From eastern Ukraine to an Oregon wildlife refuge, right-wing militias have lately expropriated the memory of antifascist resistance and partisan struggle. But we would do well to remember the progressive and emancipatory potential of that history. Below I’ve translated a famous song of the French Resistance, “La Complainte du partisan” (1943). Here’s a beautiful version by the Russian-born French singer Anna Marly, who composed the song’s original music in 1943 (the lyrics date to 1941, a year after the Nazi invasion of France). Leonard Cohen, who just passed away, made it popular with his 1969 rendition “The Partisan”; Joan Baez followed up with her own version in 1972. These later versions celebrate the return of liberty and the partisan resister’s emergence from the shadows. The original lyrics indicate, however, that it was a song for dark times.
The Partisan’s Lament
The Germans were at my door
They told me, ‘Give up,’
But I couldn’t do it.
So again I took up my weapon.
No one asked me
Where I came from or where I went
You there who knows,
Cover my tracks.
I’ve changed my name a hundred times
I’ve lost my wife and child
But I have so many friends
So I have the whole of France.
Only yesterday we were three
Now only I am left
And I go around in circles
Inside the prison of these borders
An old man hid us
In a barn for a night
The Germans got hold of him
Unsurprised he died
The wind passes over the graves
And when liberty returns
They will forget us!
We’ll go back into the shadows.
We surely live in dark times. This afternoon I remembered a poem that Bertolt Brecht wrote in the late 1930s. It was called “An die Nachgeborenen,” and it aimed not to console, but to provoke. Below is my loose translation from the German. (Here’s a recording of Brecht reading the original.) To Future Generations – […]
A debate over the politics of digital humanities has broken out in the pages of the Los Angeles Review of Books. The first salvo came on May 1 from Daniel Allington, Sarah Brouillette, and David Golumbia in their co-written article “Neoliberal Tools (and Archives).” The authors charged the emergent field of digital humanities scholarship with […]
Professors Jo Guldi and David Armitage threw down the scholarly gauntlet six months ago when they published their bold appeal to rescue History from the “bonfire of the humanities.” The History Manifesto claims that the discipline’s descent into public irrelevance has resulted from current historical scholarship’s lack of long-term thinking. Citing statistics that show a precipitous […]
For the past couple of days, tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens have taken to the streets to protest recent decisions by the central Chinese government to limit voting reforms in the city and to allow only communist-vetted candidates stand for the city’s upcoming municipal elections. Several dozen protestors have suffered injuries in clashes […]
Yesterday the Ukrainian Parliament voted to oust President Viktor F. Yanukovych and shortly thereafter the people of Kiev stormed the presidential palace, forcing Yanukovych to flee the capital. He refuses to step down and rejects the Parliament’s decision to hold new elections at the end of May, despite the fact that it is acting within […]
The new year inevitably brings with it a spate of new year’s resolutions. While the timing of these life decisions — vowing to exercise more, to spend less money, to find a partner or new job, etc. — is somewhat arbitrary and their results often short-lived, the symbolic importance of the new year and its […]