The Particularity of Notre-Dame

The Particularity of Notre-Dame
AP Photo/Francisco Seco

The world watched in horror last week as a fire nearly consumed Notre-Dame de Paris—a cathedral, perhaps the most famous in the world, which has survived nearly a thousand years and countless wars and revolutions.

The elegies that have poured out since have mourned the cathedral as a monument. As President Macron put it in an address to his citizens "Notre-Dame is our history, it's our literature, it's our imagery…the place where we live our greatest moments, from wars to pandemics to liberations." What French literary critic Roland Barthes wrote of the Eiffel Tower is perhaps more aptly applied to Notre-Dame: "It is present to the entire world … as a universal symbol of Paris … beyond its strictly Parisian statement, it touches the most general human image-repertoire."

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