Stop the clocks I want to get off…

Northern Ireland has a reputation for wit in its graffitti. But the French have a clear sense of style. For a week the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) was occupied by students who caused €1m of damage in their protest against the government’s proposed Labour reforms.

…for one EHESS lecturer, the most striking feature of the occupation was the graffiti. “I realised straight away that there was a number of extremely interesting things,” said Béatrice Fraenkel, who teaches semiology. “They had managed to cover everything – walls, floors, ceilings – in writing.” Some of the “artwork” is striking. A clock has scrawled across it: “Time is an invention of people incapable of love.” The same perpetrator may have been responsible for daubing a giant black cross over a timepiece in another classroom.

Another one for the anti Enlightenment intellectual insurgency?


  • Pete Baker

    €1m of damage is an indication of “a clear sense of style”, Mick?

    Perhaps a clearer indication of the problem can be seen in the sciences sociales lecturer’s reaction to the vandalism by, presumably, some of her own students..

    She has taken 600 photographs of slogans in the building and made 100 pages of notes. A team of sociology researchers has begun the painstaking work of classifying the graffiti.

    “What interests me is how we act with writing,” said Mrs Fraenkel, who is the author of a book analysing the slogans and messages scrawled on walls and posters in New York after the September 11 attacks.

    “The occupation of the EHESS is not as tragic, but for me it’s a compelling event. Most of the people didn’t have the idea of writing [beforehand] but being on the spot they began to write. My approach is not at all textual but pragmatic: how do we act? What sorts of things do we do?”

    Wood. Trees.

  • Keith M

    France is rapidly becoming a basket case and with today’s news it’s hard to see any way that it can recover in the near future. France receives more EU handouts than any other country, conducts the greatest amount of protectionism for its uncompetitive businesses and has some of the highest unemployment in the EU.

    France has turned the ostich approach into an artform.


    What utter bilge.
    People daring to protest in favour of basic rights is your example of being a basket case?
    Standing up and taking a stand against corporate greed is madness in your eyes?
    Refusing to cave in to the argument that says we need to treat people as slaves in order to be competitive is not an ostrich approach, it’s somethning the rest of europe ought to be grateful for that someone is finally saying enough is enough.
    Workers rights were hard fought for, over decades and decades, we let others cast them away at our peril.

    The good news is that it looks like people power has won,and the French government is scrapping the laws.

  • Rory

    Good man, TAFKABO. That’s telling him. And yes!, the French government has capitulated – the legislation has been withdrawn. Let us hope that the victory of the protestors provides inspiration among people in the rest of Europe. I’d sooner see them on the streets demanding social and economic justice than sitting at home behaving like complacent little basket weavers awaiting the next assault on their living standards from their masters.

    The insatiable demand for continuous increase in the rate of profit must be resisted before we all wind up as basket cases. French youth are to be applauded for leading the way.

  • Keith M

    TAKKABO, this climb down by the government is’t what make France a baket case but it is a syttom of the malaise which is rotting the core of a once proud nation.

    Ask yourself why tens of thousands of young French people are now living and working in this country. Better still, ask them.

    France has the most restrictive employment laws in the world and in a global economy that means one thing; unemployment.

    As part of my job I source material from around the world. I will do my utmost not to use French suppliers. Dealing with a country that struggles to work for 35 hours a week for 11 months of the year and doesn’t work at all for the other one is hassle nobody needs.

    France needs a slap in the face to stop it sleep walking into becoming the European version of Zimbabwe, this law was a start, but unfortunatly it’s an opportunity lost because of weak willed government.

  • Lafcadio

    France is by no means a basket case, not yet at least – it is however suffering a pretty serious disconnect from reality, as are TAFKABO and Rory if their posts are anything to go by. The only problem with the CPE is that it doesn’t go nearly far enough in a labour market that remains inflexible and over-regulated.

    But to try to paint this as a stand against “corporate greed”, or for “basic rights” is to completely misunderstand the issues; every bit as perverse is the oft-repeated refrain that the CPE would “institutionalise insecurity” for young people – this in an economy where while unemployment is high full stop (9.6%), youth unemployment is around 23%, and 64% of under 24 year olds are in temporary contracts a year after leaving school/uni, so over-protected are permanent contracts, is this “security” then??

    Try to explain that the protests were in the interests of French young people to my girlfriend, who hasn’t been able to attend a single class at her Parisian university in over 5 weeks; the militant students who hijacked the student assembly to shut the university at the outset do not speak for the majority there, and now, with exams only a couple of months away, nobody quite knows what will happen.

    France’s problem is a desperate need for leadership and honesty from its political classes, to explain the issues and the need for reform, and to try to put an end to this never-neverland that it currently inhabits, and the current crop hasn’t been up to it – de Villepin showed little nous in his efforts to deliver the law in the first place, and has been destroyed by the cave-in, Chirac continues in his downward trajectory after a desparately disappointing presidency. It’ll be interesting to see how Sarkozy plays it over the next few weeks.