Daniel Singer: “Exceptional situations” are “infectious phenomena”
“Revision of values is an infectious phenomenon. When the productive machine grinds to a halt, the cogs themselves begin to wonder about their function. When there is no gasoline, when public transport has come to a halt, when there is no smoke coming out of the factory’s chimney, no normal work in the office, when the usual rhythm of social life has broken down, can the human mind alone stick to routine? Do you remember those rare sleepless nights when, lying uncomfortably awake, you vividly recollect the hopes or illusions of youth and set this promise against the fulfillment, when with painful lucidity you ponder the meaning of your life? Something of that kind all at once happens to thousands, and it happens during the day. Only this collective blues is coupled with collective hope, is really inspired by it. The prospect of change releases the inner censorship. It prompts one to confess that the present is intolerable, to admit it to oneself but also to others. In factories, in offices, groups gather to discuss what can be done. Hackneyed words like “man’s hope” or “man’s dignity” acquire a fresh meaning.
“There is also man’s loneliness. Better than poems and novels, an exceptional situation expresses the deep longings of our atomized society: solitude combined with a life that precludes individualism, isolation coupled with an urge to communicate, to belong. In France that spring, industrial workers occupying their factories, all sorts of men and women busy reforming in committees and commissions, got to know their mates, their fellows, their companions, and this contributed to create an atmosphere of brotherhood. In the second half of May, when the police had gone, the Latin Quarter was a vast Hyde Park Corner, with groups talking and talking well into the night.” – Daniel Singer, Prelude to Revolution: France in May 1968