collective creation’, particularly in this political context…

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