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The “Floating Asylum,” the Armée du salut, and Le Corbusier:

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This article examines the case of a neglected “heterotopian” space, Le Corbusier's “floating asylum,” commissioned by the French Salvation Army. It uses archival material to explore the potentially far-reaching contribution “heterotopia” can make to a “utopian” project for social transformation, as well as indicating how “dystopian” aspects can infiltrate the same initiative. My analysis focuses on the different texts available in French on Foucault's problematic ideas on “other spaces.” It also draws attention to a another occluded “debate,” one that did not take place as such, between Foucault and Gauchet and Swain as to what types of spaces asylums actually were and intended to be. It also reflects on the place of asylum today and how hospitality might be extended to those who are socially excluded.
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Utopian Studies, Vol. 25, No. 1, 2014
Copyright © 2014. The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
The “Floating Asylum,” the Armée du salut, and
Le Corbusier: A Modernist Heterotopian/
Utopian Project
Diane Morgan 

This article examines the case of a neglected “heterotopian” space, Le Corbusier’s
“oating asylum,” commissioned by the French Salvation Army. It uses archival
material to explore the potentially far-reaching contribution “heterotopia” can make to
a “utopian” project for social transformation, as well as indicating how “ dystopian”
aspects can inltrate the same initiative. My analysis focuses on the dierent
texts available in French on Foucault’s problematic ideas on “other spaces.” It also
draws attention to a another occluded “debate,” one that did not take place as
such, between Foucault and Gauchet and Swain as to what types of spaces asylums
actually were and intended to be. It also reects on the place of asylum today and how
hospitality might be extended to those who are socially excluded.
: heterotopia/utopia, modernist architecture, Salvation Army,
Le Corbusier, Foucault, asylum
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Utopian Studies 25.1
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A boat is a oating piece of space, a place without place, which lives
by itself, which is closed in on itself and that is at the same time
exposed to the innity of the sea.
—Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces”
Nowadays one cannot conceive a utopia that does not address itself to
nomads, peoples and individuals, to the homeless, to the excluded.
—René Schérer, Utopies nomades
After World War I a concrete barge made its way up and down the Seine
between Rouen and Paris. It was called the Liège, and its mission was to supply
the French capital with English coal. When it was decommissioned in , the
Armée du salut (the French Salvation Army) bought it with the aid of a dona-
tion from Madeleine Zillhardt, the recently bereaved long-term companion of
the painter Louise Catherine of Breslau. Thanks to a generous donation by
Princess Singer de Polignac and a sustained campaign for public subscriptions
by the “Salutistes,” the boat (renamed Louise Catherine) was converted by Le
Corbusier into a “oating asylum” for  unfortunates “ without an address,
without rest, without a hovel” (Figure). This, at rst sight, rather improbable
collaboration of two very dierent movements—Victorian Christianity and icon-
oclastic modernism—was the rst stage of the larger “City of Refuge” project.
The standard reading of this collaboration would probably be that it was
made possible by both movements’ shared faith in the principles of “social engi-
neering”; that is, they both espoused the ultimately dystopian and/or reaction-
ary values of discipline, minimalist austerity, and mental and physical hygiene.
It could be pointed out that the “oating asylum” was no neutral, ideologically
free world and that, while it oered a temporary safe haven from the ravages of
capitalism, its guests were objects of charity, to be retrained and wherever pos-
sible reinserted back in that same society as Christian soldiers with the aid of a
doctrinaire modernist aesthetic. However, my argument will be that this proj-
ect is socially, and even politically, far more challenging than one might expect.
As such it—both the boat and the wider City of Refuge project (Figure )—is
indeed a “heterotopia,” that is, a space of “contestation” that can unexpectedly
open up a plethora of pertinent matters (Foucault /, ).
The barge Le Liège started out as a nonspace—a mere container whose
purpose was to be a vast mobile, temporary storage space for a raw material.
It was a means to an end. This purpose served, it was saved from destruction
by being converted into a well-designed living space as La Louise Catherine for
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Figure 1.  En avant, June , : The “without slum-dwellers” (les sans-taudis) make their
way toward “the oating asylum, the Louise Catherine” on the Seine (drawing by André
Labarthe). Les sans-taudis is an Armée du salut neologism, indicative of the poetics of
its weekly newspaper, En avant. The term draws attention not only to the plight of the
homeless, les sans logis or sans abri, but also to the generally low standard of housing for the
poor as a social category. See En avant, September , : “The slums must be overcome;
we must build salubrious dwellings.” The quality of social housing was also of concern
for Le Corbusier.
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Figure  2.  En avant, May , : The “Cité du refuge” and its various operations—
. The City itself; . the House of the Mother and Child; . the House of the Young Man;
. the “oating asylum”; . Paris by the sea; . the Hostel for the Liberated Prisoner in the
[ Guyanan] Penal Colony.
the socially excluded. It became an end in itself. Quantity became quality as its
sheer size became habitable. Now functioning as a safe and hospitable haven for
urban marginals, it was transformed into a completely dierent sort of space,
an intrinsically vital one for those just managing to survive in the city. This rad-
ical change was itself enabled by a series of creative conversions and fortuitous
encounters: the sum of money bestowed by Zillhardt, which put the barge
project into motion, had been acquired by protably selling a drawing, which
she had come across by chance, to an art dealer. When handing the windfall
over to the Armée du salut, the grieving lesbian lover, herself no stranger to
the diculties and perils occasioned by social exclusion, explained that she
was desirous of helping “those who live under the bridges at night.” Indeed,
once they had left the bright lights of the boulevards, the destitute not only
descended to the darkness of the riverbanks but often risked heading farther,
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to the cold depths of the Seine itself, “never again to return to street level” (see
Albert Flament, in En avant, June , , and March , ; Figure ).
Figure 3.  En avant, August , : Desperate, the social outcast is tempted to put an end to
it all by drowning himself in the river.
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The oating asylum was thus a beacon of hope, oering a space of
hospitality and giving time to those who had felt that their time was up.
Zillhardt’s vision of a oating asylum thereby attempted to reterritorialize
the city by reinscribing what was once a zone of condemnation as a hospitable
space, however temporary that might be. Evoking her own suering, both
verbally and apparently physically (she is described as “ prematurely aged,
dressed in black”), Zillhardt expressed her wish to alleviate that of others. Her
own personal loss was to become someone else’s gain. Her initiative then
evolved into Princess Singer de Polignac’s gift, which was also a conversion of
sorts: the princess, heiress of the Singer sewing machine fortune, redirected
some of the prots extracted from presumably exploitative factory work
back toward the socially disadvantaged. Additionally, the “Salutistes”
themselves, when soliciting donations, also aimed to bring about change: they
interpellated busy and preoccupied passersby, stopping them in their tracks,
distracting them from their intended purpose, and prompting a contribution
toward caring for the destitute, those shadowy gures who hover in the other
spaces of the city (En avant, May , ).
The barge Louise Catherine presents us with a constellation of topics and
attendant issues that are “heterotopian”: water and oating vessels per se
destabilize the habitual perceptions of the terrestrially bound. Both remind
us of the articiality and temporariness of denite and xed demarcations;
they remove the ground from under our feet. The barge was intended to
act as a mirror, reecting back to a hardened city what it did not want to see,
forcing a focus on the excluded and abandoned, obliging the unfeeling to face
up to their social responsibilities. It drew attention to the “geographically
uneven development” produced by capitalist economics. Presenting itself as
a Noah’s Ark, it oered a means of survival to those otherwise exposed to the
hostile elements (e.g., En avant, March , ). It was certainly unlike one of
those unseaworthy vessels, owned by unscrupulous and exploitative human
trackers, that regularly plunge desperate asylum seekers to their death.
Asylum is itself a oating signier, easily swept o course by the discourses
of hypocrisy, indierence, prejudice, exploitation, and protectionism. The focal
places for those seeking this elusive “asylum” are often islands of exception,
both symbols of hope and scenes of appalling tragedy. These pressing issues
haunt this case study of the Louise Catherine barge. Since its closure in , the
barge for a long time faced an uncertain future, but it will apparently now be
used as an “events” venue, while, maybe rather contradictorily, having been
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“saved” as a historical monument. But what does it memorialize exactly? To
what extent did it succeed or ultimately fail as a heterotopian/ utopian project
that attempted to integrate those who are traditionally marginalized into
society? By drawing on this historical “other space,” a neglected historical
case in its own right despite being one of the earliest projects of Le Corbusier,
I also wish to encourage reection on what that particular space represents to
us now and where it might be located tomorrow.
1. Water, Boats, and “Fluid Geography”
Seamen are traditionally “masters of storytelling,” as their medium of
activity, water, is a reservoir of historical memory; it conserves the traces
of deeply lived experience (Benjamin , ). While setting the scene
for Marlow’s haunting tale about one of the “dark places of the earth,” a
harrowing story nevertheless told quite naturally while obliged to await the
turning of the tide, Conrad writes: “Nothing is easier for a man who has,
as the phrase goes, ‘followed the sea’ with reverence and aection, than to
evoke the great spirit of the past upon the lower reaches of [a river]. The
tidal current runs to and fro in its unceasing service crowded with memo-
ries of men and ships it has borne to the rest of home or to the battles of
the sea” (, ). Not all sea stories have to be steeped in the “mournful
gloom” that “broods motionless” over Marlow’s tale. Bringing us back from
the “heart of darkness,” Le Corbusier restores our sense of temporal uidity
when he associates boats with the future and the past: “Ports are beautiful
because boats, announced by the heavy sound of sirens, arrive and depart
from them. The song of the siren either signals a set of men who are going
far aeld, seeking an adventure, or who are just arriving, bringing memories
from afar” (/, ). Bright, springlike waters can inspire beautifully
ighty and fresh daydreams (Bachelard , ). Here too the relation
to the past is not heavy; it is an enlivening historicity that stems from the
wish to capture something like “the eternal poetry of boats on the ocean”
and the elusively transitory “ sensation of space and uid matter” (Le Cor-
busier /,). The source of water’s forever ongoing fascination is
maybe the fact that it ows across, through, and around the planet with the
potential of, in time, undermining all that is xed, predetermined, nite, and
sedentary. Seamen know this ultimate truth intimately, hence their disdainful
detachment from all that is terrestrially bound. Conrad explains this
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fundamental dierence between those associated with the sea and full-time
landlubbers in the following fashion: “In the immutability of their surround-
ings the foreign shores, the foreign faces, the changing immensity of life,
glide past, veiled not by a sense of mystery but by a slightly disdainful igno-
rance; for there is nothing mysterious to a seamen unless it be the sea itself,
which is the mistress of his existence and as inscrutable as Destiny” (, ).
Water has so many guises and qualities, but it somehow also always
becomes the same medium, one that possesses a powerfully mysterious
identity that even sailors cannot quite grasp but, instead, greatly respect as
an ongoing communication with itself. For the human whose life is a “ight
without end,” boats necessarily invite one on a long journey out of oneself,
toward unknown “exterior space,” with all its excitements but also, most
possibly, with attendant dangers. Joseph Roth evokes the inexorable drift
or current that pulls one out to sea, even if one is observing the water from
the tranquil haven of a port: “Boats are the only means of transport that
one always associates with adventure. They don’t have to be steam-boats.
Any old boat, the most basic raft, the poorest shing boat, could have tasted
the water of high seas. For those on shore, all water is the same. Even the
smallest wave is a sister of the biggest and more dangerous ones” (, ;
translation modied; see , ). Boats engage directly with the ambiv-
alence of water and hence also with fundamental truths about the ows,
ebbs, storms, and droughts of our nite lives, as Bachelard reminds us: “One
does not bathe twice in the same river because the depths of the human
being already has the destiny of owing water. Water is really the transitory
element. . . . [T]he being dedicated to water is a vertiginous being [un être en
vertige]. Every minute he dies, his substance incessantly crumbles away. . . .
[W]ater always ows, always falls, it always nishes in its horizontal death”
(, –).
In the Armée du salut’s weekly newspaper, En avant, the pool of
associations that color our relationship to water and to the vehicle humans
have invented to communicate with and across it, the boat, is extensively
drawn on while highlighting the singularity of the “oating asylum” project:
It is a beautiful thing to see a boat moored in a big port. It speaks to
you of long journeys, of distant and mysterious places and adven-
tures. But if we often pass close by it and it is still in the same place,
we start to nd it a bit ridiculous and absurd, like a boastful person
who is always talking about Africa without having left his native
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village. Near to the Ponts des Arts, a large barge is to be found,
immobile throughout the winter. This barge is neither ridiculous,
nor absurd. It knows more stories than if it had frequented all the
ports of the world. (En avant, January , )
The oating asylum, together with the other refuges of the Armée du salut,
brought together wanderers with rich stories to tell, stories that were no doubt
often painful and trag ic but also fascinatingly exotic for those living comparatively
“normal,” conventional, sedentary lives. That lives can take such dierent forms,
be lived out in such radically dierent sorts of spaces (see Figure )! The very act
of telling these stories is a challenging questioning of any complacent assump-
tion that one can know people’s place(s) in this world or one’s own entirely.
Indeed, while the oating asylum functions as a reassuring “lighthouse”
or “haven” for those otherwise at risk of being lost in “the immense ocean of
misery and despair,” it also created destabilizing eects on the city as a whole
(En avant, July , ; July , ; August , ). Or rather, it is precisely
because it assigned a homely place to those who do not usually have the “right”
to one that the barge obliged the more ocial and established city to rethink
itself. At least that was the Salutistes’ intention: the “tramp’s barge” that was
moored during the winter months “in the very heart of Paris” is presented
as a poke in the eye of well-dressed and comfortably housed Parisians
(En avant, January , , and January , ). The Salutistes take pleasure in
Figure 4.  En avant, January , :
“The banquet of  seatings
oered to those ‘without a slum’
[les sans-taudis] of Paris.” Bottom
right: photograph featured in an
earlier article announcing the
opening of a women’s refuge on
the rue du Saint Sauveur, Paris e,
with the caption “This poor crea-
ture has not slept in a bed for the
past fteen years” (En avant, June
, ).
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describing the scene: “For a few days now, those strolling along the quayside of
the Louvre when it is time for Paris to be lit up, look at the Seine to see it become
iridescent and spangly. To their surprise, these âneurs, for the bouquinistes are
still open, notice downstream from the Pont des Arts, that a renovated barge is
also brightly illuminated” (En avant, January , ; Figure).
With its attractive modernist glass roof, the boat is easily mistaken by
the mondaines for a fashionable party venue. They are therefore “stupeed” to
see that, instead of “ornamental ladies and men in smoking jackets” making
their way toward its beacon, there are “poor wretches, ragged, chilled to the
bone, tousled and dirty, bent-backed, who, dragging their shoddily shoed feet
toward the river, look as if they want to drown themselves.” The Salutistes
vividly situate their particular clientele right in the midst of the city: “After all
the tiring eorts and suerings of a winter’s day, these pickers-up of cigarette
butts, these openers of doors, these sandwich men, these load carriers at Les
Halles market, will ask for a shower, a bed, a meal, and above all for moral
support from this hospitable barge that the Salvation Army has specially tted
out for them instead of spending the night stretched out under a bridge, or
huddled up in a recess or doorway” (En avant, January , ). Once they
are welcomed on board the Louise Catherine and comfortably settled down,
“[the] water that gently laps against the sides of the barge, will rock them
in their sleep, murmuring to them that everything has an end, even misery”
(En avant, January , ).
However, water does not always comfort the poor. The destabilizing
properties of water are also a recurrent trope in En avant. The real, but
nevertheless dierential, impact of its capacity to ood our lives, thereby
damaging or even washing away the things “we” hold most dear, provides the
Salutistes with an opportunity to hammer home their message about the des-
titute: “When the Seine oods, well-lodged residents have to hoist their furni-
ture up to the rst oor and sometimes leave the building in a boat. Those who
sleep under the bridges [les couche-sous-les-ponts] don’t have so much bother
with their things. They put everything back in a handkerchief, leave the river
and look for lodgings elsewhere. It’s like an expulsion. The baili-river rises up
toward them. Murmuringly it repeats the old curse: ‘you will be a vagabond
and a fugitive on this earth’” (En avant, May , ). However, the oating
asylum again glides into sight, hopefully providing a timely solution to what
would otherwise be an eternal fatality: “In the future these misfortunates will
only have to make a few steps in order to move from the inhospitable quayside
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Figure 5.  En avant, March , : The Louise Catherine at night (photograph by André
Kertesz). Albert Flament’s article “Portraits of Paris and Elsewhere” begins by describing
the hostile characteristics of water: “It rains on the Seine, with such violent intensity, the
foreground is so striated with thick and heavy drops of rain that they make you think
of those downpours created for lms, compared to which the Flood is trivial. End of
February. pm. The riverbank.” The writings of En avant are keenly aware of just exactly
how much the homeless are at the mercy of the elements.
to the safety of the asylum” (En avant, May, ). Before being properly
received and treated as respectable human beings, the ragged, tramps, and
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beggars (les loqueteux, les clochards et les gueux) resemble a cloyingly aqueous
substance on their move toward the asylums. Describing their arrival for the
Christmas dinner in , the Salutistes wrote: “The pavement was greasy.
They arrived in formless, black lumps as if the shadows were breaking up.
One heard among these thousands of devastated beings the gruntings of
bone gnawers. One saw the eddies of nocturnal water. Sometimes jostlings”
(En avant, January, ; Figure , especially the top left). The conclusion
drawn from the serving of eight hundred mealsto these sorts of people, these
misérables, was that it is exactly this experience that gives a noble idea of what
society both is and should become: “c’estça qui donne une ère idée de la
société” (En avant, January , ). The heterotopian City of Refuge is to
become a project for society as a whole. As such, the heterotopias it creates are
also utopian: rather than just “ suspending, neutralising and inversing” other
actually existing places, their intention is to “eace, neutralise and purify” cur-
rent societal emplacements (Foucault /,; /, ; ,).
Boats invariably invite one on a long journey out of oneself, toward unknown
“exterior space[s]” (Foucault /, ; , ). What needs to be
ushed out of (“puried” from) society is injustice, and this is to be achieved by
injecting into the main body of society those—barely known, hardly encoun-
tered—who have been up to now social outcasts. The Armée du salut consid-
ers that the most destitute, including, or especially, criminals, have something
positive to oer society. It therefore, in eect, advocated and even practiced
what Nietzsche called societal “ennoblement through degeneration.”
Figure 6.  En avant, January , : Those who were invited to the Christmas meal.
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2. En avant! The Armée du salut, More Than Evangelizing
Tambourine-Bashing
“The Salvation Army,” these three words used to unleash gibes. A red
jersey or a Miss Heylett hat with Salutiste colored ribbon suced for
laughter to explode and cooked apples to y. The times have changed.
The Salvation Army now acts as a password and introduction into
the most diverse milieu, ranging from the narrow attic room to the
sumptuous hotel of rich bankers, of powerful industrialists or of the
old families of the wealthy faubourgs.
En avant, August , 
The Salvation army revives the propaganda of early Christianity,
appeals to the poor as the elect, ghts capitalism in a religious way,
and thus fosters an element of early Christian class antagonism, which
one day may become troublesome to the well-to-do people who now
nd the ready money for it.
—Friedrich Engels, “Socialism: Utopian and Scientic”
The Salvation Army is a hierarchically ordered organization, with its general
based at the London HQ and its ocers and soldiers in the eld equipped with
their missions, guided by traditional doctrines and rules. Often such char-
itable organizations are criticized as in eect serving, even being complicit
with, the very system whose victims they draw attention to and try to help, as
their stopgap measures assuage a situation that might otherwise lead to social
revolt. Additionally its moralizing is seen as placing the onus on the individuals
concerned, instead of rmly on the capitalist system itself. However, a focus
on the “heterotopian” aspects of this most unfashionable movement, at least
on the form it took in France during its years under Albin Peyron’s command
(), can yield a dierent reading. The movement could be regarded not
only as less traditional than one might have supposed, not only as reacting to
the negative social conditions brought about by urbanization, but also as mili-
tating for controversial causes and embracing the potentially utopian aspects
of modernity and modernism. Indeed, as the very title of En avant suggests,
the organization aimed to lead the way for social change in several ways.
Paris was the rst port of call in continental Europe for the three young
English female missionaries dispatched from the headquarters in London in
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February  to set up a sister organization. However, by  Albin Peyron
was the head of the French oce, and under his—together with Blanche, his
wife’s—leadership, it developed its own distinctive style and specic social
missions. One of the earliest projects of the Armée du salut was the People’s
Palace (Palais du peuple) for young men opened in  and extended with
an annex (plans drawn by Le Corbusier) in . Together with the Women’s
Palace (Palais de la femme), opened in , this foyer was incorporated into
the larger City of Refuge project (see Figure ). The larger complex was
conceived of as a dynamic and ecient “sorting station or to be more precise,
a turntable” (gare de triage, ou mieux une plaque tournante) of the socially
disadvantaged and excluded. This very modern “organ of distribution”
was to be continuously communicating with the various social services of
the Armée du salut and public services, aided by the use of the telephone
(En avant, June , , and July , ). These concerted and coordinated
forces are what produce eective action.
The City of Refuge presents itself as the multisited place where “the
wheels of the human machine” that have been “worn out by life” will
be serviced (En avant, November , ). (See Figure .) However, the
Arméedu salut’s operations were not just about xing the human spare parts
of the societal machine, with the result that those “saved” were fed back as fod-
der t for consumption by the labor market. Indeed this type ofcharitable”
injection, which cannot swing society into a dierent transformative mode of
operation, was precisely the approach that it criticized: “This is no generous
and utopian dream to be realized any old way [au petit bonheur], in little doses,
following the charitable fancies of a few devoted hearts. The precise duty of
town councils and the state is to do exactly what the Salvation Army does, but
more extensively and on a bigger scale [plus vaste encore et plus grand].” The
Armée du salut aimed much higher than solving a social problem. Its grander
vision could strike those fatalistically resigned to a supposedly “natural” state of
aairs as “mad.” However, despite his apparent dismissal of “utopian dream[s]”
(expressed above), Peyron fully recognized the powerful potential of utopian
“craziness.” He proclaimed that “the nomad, the vagabond, he who is tired,
he who is desperate, he who is dying of hunger, he who is without a slum, he
who is without a faith, he who is placeless . . . all of them will be able to come
at any hour with the certitude of being welcomed, fed, given a bed, clothed,
comforted, advised, cared for. This mad dream will cost  million francs and it
begins to be translated into reality” (En avant, August , ; my italics).
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Figure 7.  En avant, November , : The title of the article is “A City Where the Poor
Will Find His Way”; the caption reads “God has prepared a City for them” (drawing by
André Labarthe). Labarthe’s work neatly captured the complexity and sophistication
of the French movement under Albin Peyron: while nding its place within the great
nineteenth-century tradition of drawing embodied by Daumier and Doré, it also
incorporates conspicuously modernistic imagery, in this case the tower blocks of the City
of Ref uge. Peyron’s Armée du salut also stemmed from the Victorian era while embracing
the promising aspects of the new twentieth century. Here, their modernist credentials
include an art deco heading.
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Figure 8.  En avant, October , : “During the week of renunciation,
please no abstention. The Factory of Good must continue its work.”
Once realized the City of Refuge was in turn to become a model for
society as a whole to emulate with a view to changing its internal composition
and organization. Using language worthy of Charles Fourier, the Salutistes
describe how “[this] city will get built, the movement imposes itself as it oers
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a nal synthesis of all the tendencies of goodness, of all the good works, that
were to this day not concentrated and that will now nd in this liberating for-
mulation their rallying point [qui trouveront dans cette formule libératrice, leur point
de ralliement]” (En avant, November , ). En avant does employ the lan-
guage of recuperation and recycling to depict how the Salutistes convert indi-
viduals into valuable substances (e.g., March , ). However, just as much
onus is placed on social critique and societal transformation. The concentrated
energy and “irresistibl[y]” dynamic “movement” of the evolving multisited
project take society with it, radiantly inspiring “ever growing interest” in its
Figure 9.  En avant, July , : The radiating City of Refuge complex.
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projection of a better future (En avant, February , ; Figure). The pub-
lic’s enthusiasm for the project is augmented by the force of the Salutistes’ own
example of “disinterested” commitment to a good cause (En avant, August ,
). This exemplary behavior is then emulated by the public, who in turn
are increasingly enthused by their own generous mobilization.
The project becomes more and more realizable as people, each according
to his or her means, send in contributions: “Everyday numerous letters arrive
containing donations. These contributions are frequently accompanied by a
few touching words. Vast waves spend themselves against dykes made up of
grains of sand; similarly, the numerous donations, whether they be small or
big, will permit the construction of the City, a dyke that will cause the waves
of misery to be transformed into elements of life” (En avant, May ,).
Drawing its metaphorical energy from the hostile side of water’s nature
evoked earlier, En avant describes the cumulative resistance, akin to a dyke, to
the current state of aairs, whereby the destitute are just abandoned to their
misery. However, the public is not just expected to delve into their pockets to
alleviate social ills. Venturing beyond a reactive stance, they are also expected
to open their minds to a conception of a future society that hospitably includes
the socially marginalized as dierent types of people whose condition is to be
improved, most certainly, but who will also be allowed to be as dierent as
they want to be. En avant gives the public a foretaste of this community to
come, a society whose spaces will henceforth include this eclectic multitude,
which will incorporate those who were previously conceived of as being just
one (undesirable) homogeneous mass.
Describing the clientele who frequent the People’s Palace, the authors write:
[There are rst] the workers, a fair number foreigners, on casual
contracts, or paid parsimoniously by some thrifty business. These
come back home, harassed, beaten down. They eat a bowl of soup
and vegetables and then go to sleep. All for fr . They pay from
one day to the next, or for the week; they are regular customers but
as soon as their situation improves, they go to a hotel closer to their
workplace.
The second category consists of employees, representatives, pro-
fessors and déclassés. There are some who stay for a night and then dis-
appear, and those who have been here [rue des Cordeliers] for some
time and consider themselves to be part of the fabric of the place.
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Those who were once rich, now poor; ruined gamblers;
the unhealthy; the sickly; retired people on small pensions;
inconsolable widowers; serfs; eccentrics; misers; as well as prodi-
gies who stay a week or two as they cannot maintain their lifestyle
until the end of the month. Foreigners, well, foreigners without
papers; professors in their language; globe-trotters on foot, on
bicycles, on scooters, on their hands, or going backward; fakirs;
students; clergymen; Slavic popes; journalists from all the Near
Easts and engineers from all the centers of Europe; sons of fami-
lies and those without families; communists; fascists; anarchists
etc. but all with papers, felt hats, beautiful conversation, polished
manners and a genuine smile.
And in the evening gathering in the large reading room, all these
people talk, smoke, read, dream or doze in the heavy atmosphere
created by two hundred breaths infused with the incense of tobacco,
without angry outbursts, without a discussion or an argument
that transgresses the limits of puerile and honest civility. (En avant,
February , )
These passages give us a description of the heterotopian community that
existed at the People’s Palace and indeed probably still exists there and in
other refuges today. They also give us a vision, one we could call “utopian,”
of what society as a whole might become. The community is characterized
by a manifold of personalities; as such it is far from grounded in any
homogenizingly identitarian doctrine. It is also at least partially modeled
on self-government, as we are told that in this hospitable house “a sort of
democracy” is at play: “Those who arrive wretched [misérables] come under
the inuence of those who have picked themselves up [qui se sont relevés]”
(En avant, February , ). Also to be noted is that the very language of
this colorful taxonomy of the community’s components is “heterotopian”
inasmuch as it “[breaks up] all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with
which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things and
threaten[s] with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and other”
(Foucault , xv). The categorization of the groups consists of shaded
dierentiation (e.g., “globe-trotters on foot, on bicycles, on scooters, on
their hands, or going backward,” “the unhealthy; the sickly”) and juxtaposed
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extremes (“communists; fascists; anarchists”); the overall picture is a medley
of dierent, yet associated, personalities and groupings. This community
poses us a challenge: it is a heterotopian community that we are being asked
to accommodate in the future “order of things” (Foucault , xv; , ).
The ongoing march toward the realization of more of the City of Refuge
project will take the Salutistes not only higher and higher toward their goal
(Figure ) but also farther aeld, taking the public with them. Soon the
force of its example will propagate itself beyond the capital outward across
the whole nation: “The whole country will be renewed, renovated, put into
action” (En avant, January , ). Ever true to the nature of water, which
irresistibly draws us outward, toward the wide oceans, the Armée du salut
then pushes the boat out yet farther, beyond the French mainland: “The City
will radiate in the provinces and even farther, across the ocean, toward those
far shores where the wretched [les malheureux] wait for a little pity, a little
justice, a little love” (En avant, August , ). The City of Refuge, which was
Figure 10.  En avant, April , : “Our pupil ocers contribute to the victory. Step after
step the troops attack the mountain peak.” Note the strange surreality of this image. The
number at the top of the mountain is the amount of money still required to attain the sum
needed for the City of Refuge.
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initiated with the “oating asylum,” stretched right out to the penal colonies
(les bagnes) of French Guyana. This outreach project was a distinctive sign
of the Armée du salut’s commitment to a controversial, or at least not evi-
dently popularist, cause. In one of his weekly “Chronicles” entitled “They
Are Waiting for a Homeland [une patrie],” Peyron himself stated: “The City
of Refuge and the penal colonies will never leave my thoughts” (En avant,
July, ).
The French Guyana penal colonies (les bagnes) were originally created in
 as a dumping ground for political prisoners during the French Revolution.
Thereafter, as from , they were used for criminals. Charles Péan under took
a mission for the Armée du salut to investigate these hellish places in .
He published his ndings in Terre de bagne (), and the Armée du salut
used the book to bolster its already intensive campaign wherein the fate of
such prisoners was accorded the same importance within the City of Refuge
project as the plight of the destitute in France itself. The legal transporta-
tion of deportees to penal colonies was ended on June , ; nevertheless,
a nal convoy of prisoners left France for Guyana on November , .
While these last batches of unfortunates were still arriving on the Guyanan
shores, the Armée du salut had already taken the initiative of helping, both
logistically and nancially, eight hundred ex-prisoners return home to France
and North Africa, as no other operation was in place. After World War II, the
Armée du salut was ocially requested by the French government to assist
the remaining three thousand ex-prisoners and detainees return “home.”
This mission it carried out, accompanying the former criminals all the way
from Guyana to their nal destination and yet further, into the social fabric
itself (Péan, radio interview, November , ).
What was especially shocking about these penal colonies was
that  liberation” turned out to be even worse than imprisonment (see, e.g.,
Hamp, in Péan , ). When incarcerated and subjected to forced (and
“Sisyphean”) labor, one at least was given some degree of food and lodging
(Hamp, in Péan , –). Once the prison sentence had been served,
prisoners were just turfed out, with no means of survival at all. In eect they
had been condemned to a slow death. By not protesting against this practice,
the public was in eect committing a “social crime.” Hamp bluntly makes his
point: “When it comes to an individual crime there is a guilty person. When
it is a question of a social crime no-one is innocent” (in Péan , ). Not only
that, Hamp accuses the public of actively parasitizing and proting from this
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criminality. True to its practice of rewriting the spaces “we” often take for
granted (as discussed earlier), the Armée du salut again “injure[s] the eyes
of the French people” by forcing them to see just how their beautiful sites
of “culture” are constructed on the back of the “barbarism” that is the penal
colonies (En avant, November , ): “Nice would never have become
such a popular city of pleasure [plaisance] had the penal colony not been
transported to Guyana” (Hamp, in Péan , ).
The Armée du salut unequivocally condemned the fully legalized prac-
tice of the penal colonies, as well as challenging the very idea of The Criminal.
It pointedly interrogated its readers’ assumptions about this “type” of person:
“What is a criminal? Is it a man within whom everything is criminal? Or is it
a man who at one moment or another committed crimes?” (Hamp, in Péan
, ). The message is clear: it is society’s duty to save what remains of the
human in these (often dangerous) people, despite the fact that—or rather
precisely because—they are “those who have fallen lowest,” because their
“faces have been eaten away by the cankers of their hearts,” because they
are “disgusting” like “purulent sores” (Peyron, in Péan , ,). Acts of
charity are to be carried out in the face of such ugliness and of such wicked-
ness, without the expectation of recognition and gratitude. It is precisely
by exposing oneself selessly (“disinterestedly”) to such a “heterotopian”
situation, by embracing the rubbish (déchets) of society, that society can be
radically transformed (Peyron, in Péan , ). Instead of entrenching those
who had themselves violated the law further into their asociality by in turn
committing an injustice against them, the Armée du salut advocated that
society should reconceive itself as an “ally” of such miscreants, just as it had,
closer to home, espoused the cause of those who are “a bit frightened, dirty,
sometimes pitiful [lamentables], others [who are] magnicent in their beggar-
liness [magniques dans leur gueuserie]” (En avant, January , ; Hamp, in
Péan , ). By so doing, society could nd itself capable of performing
“miracles”; it could nd itself facilitating that which it previously would have
dismissed as “utopian.” Indeed, “great transformations” can take place in
these people if they are given refuge (Hamp and Peyron, in Péan , , ).
These criminals, some of them murderers, can in turn become lifesavers,
“snatching back from the abyss and from death, other shipwrecked persons
who were about to be swallowed up by the storms of life” (Peyron, in Péan
, ). Cities of refuge, as described in the Bible, protect murderers against
revengers, providing them with spaces for atonement (En avant, March ,
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, and July , ; Joshua :–; Revelation :–). As part of a project
for society as a whole, they are seen as working toward the materialization
here on earth of the future City of God.
3. Le Corbusier and the Radiant Future
The earth is not a prize to be won in a race. . . . [T]here is a place for
everyone under the sun.
. . . The end of the old civilization has come; the face of the earth will
be renewed under a new sun.
—Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, What Is Property?
The whole country will be renewed, renovated, put into action: a
place not only decent but radiant for everyone under the sun.
En avant, December , 
The whole country will be renewed, renovated, put into action. It will
reach that “why” for which one makes revolutions. A place that is not
just decent but radiant for everyone under the sun.
—Le Corbusier, Sur les quatre routes
As has already been stated, Le Corbusier’s “oating asylum” is rarely discussed,
even if boats generally feature explicitly not only in his architectural projects
but also in his writings. Indeed, he esteemed that landlubbers (les terriens),
who are far too set in their traditional ways of living, had a lot to learn from
the “pure, precise, clear, clean, healthy” architecture of ocean liners (,
, ). The neglect of his connection with the Armée du salut is even
more remarkable given his continued collaboration with it, after the Louise
Catherine barge conversion, on the bigger Cité du refuge project. He also
makes explicit, positive references to it. For example, in Sur les quatre routes
Le Corbusier goes so far as to present the Armée du salut as the organization
that can teach the public how to live in the future. Such a recommendation is
no negligible aair coming from someone who so often presented himself as
representing the future. According to Le Corbusier: “Loucheur’s law will only
work if it asks for help from the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army knows
how to detect the poverty-stricken [les misères] and identify decent people [les
braves gens]. It will deal with these cases. Then, being an attentive sister, it will
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teach them how to live in their houses, as knowing how to live is a technique,
and how to live in the lodgings of the new spirit—which can only be industrially
reproduced as a series—requires education” (/, ). The Armée du
salut is here presented as an organization that can keep pace with the spirit of
modernism, ensuring that it settles down into the very fabric of everyday life.
This charitable organization can carry out its mediating work eectively as it
is in close contact with, and has the condence of, ordinary people.
In an earlier book, The Radiant City, Le Corbusier also refers to the
Armée du salut’s community work, praising its ability to make a “direct pub-
lic appeal” in contrast to other, more ocial and therefore ostensibly more
powerful, institutions:
While diplomats and international experts are grinding to a halt in
conferences that fail [the London Economic Conference], the rest of
the world, ready to try something new, is reaching out for basic plea-
sures. These should be dened. The civilisation of money is dying.
An appeal to the conscience of humanity. We are close to a simple
word that could give us a line of conduct which would be like a
trajectory through, above, every obstacle. Ignoring the ruins of our
decaying world, it points up the solution with simplicity, sureness
and clarity. Instead of cling desperately and fearfully to a drifting
bark, the world will move into action, cooperating, taking initiatives,
building, knowing the joys of creativity.
We need builders and we need a strong and simple doctrine.
And we must make up our minds to get rid of the rubbish.
The Salvation Army, having used money for necessities and not for
appearances, found in the country a belief in simple happiness. These people
who act in order to be part of a generous cause—and thereby discover one
of the most precious values of the soul—succeeded in the end in touching
people’s hearts. . . . They were respected even loved. They opened the door
to personal action, personal intervention and participation. They don’t watch
life go by; they’re out seeking their true fortune; the power of understanding.
Pushing aside the display of riches which is measured by the disgusting piling
of one franc on top of another, they take their chances on nding a varied
and sometimes vast fortune: potentials of kindness, action or loyalty. That is
the explanation, the Salvation Army has rediscovered an old currency that
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still works: spiritual values. And people thrive on it: the market has no power
over it. (/, )
Here Le Corbusier presents himself as someone who is keenly aware of
society’s injustices. Highly critical of those in power, he explicitly takes the
side of the Armée du salut as the eective representative of ordinary people
against the dominant order. However, it is not only sympathy for the plight
of those less fortunate that motivates his analysis; the combined forces of
the Armée du salut and ordinary people, including the destitute, are also
presented as embodying the vital values of the (utopian) future.
However, elsewhere in The Radiant City, we encounter a dierent side to
Le Corbusier, one that can easily strike us as far less “socialist,” as far less con-
cerned with the details of ordinary lives, as far less sympathetic—indeed as
downright sinister and, one could say, “dystopian.” In the above quotation, his
analysis of the disease aicting contemporary society of “moral corruption,
embezzlement, betrayal of trust” complemented well the Armée du salut’s
active investment in heterotopian spaces for the poor in the name of a utopian
future for all. However, Le Corbusier’s critique of materialist society then asso-
ciates itself with anti-Semitism, the extreme Right, and Pétainism. His decla-
ration that “we must pull things down. . . . [a]nd throw the corpses onto the
garbage heap” strikes a dissonant chord with the Armée du salut’s investment
in “refuse” (/, ). He appears out of tune with the social commitment
to and creative revalorization of “beggarliness” (gueuserie) as documented in En
Avant (e.g., January , ). However, such discordance should not really be of
surprise to us given the speech Le Corbusier gave at a meeting of “Le Faisceau,”
the rst French fascist group, on May , , when it was inaugurating its new
headquarters on the rue du Faubourg poissonnière, Paris e. In his article “The
New Stage of Fascism. The Way to Success Through Poverty: Three Symbolic
Days Charged with Meaning and Hope” for its newspaper, New Centur y, Georges
Valois explains how Le Corbusier’s speech about the modern city expressed “the
profound thoughts of fascism, of the fascist revolution” (Le nouveau siècle, May
, ). Just like the “genial” Le Corbusier, who paid them a “great honor” by
attending their meeting, fascism also values urbanism; it recognizes the need to
conceive the city as a whole and to “coordinate forces” within an overall plan.
This urban planning breaks with the haphazard constructions of the past. It is to
be carried out in the name of the poor, who have for far too long been subjected
to the consequences of shoddy housing. Valois instrumentalizes the slum-
dwellers, using them to support the fascist cause, when he proclaims that “we
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can no longer accept that anyone should live in extreme poverty [la misère]. This
engagement presupposes a new political, economical and social organization”
(Le nouveau siècle, May , ). Such associations rock the boat; it is as if our
oating asylum for the poor is being hijacked by the wrong sort of people.
Conclusion: Heterotopia, Utopia, and Dystopia
In this article I have analyzed the asile ottant not only as a heterotopian
space within the city of Paris but also as a component of the extensive and
dynamic City of Refuge project. This second aspect of the barge’s function
meant that it was contributing to a wider vision for social transformation,
one that could be called global utopianism, intent on changing the shape and
quality of all society “under the sun.” However, I also considered how this
project was haunted by ugly dystopian features, in the form of the far Right.
To conclude I wish to consider how Foucault’s idea of heterotopia strangely
replays many of these issues, albeit in a lighter mode.
Earlier I made the point that, in the “Of Other Spaces” essay, Foucault
seems to detach “heterotopia” from utopian thinking while also enigmatically
suggesting that, at least in the form of a mirror, they could have a “mixed joint
experience” (/, ; , ). He limits the role heterotopia plays to
just “suspending, neutralising and inversing” other actually existing places,
instead of having the potential to “eace, neutralise and purify” current
societal emplacements (/, ; /, ; , ). He restricts
utopias to “unreal spaces” (/, ; /, ; , ). The reper-
cussions for our analysis of the Armée du salut’s social initiatives would be
that they are simplistically reduced to mere reactions to the negative living
conditions brought about by urbanization. Its various refuges are no longer
appreciated as meaningful attempts to bring about eective change for the
future. Indeed, one of the “tribulations” of Foucault’s idea of heterotopia was
its identication with a negation of history and thereby of the very possibility
of radical change ever taking place (Daniel Defert, in Foucault /, ).
The proposition that the utopian potentiality of “heterotopia” is scaled
down by Foucault between the two versions of the text resonates with another
shady story: I am referring to the occluded “debate” between Foucault and
Marcel Gauchet and Gladys Swain on the subject of madness. Looking back
after Swain’s death at their research on the history of psychiatry, work that in
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eect dismissed Foucault’s theory of “the great connement” of the “mad”
as a “myth,” Gauchet questions why the philosopher never responded to their
serious allegations against him of oversimplication and lack of academic
rigor. Gauchet and Swain had painstakingly documented how inaccurate it
was just to present asylums as repressive heterotopias, even though their dys-
topian features were undeniable. They insisted on how asylums were also part
of a movement that paradoxically could be considered committed to “utopia
as praxis.” Gauchet explains: “[Asylums] embodied a moment of belief in the
possibility of creating ex nihilo in a vacant space outside of society, another
social microcosm, that is at once wholly specic (i.e. that only responds to
its own rules), and yet fully social” (Gauchet and Swain , ). Gauchet
and Swain make it clear that the segregation of the mad in asylums went
hand in hand with a belief that those who had previously been locked into
individual isolation within the “community” were capable of socialization.
Asylums therefore constituted a recognition that these otherwise excluded
people could be integrated into a collective body. Foucault’s silence on this
well-documented issue is taken as a sign of his will to institutional power.
His reputation and authority are constructed on the back of the myth of the
silencing of other voices in those other places (, ).
However, the intrigue surrounding the question of heterotopia and its rela-
tion to utopianism continues further. Gauchet has since announced his return
to “normal politics” and criticized Miguel Abensour’s unrealistic utopianism.
Gauchet’s dismissive categorization of Abensour as a left-wing “revoltist” has
been taken by the latter as conrmation of a “veering toward the Right.” In his
open “Letter of a ‘Revoltist’” to Marcel Gauchet, who has converted to normal
politics, Abensour counterattacks as follows: “‘Normal politics’ is the other name
of the hatred for alterity, of all social others. In a word, it is the contemporary
face of the hatred of utopia. Once one is resigned to ‘normal politics,’ a world
establishes itself where all utopian divergence [l’écart utopique] has disappeared
forever” (, ). For Abensour, the anti-utopian stance of Gauchet prepares
the way for a “dystopian” future: “This closing of society in on itself, this ‘soft’
form of [La Boétie’s] voluntary servitude, besides ignoring the persistence of
utopia throughout history, condemns human society to the repetition of the
same” (, ). Such a closed society, with its assumption of homogeneity,
normality, and conformity, leads directly to totalitarianism (Abensour , ).
It can therefore be seen that documenting the “persistence of utopia through-
out history,” for instance, in the form of the complex heterotopian space that
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was the “oating asylum,” with its heterogeneous, nonconformist, and transient
population, can have far-reaching political consequences for the future.
Notes
My warm thanks go to Roger Palmer for setting me o on this voyage of discovery
with l’asile ottant. I am also indebted to the librarians of the Société de l‘Histoire du
Protestantisme Français who even restored issues of En avant for me so that I could
consult them. The images are reproduced with the kind permission of the Société de
l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français, Paris. All translations from the French are my own,
unless otherwise stated.
Regarding the epigraph, in the earlier audio version of the text “Les hétérotopies,”
Foucault had said: “A boat is . . . fatally exposed to [livré fatalement, “handed over to”]
the sea” (“Utopies et hétérotopies,” France Culture, , on Archives de la radio suisse
). The dierential quality of nite lives is perhaps the main topic opened up by this
exploration of the neglected “heterotopia” that was the asile ottant. See Bauman on
“wasted lives”: “There are always too many of them. ‘Them’ are the fellows of whom
there should be fewer—or better still none at all. And there are never enough of us. ‘Us’
are the folks of whom there should be more” (, ).
. I use “barge” to translate not only péniche but also chaland; both terms are used
by the Armée du salut. However, the boat in question was technically a chaland, which,
according to En avant, June , , tends to be twice the size of a péniche. This is no
negligible dierence if one’s intention is to accommodate  people. Péniche could also
designate a “houseboat.” Indeed, on several occasions in En avant (e.g., July , , and
July , ), it is written: “Everyone knows that ‘les péniches’ are very fashionable . . .
the ‘home’ on the water so appreciated by the British.” Not only is this remark a wink
in the direction of the British originators of the movement, but it is typical of the quite
provocatively ironic reinscription of terms at play in this newspaper. It should always be
borne in mind that this particular “houseboat” was intended for society’s most destitute,
its debris. Also signicant is the very material of the boat: building with concrete might
strike one as most incompatible with buoyancy. However, given the penury of steel
and wood at the end of World War I, Eugène Freyssinet (who later became the pioneer
of prestressed concrete shells), worked with the available concrete mix, seizing the
opportunity for technological innovation. He oversaw the construction in Rouen of a
eet of barges, tugs, and landing stages made of reinforced concrete. The boats were
named after European cities, and the tugs, after American cities, the latter’s nomenclature
presumably symbolic of the U.S. contribution of nancial aid, much needed to pull the
defeated victors out of the postwar abyss.
. “Les sans-adresse, les sans-repos, les sans-taudis,” accessed February , ,
http://www.peniche-lecorbusier.com/sans-adresse.asp.
. It needs to be noted that the barge formed the rst stage of the program for the
City of Refuge as a whole. Accordingly Albin Peyron wrote in En avant (June , ) that
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the “oating asylum” “will be in constant contact with the city of refuge and it must be
organized straightaway.” Given its pivotal importance in the overall City of Refuge program,
it is remarkable that this project has been so little discussed. However, that being said, maybe
we should not be surprised: as we know from their biological origins, heterotopias, which
for society as a whole signal a troubling zone of “crisis” or a “deviation,” can be reabsorbed
by the overpowering body politic, thereby condemning them to oblivion (Foucault
/, ).
. See, for example, Monnier (, ), who describes the Cité du refuge as a “war
machine” that was probably incapable of addressing the needs of its residents for
two reasons: The Salvation Army sought a “spatial and technical transcription” of
their norms of discipline and order; and modernist architecture, being geared up for
“progress,” was intrinsically incompatible with any “charitable” engagement.
. The penal colonies in French Guyana will be discussed later. They form an intrinsic
part of the City of Refuge program.
. Thanks to this localized service, which reached out to the homeless where they
were to be found, “maybe [the destitute] will try to wait until tomorrow” (“Peut-être
l’un d’eux, venant se jeter à l’eau et apercevant des lumières de la péniche, ‘inscription
de l’Armée du Salut, tentera-t-il d’attendre le lendemain”) (Albert Flament, in En avant,
March , ). For analyses of the spatial and temporal dimensions of hospitality, see
Dikec et al. .
. See En avant, June , : “What is the story of the oating asylum? It is a
beautiful and moving one, infused with the perfume of the ower of renunciation.”
. The Princesse de Polignac was already known as a patroness of the arts, in
particular of musicians. Nowadays Constance de Polignac continues this particular
family tradition at Kerbastic: she hosts a classical music festival and provides useful
work for nine socially excluded people on her ecologically sustainable estate, fruit of her
collaboration with Pierre Rabhi.
. These factual, poetical, and metaphorical topics will be explored in section .
. See En avant, November , : “L’armée du salut veut blesser les yeux du peuple
de France par le vrai, elle veut lui jeter la lumière à poignées terribles.” (The Armée du
salut wants to injure the eyes of the French people with the truth; it wants to thrust
stfuls of light at them.) The Armée du salut’s activities between  and , i.e.,
leading up to the barge/refuge project, and its initial years are the subject of section .
. At the moment of writing the death toll of the latest refugee tragedy on the shores
of Lampedusa on October , , was  people. The Guardian (October , ) reported:
“Divers searching for victims . . . entered the hold of the sunken vessel for the rst time on
Monday to nd dozens of corpses packed in so tightly they were still on their feet. . .. One
diver [said]: ‘The image I cannot shake from my mind is of those bodies packed into the
wreck, almost all with staring eyes and their arms raised, as if they were calling for help.’
. . . [A] re service spokesman [said:] ‘I have seen everything, but the fact the migrants
in the hold had absolutely no chance to escape is what makes this so shocking.’” In stark
contrast, the “oating asylum” was a project whose challenge lay in “transforming a vehicle
conceived for transportation [of nonhuman materials] by making it comfortable” (En
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avant September , ). See also En avant, November , , for details of the conversion
process of the space into one suitable for “human cargo.”
. The relationship between heterotopias and utopias will be explored below.
. Le Corbusier’s contribution to this Armée du salut project will be discussed in
section .
. See also Le Corbusier’s association of the birth of “new machinist civilization”
with an urban planning that can learn the lessons of the watery city of Venice, with its
“harmonious intimacy” (/, –).
. In “Fluid Geography,” Buckminster Fuller explains how sailors, unlike landlubbers,
necessarily deal “directly and daily with the mechanics of the stars” as they circumnavigate
the globe. He evocatively states that “without thinking of themselves as cosmogonists,
sailors naturally develop a spontaneous cosmic viewpoint. They view the world from
outside; they ‘come upon’ the land” (, ). For Fuller, terrestrially bounded inhabitants
carve the surface of the earth up into immobilized places located in the East or West,
North or South. By contrast, sailors have a more dynamic sensibility of space. Riding the
waves, negotiating the currents, they “see everything in motion” (, ). They keenly
experience the interconnectedness and variability of the globe’s earthy-watery surface. For
sailors directionality is paramount; their experience of the earth’s sphericity is continually
informed by the direction they set out from and where they head to. For them all placing is
transitional, temporary, temporalized, and relative. See Morgan , in press, for more on
“uid geography” and its relation to cosmopolitics and human rights.
. For Conrad, the particularity of Marlow is that he is not just a sailor but also a
wanderer. This is not the case of all sailors, who, when they are not at sea, can lead quite
sedentary lives (Conrad , ). Marlow’s journeyings take him far “out of himself”;
the space he experiences, so dierent from the spaces we emotionally and symbolically
manage to invest with phenomenological meanings, “gnaws away at” and “gullies” him;
see Foucault /,  ; , . I note that “to gully” (raviner) means “to make
deep channels in, by the action of water.” This connection with the action of water is
lost in Miskowiec’s translation (“claws and knaws”). Those who frequented the Armée
du salut’s boat had also been weathered in these ravaging ways by the spaces they had
traversed, especially by water (rain, frost, snow).
. During the summertime the boat moved upstream to Pecq, where it
“metamorphosed” into a “pleasure yacht” for young men who would not otherwise be
able to aord a holiday break (see En avant, July , ).
. En avant (August , ) is drawing on Victor Hugo’s Les misérables: “Man
overboard! So what? The ship won’t stop. The wind is blowing, the dark vessel has to
continue with its itinerary. It carries on. . .. The sea is society’s inexorable night into
which the penal system throws the condemned. The sea is the immensity of misery. The
lost soul, dragged along by the current, can become a corpse, who will resuscitate him?”
(Hugo , , ). Evidently, half a century after Hugo’s classic indictment of social
injustice, the Armée du salut keenly felt that the same desperation was at large in its
world. Almost one century later maybe the global situation is still not that much better
today in ours.
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. A provocative attitude is also detectable in the article “A New Type of Boat” (“Un
bateau nouveau genre”), where Pecq, the summer location of the boat, is proposed as a
possible new destination for relatively privileged Parisians in search of a pleasant weekend
excursion (see note ). These citadin “innocents,” who are unacquainted with the lives
of others, lose their bearings when encountering the “oating asylum.” The Salutistes
come to their rescue: “No, it isn’t a transport boat, nor a shing boat, neither a pleasure
boat belonging to some rich millionaire, even less a war boat. It is quite simply a boat of
charity [c’est tout simplement un bateau de bienfaisance].”
. The poetic quality of many of the articles in En avant merits it being better translated
and better known. Here is the original text: “Ce sont de pauvres hères, loqueteux et transis,
la face hirsute et sale, le dos courbé, traînant la savate, qui, tout en allant péniblement vers
le euve, ont l’air de vouloir s’y noyer.”
. The original text reads: “Après les fatigues et les sourances d’un jour d’hiver, ces
ramasseurs de mégots, ces ouvriers de portières, ces hommes-sandwichs, ces coltineurs
aux Halles, au lieu de passer la nuit, étendus sous les ponts, ou recroquevillés dans des
renforcements, de porte cochères vont demander une douche, un lit, un repas, et surtout
un réconfort moral à ce chaland hospitalier, que l’Armée du Salut a spécialement aménagé
pour eux.”
. The original reads: “L’eau qui clapote doucement sur les ancs du chaland, bercera
leur sommeil, en leur murmurant que tout passe, même la misère.” The recurrent boat
and water imagery again appeared in En avant, November , , where it is also used
metaphorically: “Sleep you courageous ones. You can sleep and dream like everyone else.
Good night! You are on a real barge [chaland] but also on The Barge, which is heading up
The River.”
. Flooding also features in En avant, April , , and March , . The article “Sowers
of Catastrophe” not only reports on the ood damage in the Midi, clearly explaininghow
shortsighted deforestation carried out for material prots leads to such ecological
devastation. This green consciousness-raising also provides the basis for a parallel analysis
of how the lesson that “we harvest what we sow” also applies to human relations: “Natural
catastrophes are the result of egotism, lack of foresight on the part of men, and also of their
desire for the lucrative. Moral catastrophes have the same causes.” The edition culminates in
a solicitation for donations to the Salvation Army, as “sowers of good seed”: “If you cannot
give your life, give some money.”
. This citation in En avant is an extract from Pierre Hamp’s “The Famine of Lodgings
for the Single Woman,” which publicized the work done at the Armée du salut’s “Palais
de la femme.” Hamp wrote the preface for Péan’s Terre de bagne () about the Guyanan
penal colonies (discussed below).
. The original reads: “Le trottoir était gras. Ils arrivaient par parquets informes et
noirs, comme si l’ombre se morcelait. On entendait dans ce millier d’êtres désastreux
des grognements de rongeurs d’os. On voyait des remous d’eau nocturne. Parfois de
bourrades.” The passage cited resonates with Foucault’s discussion of heterotopias in
relation to the linguistic spaces of aphasiacs wherein are created “a multiplicity of tiny,
fragmented regions in which nameless resemblances agglutinate things into unconnected
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ideas” (, xviii). See below for how this spatiality, relieved of its misery, should also
nd its place in the society to come and further discussion about this linguistic use of
heterotopia.
. Foucault’s later version of the “heterotopia” piece (i.e., “Des espaces autres”
[/; see also ]) scales down the potential of utopian thinking and practice for
bringing about radical societal change. The implications of, and maybe reasons for, this
shift will be revisited in my conclusion.
. See the discussion of the penal colonies (les bagnes) below.
. See Nietzsche , §: “Every progress of the whole has to be preceded by
a partial weakening. The strongest natures preserve the type, the weaker help it to
evolve.— Something similar occurs in the case of the individual human being; rarely is a
degeneration, a mutilation, even a vice and physical or moral damage in general without
an advantage in some other direction.” Nietzsche might have found it “challenging” to be
thus used in favor of the Salvation Army given his numerous criticisms of it (e.g., , 
[], ; , §, ; my thanks go to Duncan Large for these references). However,
Nietzsche is discussing the English Salvation Army and reacting strongly to the claim to
“heal” or “cure” the “sick” suggested by the German term Heilsarmee. My understanding
of the French Armée du salut, at least during Peyron’s period, is radically dierent,
especially when it comes to identifying “sickness” and its implications for society.
. It is also an organization that believes that homosexuality is a transgression of
divine law, inasmuch as it damages the family, considered to be the basis of society.
However, apparently homosexuals who do not practice their sexuality are not to be
blamed, and social and medical help can be oered for “their psychological sexual
deviation” (Delcourt , ). Given this reactionary stance as regards homosexuality, it
is quite ironic that our intriguing story of the barge starts with Zillhardt, the mourning
lesbian lover.
. See below for a discussion of the Salvation Army’s own critique of such stopgap
measures.
. I have concentrated on the period . The rst mention of l’asile ottant in En
avant was on June , . The boat was inaugurated on January , . En avant reports on
this event that “long before the ocial opening of the oating asylum on the st January, a
large number of those seeking shelter were stationed at the entry to the Louise-Catherine.”
A couple of weeks after it opened its doors, the Salutistes wrote: “It is already too small!
We had to turn  or  away. Lieutenant Berruex is overwhelmed. They receive bread for
the body. Bread for the soul is also put at their disposal” (En avant, January , ).
. For example, the Salvation Army criticizes sacramental rituals that are just carried
out “sterilely,” hence its refusal of baptism and communion; see Delcourt , –.
. The “utopian socialist” Saint-Simon appropriated and converted the military term
avant-garde in the name of radical societal transformation and eventual universal peace. The
Salvation Army presents itself as operating in a similar demilitarizing way. For example, the
“oating asylum” is described as a boat “built during the war to take supplies to Paris [that
will] soon serve the cause for peace” (En avant, June , ). Also, its quasi-military uniform
is intended to make members clearly visible and identiable as believers in Jesus, thus
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sparing them the need to preach lessons and proselytize and thereby permitting them to
devote themselves fully, in a “disinterested” way, to socially positive action (En avant, August
, ). Implicit in this conspicuous activity was a critique of the Church as an established
institution; it was considered by the Salvation Army to indulge in too much ritualistic
evangelizing from high pulpits, thereby reneging on its originary Christian mission
(Delcourt , ). See En avant, April , , for a comparison between the Salvation
Army’s attire and that of Francis of Assisi and his disciples (who wore the same tunics as
street sweepers). Like the latter, members of the Salvation Army considered their uniform
the best sermon possible, a portable testimony to a life dedicated to serving those in need.
. The Salvation Army was founded in the East End of London by William Booth
in , in Scotland in , and in the United States and Australia in . Preparations
were begun for setting up an organization in Argentina and Uruguay in ; the
Salvation Army arrived in Antigua and St. Vincent in . The three women sent to
Paris in  were Catherine, the eldest daughter of Booth; Florence Soper; and Adelaïde
Cox. Allegedly they were heckled and mocked by the ungrateful locals of l’impasse
d’Angoulême, rue Pierre Timbaud Paris e, as they held forth in broken French about
the attendant dangers of poverty (Delcourt , ). Undaunted the women soldiered
on, not only giving speeches in the poor areas of Paris but also addressing “high society”
apparently at  Boulevard des capucines, which earlier, in –, had been part of the
HQ of Victor Hugo’s newspaper, L’événement, until its closure by the authorities. After
the transplantation to France, the Salvation Army’s next European outlet was, maybe
rather surprisingly, Latvia, in . By  the Salvation Army was active in eighty-two
countries, having set up , organizations or centers of activity.
. However, it should be pointed out that, in spite of being the highly successful head
of the French wing of the Salvation Army from  to , Peyron was ultimately obliged
to retire from this post and become a simple soldier (not even a ranked ocer) by General
Higgins, who was in overall command at the London-based HQ at the time. The reason was
Peyron’s liaison, following Blanche’s death in , with a woman more than fteen years
younger than him. His request to remarry, for he apparently had to ask, was disapprovingly
turned down by Higgins! (See Aubin , .)
. Compared with Germany and Great Britain, France was slow to adopt the
telephone as a modern means of communication, which is maybe why Peyron mentions
it specically in this weekly chronicle for En avant.
. See En avant, November , : “This gigantic City will prolong its action and no
hospitalisé will stay for long. He has to climb back up the slope and if he needs long-term
help, he will go to other operations, ocial and private, which will be in liaison with the City.
This social center will be the only one working in this way in France and this particularity
will increase its eectiveness tenfold.” Hospitalisé poses me with a translation problem. The
City of Refuge was no hospital, although—another instance of the Armée du salut explicitly
reinecting military terminology (see note )—the expression “an evacuation hospital” is
employed in En avant (March , , and July , ). Given the playful prose, I imagine
that hospitalisé is also meant to evoke those to whom “hospitality” has been oered.
. See, for example, Monnier , cited in note .
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. The Armée du salut identies the very “multiplicity” of good works available at
large in society as the problem, inasmuch as these various initiatives do not amount to a
coordinated eort and therefore lack the momentum needed to bring about large-scale,
long-term change (see En avant, July , ). Given that the lack of communication
among various social services is often given today as the reason why action was not taken
to prevent tragic cases of abuse, there appears to be a lot that can still be learned from
the City of Refuge’s vision.
. The denigration of utopianism is typical of many utopians; see, e.g., Fourier:
“What is utopia? It is the dream of goodness without the means of execution, without
an eective method” (, ). However, despite often being disparaged as ineectual
dreaming, utopianism can produce powerful visions (see Morris , ). It can stem
from principles, not just from well-meaningness; the peace it strives for is polyphonic,
even discordant; it does not hark back to a lost golden age but, rather, struggles to realize
a project for a future society.
. Once again the original text is poetically written: “Le nomade, le chemineau, le
fatigué, le désespéré, le meurt-de-faim, le sans-taudis, le sans-foi, le sans-lieu, pourront y
venir à toute heure avec la certitude d’être accueillis, nourris, couchés, vêtus, consolés,
conseillés et soignés. Ce rêve fou qui coûtera  millions de francs commence à se
traduire dans la réalité.”
. This vocabulary is evocative of the work of Charles Fourier, for whom hospitality
was of prime importance. See Morgan , –.
. See En avant, February , : “The City of Refuge seems to be creating a growing
interest in administrative circles and in the press.” This public attraction can be compared
with that expected by Fourier for his phalanstery. See Benjamin ,  Wa,, on Fourier
and the “explosive” propagation of the utopian project, as well as Schérer , .
. Despite Engels’s identication of the Salvation Army’s almost subversive potential,
akin to “early Christianity,” cited at the beginning of this section, here its model of
societal transformation by example is what he expressly criticized in “Socialism: Utopian
and Scientic” when discussing the theory and practice of Robert Owen ().
. Henri Dartigue considers that the initiatives of the Armée du salut work well as
people see that the Salutistes are “unegotistical, dedicated to their social vision and not
intent on religious conversion” (cited in En avant, July , ).
. Again the French original displays a delightful enjoyment of its own poetics, of
which here is only a mere taste: “Anciens riches, nouveaux pauvres, joueurs décavés,
maladifs, soureteux, petits retraités, veufs inconsolables, ilotes, originaux, avares,
prodigues aussi, qui séjournent une semaine ou deux, faute de pouvoir continuer
la grande vie jusqu’à la n du mois. Etrangers, enn, mais étrangers sans papiers;
professeurs de leur langue, globe-trotters à pied, à bicyclette, en patinette, sur les
mains ou à reculons, fakirs, étudiants, clergymans, popes slaves, journalistes de tous
les Proche-Orients et ingénieurs de tous les centre-Europe, ls de famille et sans
famille, communistes, fascistes, anarchistes etc . . ., mais tous avec des papiers, un
chapeau de feutre, une belle conversation, des manières polies et un sourire de bon
aloi.”
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. The proliferation of dierences is a key feature of Fourier’s phalanstery (see, e.g.,
Fourier , ).
. Le Corbusier uses exactly the same words in Sur les quatre routes (/); see
below.
. See Figure , #, and note  above.
. In  Albert Londres (–) had already visited the penal colonies and
published damning reports about what went on there. See also Henri Charrière’s novel
Papillon () and the Shaner lm with Steve McQueen (). Charrière responded to
detractors in his sequel Banco (). See En avant, September , , for an image of a
former convict turned buttery-hunter.
. Terre de bagne has a preface by Pierre Hamp, an introduction by Albin Peyron, and
illustrations by André Labarthe. Pierre Hamp (), who wrote several wonderful
articles in En avant (cited in this article), sounds like a fascinating character: His real name
was Henri Bourillon, and he was a trilingual autodidact. He started work as an apprentice
cake-maker in Paris and was then a cook in England and in Spain. He was employed
on the railways in the north of France, as well as being a journalist. He studied at the
Popular (People’s) University of Belleville and wrote around forty works on the plight of
the working class. Péan () was leader of the Armée du salut from  to ;
he started working for the organization at the age of eighteen as a driver in the Franche-
Comté and, as is already apparent, committed himself to the plight of the bagnards.
. Guantanamo Bay bears comparison with such places as French Guyana, except that
there one does not even have ctional “liberation” and the place itself is a (dystopian)
nonplace, not even ocially an extension of national territory, unlike French Guyana,
which was under French jurisdiction even if there, too, its existence violated the very
idea of justice.
. In an interview, Charles Péan points out that this repatriation was a success, with
only thirty-seven ex-prisoners recommitting criminal oenses (see radio interview with
Dominique Fabre, November , , on Archives de la radio suisse ).
. This sort of “liberation” puts me again in mind of Heart of Darkness, where Marlow
describes “emancipated” slaves left to die by the roadside “whose moribund shapes were
as free as air—and nearly as thin” (Conrad , ).
. “There is no document of culture which is not at the same a document of
barbarism” (Benjamin , ).
. See Derrida (Derrida and Dufourmantelle ) on how unconditional
(“disinterested”) hospitality involves exposure and risk.
. See also En avant, July , , for an vivid image of a wicked person tormented by
nocturnal demons.
. Gueuserie is another Armée du salut neologism.
. The example is given of ex-convicts in Australia whose descendants have become
sources of inspiration for legislators (Peyron, in Péan , –).
. See the images of the mother and child transformed from wretchedness into
joyfulness by the City of Refuge in En avant, March , .
. As it is by now to be expected, the metaphor of the sea is again used in this passage.
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. As described in the book of Revelation (:–), the City of God evokes
Expressionist and modernist architecture with its precious stones and clear glass. The
city has no need of exterior illuminations as light emanates from it. Its gates are always
open, and those who arrive are all pure of heart and mind. See also Psalms :: “There
is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the
tabernacles of the most High.”
. Proudhon features in Le Corbusier’s Trois établissements humains (/). In
the interesting section “Conditions morales” written by Hyacinthe Dubreuil, a former
worker and foreman in the car industry, there is an allusion to “proudhonian philosophy”
in relation to useful work and the joy of living (in Le Corbusier /, ). For
a more sinister “proudhonian” association, see below for references to Georges Valois,
a member of the extreme right-wing Action Française and the Cercle Proudhon.
My thanks go to Tim Benton for a discussion about the ambiguity of Le Corbusier’s
personality.
. “Le pays entier sera reconduit, rénové, mis dans l’action. Il obtiendra ce pourquoi
on fait des révolutions: une place, non seulement décente mais radieuse, pour chacun, au
soleil” (Le Corbusier /, ).
. Evidently the City of Refuge and the Unités d’habitation resemble ocean liners.
See, e.g., “Des yeux qui ne voyent pas. . . . Les paquebots,” in L’esprit nouveau no.  (Le
Corbusier ).
. See my reference above to Buckminster Fuller on seamen as “uid geographers”
compared with “landlubbers.” See also Le Corbusier ; Serenyi , .
. Loucheur’s law (July , ) involved the state bank for the rst time in loans at
low interest rates for individuals to purchase plots of land on which to build their own
homes.
. More dystopian eects permeate the City of Refuge project when one delves into
some of the details of the construction sites themselves. The “oating asylum” had
serious problems with the toilets, which resulted in the barge being ooded several times
with feces. There are several distressed letters from the Salvation Army to the architects
begging for the sewerage system to be adapted to something “more suitable” to the
residents of the barge (see Major Vanderkam to Albin Peyron,  June  and  July
, about the septic tanks of the Maison Stupel, at the Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris).
This presumably means that the homeless, not usually able to relieve their bowels easily,
did so to a greater extent that is usual once safely and comfortably accommodated on
the barge. As for the City of Refuge building itself, the exchanges about the supposedly
“exact ventilation” (respiration exacte) of the modernist building and its incompatibility
with, in particular, infantile life are shocking: Le Corbusier reveals himself to be not
only intransigent but completely disdainful of the Salvation Army including its doctors,
who are seriously concerned for the well-being of the babies and the other refugees.
They apparently could not breathe suciently well in such a hermetically sealed and
hence overheated and underventilated environment (e.g., Le Corbusier to Gustave Lyon,
 September ; Dr. Renaud,  October  and [spelled Renault]  October ;
M. Isely,  October  and  November ; and Albin Peyron,  November ;
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see also Isely to Le Corbusier,  November  and  December , at the Fondation
LeCorbusier, Paris). Le Corbusier writes to the Princesse de Polignac (December)
deploring such responses as being those of reactionary traditionalists who are incapable
of understanding that modernism is the future.
. See the image—with the caption “awakening of cleanliness”—of the riots on
February , , in Paris by the combined forces of the extreme Right, which resulted in
three hundred injured and fteen deaths (Le Corbusier /, ). See Richards ,
–, for an explanation of its anti-Semitic motivation and of l’Action Française. For the
complementary reference to Pétain, see Le Corbusier /, .
. Le Faisceau can be translated as “The Bundle” or “The Cluster” or even “The
Network.”
. Of course with utopias one should always ask the question: “Whose utopia?”
Fascists would not consider their worldview to be “dystopian” at all.
. This expression evokes the utopian thinking of Charles Fourier and his l’écart absolu.
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René Schérer (born 1922) is lamentably almost unknown to the Anglo-American world as his work has, as yet, not been translated . He is one of the main specialists of the French “utopian socialist”, Charles Fourier (1772-1837), and a major thinker in his own right. He is the author of more than twenty books and co-editor of the journal Chimères. Colleague and friend at Vincennes university (Paris 8) of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Rancière, Jean-François Lyotard, François Châletet, Alain Brossat, Georges Navet, Miguel Abensour, Pierre Macherey… he continues to host seminars at Paris 8 (now located at St. Denis). He is a living testimony to a radical past, and a continuing inspiration to a new generation of young thinkers. This article aims to convey the original specificity of his understanding of anarchism. By so doing, it will stress the importance of his work for any thinking concerned with a politicised resistance to social conformity and the supposed “state of things” today.
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No better words than these written by Emil Kaufmann can summarize Le Corbusier's aim during his “Period of Invention,” stretching from 1918 to 1922.2 To reconcile the irreconcilable, that is, to reconcile such polarities as private and public, individuality and collectivity, personal and impersonal, unity and diversity—just to name a few examples—was one of Le Corbusier's most urgent tasks during this period of search and invention.