Laughter and the Sacred

The Graphic Revolt of the Cartoonist Louis Marie Bosredon in 1848
By Olivier Ihl

This paper argues that satirical lithographs in nineteenth-century Paris allowed a representation of the people’s sovereignty to take root in the social and political order. After the collapse of the July Monarchy in 1848, lithographs began to make irreverent depictions of the political realm. Desacralizing royal figures was their primary purpose. In the early days of this satirical turn, a socialist worker named Louis Marie Bosredon joined the revolt and drew a dozen caricatures that mocked the king. In 1848, the French Republic not only gave people the freedom to laugh but also consecrated popular sovereignty. Hundreds of drawings and caricatures represented “the common people.” Bosredon was one of these caricaturists who laughed at the king and celebrated the person in the street. Analysis of his production relies not so much on making interpretations as it does on connecting them to their social and political context. How did these drawings become political ? How did laughing change what was considered sacred about the exercise of power ? The case of Louis Marie Bosredon allows us to understand how criticisms of the representative government were articulated at the time. This logic is not only a matter of the past : a parallel will be made with the birth of comic strips. Still images have their own temporality and narrative styles. They are a key component of what constitutes a political event.

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