Musings:The Novel(ty) Will Destroy the Edifice

From Monarchists.Wiki

In his seminal work The Hunchback of Notre Dame, author Victor Hugo shares his account of history being lost.

Afterwards, the wall was whitewashed or scraped down, I know not which, and the inscription disappeared. For it is thus that people have been in the habit of proceeding with the marvellous churches of the Middle Ages for the last two hundred years. Mutilations come to them from every quarter, from within as well as from without. The priest whitewashes them, the archdeacon scrapes them down; then the populace arrives and demolishes them.

Thus, with the exception of the fragile memory which the author of this book here consecrates to it, there remains to-day nothing whatever of the mysterious word engraved within the gloomy tower of Notre-Dame,—nothing of the destiny which it so sadly summed up. The man who wrote that word upon the wall disappeared from the midst of the generations of man many centuries ago; the word, in its turn, has been effaced from the wall of the church; the church will, perhaps, itself soon disappear from the face of the earth.

It is upon this word that this book is founded.

Hugo, Victor (1831). The Hunchback of Notre Dame  – via Wikisource.

In the First Chapter of the Fifth Book of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Archdeacon Claude Frollo attempts to explain to "Gossip Tourangeau" and court physician Jacques Coictier the significance of architecture and tells them that the book will kill the edifice. Hugo artfully expounds these ideas further in the the next chapter. The text of the Second Chapter of the Fifth Book is so rich and so beautiful that it would be difficulty for one to choose precisely what to quote were it not for a paragraph where Hugo sum[s] up the text that came before it. Even so, 👑 we won't not quote it as that paragraph alone doesn't do the whole text justice; we recommend reading the chapter in its entirety.

What we will quote, however, is a fact that we find rather sad:

All civilization begins in theocracy and ends in democracy. This law of liberty following unity is written in architecture. For, let us insist upon this point, masonry must not be thought to be powerful only in erecting the temple and in expressing the myth and sacerdotal symbolism; in inscribing in hieroglyphs upon its pages of stone the mysterious tables of the law. If it were thus,—as there comes in all human society a moment when the sacred symbol is worn out and becomes obliterated under freedom of thought, when man escapes from the priest, when the excrescence of philosophies and systems devour the face of religion,—architecture could not reproduce this new state of human thought; its leaves, so crowded on the face, would be empty on the back; its work would be mutilated; its book would he incomplete. But no.

Hugo, Victor (1831). The Hunchback of Notre Dame  – via Wikisource.

In order words, architecture doesn't belong to the devout alone; others may utilize it. Hugo, perhaps due to the time he lived in, didn't view this fact as pessimistically as we do.

But the Crusades arrive. They are a great popular movement, and every great popular movement, whatever may be its cause and object, always sets free the spirit of liberty from its final precipitate. New things spring into life every day. Here opens the stormy period of the Jacqueries, Pragueries, and Leagues. Authority wavers, unity is divided. Feudalism demands to share with theocracy, while awaiting the inevitable arrival of the people, who will assume the part of the lion: ~Quia nominor leo~. Seignory pierces through sacerdotalism; the commonality, through seignory. The face of Europe is changed. Well! the face of architecture is changed also. Like civilization, it has turned a page, and the new spirit of the time finds her ready to write at its dictation. It returns from the crusades with the pointed arch, like the nations with liberty.

Then, while Rome is undergoing gradual dismemberment, Romanesque architecture dies. The hieroglyph deserts the cathedral, and betakes itself to blazoning the donjon keep, in order to lend prestige to feudalism. The cathedral itself, that edifice formerly so dogmatic, invaded henceforth by the bourgeoisie, by the community, by liberty, escapes the priest and falls into the power of the artist. The artist builds it after his own fashion. Farewell to mystery, myth, law. Fancy and caprice, welcome. Provided the priest has his basilica and his altar, he has nothing to say. The four walls belong to the artist. The architectural book belongs no longer to the priest, to religion, to Rome; it is the property of poetry, of imagination, of the people.

Hugo, Victor (1831). The Hunchback of Notre Dame  – via Wikisource.

If the evolution of architecture and society stopped there – if there weren't any transition beyond the first transition from theocracy to feudal balance – then perhaps we wouldn't view democracy-leaning change so pessimistically, yet the evolution continued – a transition from feudal balance to liberal democracy and egalitarianism occurred – and now we find ourselves surrounded by soulless, modern architectures and media. We believe that art and architecture were best when artists and architects were dependent on the patronage of clergy and aristocrats and thus subjected to high standards and high tastes. We believe liberation from aristocratic patronage means that artists either appeal to the lowest common denominator for profit's sake or they simply express their own ego without any regard for demand or higher authority or standards, resulting in ugly modern art that only the originating artist understands or cares for.

It will be in the hands of this new liberal democracy that Notre Dame will be rebuilt. Hugo himself notes how the reverence for architecture has faded with the advent of the printing press; how colder, less elaborate architecture replaced splendid, Gothic architecture. We somehow doubt the rebuilt Notre Dame will be as infused with awe and reverence as the pre-burnt one. Would small things, akin to the small detail noted by Hugo in the preface of his book, be replicated, or will they be lost to history forever? Who will be the ones working? Construction workers interested in mere pay and treating the task as if it were any ordinary job? And if their ancestors weren't subjects of France during the medieval construction of the cathedral, would they feel any special connection or relationship with it? "Virgil" at Breitbart expressed his concerns over how modern political correction might undermine the rebuilding of the cathedral. We feel almost certain that the government and liberal media will propagandize the rebuilding by claiming, We rebuilt Notre Dame stronger and better than ever through diversity. Already, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced an "international" contest to redesign the spire.[1] If Notre Dame becomes associated with such Leftist political slogans and democratic pandering, would self-respecting French nationalists and traditionalists still view the structure the same way as they did before the disaster?

Whatever happens, we must be aware that (to alter Hugo's words slightly), The novel(ty) will destroy the edifice. The new will replace the old in a zero-sum game; one at the expense of the other. Already, one of the powers that will displace the West is cheering.

(forever indebted to the Magnificent and Merciful God ())
King of Monarchists.Wiki, Proprietor of the Domains, Cultivator of Talent, Culture, and Excellence, and Defender of Faith and Civilization
Initially published on April 17, 2019
Last updated on April 29, 2019

References[edit]

  1. Vey, Jean-Baptiste; Lough, Richard (2019-04-17). Kerry, Frances (ed.). "France to open redesign of Notre-Dame's spire to international architects". Reuters. Retrieved 2019-04-29.