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Memories of the Dreyfus Case and Émile Zola’s J’Accuse

By W. K.

21.05.06 | Upon being accused by London’s Mayor Ken Livingstone of supporting terrorism against the government of Hugo Chávez, Aleksander Boyd right away packed a powerful punch that hit both Livingstone and Chávez where they were most vulnerable. It was a powerful and damning manifesto. We were reminded of the courage shown by Émile Zola when, on the front page of the Parisian literary sheet, L’Aurore, on January 13, 1898, he published his famous manifesto, J’Accuse, where he condemns the actions of the French government, who by allowing itself to be manipulated by a cohort of military officers, sent to prison on Devil’s Island, near Cayenne in French Guiana, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, falsely accused of treason against his country, under trumped up charges motivated by the military with the backing of the blindly mistaken zeal of the majority of the citizenry.

A servile judiciary reacted by allowing, just two weeks after publication of J’Accuse, the indictment of Zola, followed by sixteen days of a hasty and celebrated trial, whereupon he was convicted of libel against the military. He chose to flee to England. The exile lasted but a short time and he managed to return to Paris in time to see the fall of the government. This is called asymmetrical warfare. A lone citizen armed with a pen, rather than a sword, waging war against the almighty ship of state. His life had a sad ending as he died of carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from a clogged chimney; it is not clear whether this was by accident or by deliberate action by persons unknown.

After Captain Dreyfus’ many years of suffering, and long past the death of Zola, the audacious I Accuse, indeed an indictment of literary style, ultimately caused the trial to be reopened, bringing about the acquittal of the innocent captain.

Manifestos of epic proportions are few and far between. It would be well worth our while to be able to watch Martin Luther nail his Ninety Five Theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg. Aleksander Boyd likewise nailed his Indictment of Thirty-Seven Points, not to a church door, but electronically and remotely from London. The thirty-seven points would easily exceed ninety-nine if we were to include other crimes and misdemeanors we know exist.

Aleksander Boyd puts himself in the shoes of Hugo Chávez and says words to the effect of “It was I, Hugo Chávez, who did order this and that,” a well-timed use of the “plano autoreflexivo,” a literary device first seen in the novels of the Catalonian author Juan Goytisolo, written in the late 1960´s concurrently with those of Gabriel García Márquez.

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