03 Jan 2008

France and Modernism

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Lee Siegel reviewing Peter Gay’s Modernism — The Lure of Heresy From Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond.

if the French provided the most extreme assaults on Western rationality — Rimbaud’s “disorientation of the senses,” André Breton’s celebration of primal instincts stored in the unconscious, André Gide’s enthusiasm for the “motiveless” crime, Antonin Artaud’s “Theater of Cruelty,” Maurice Blanchot’s declaration of the death of the author — the reason was simple. … In France, civilization is invincible and eternal. Its immutable stability makes opposition to it all the more cheerfully ferocious. You can hurl the most incredible rhetorical and intellectual violence against French custom and convention and still have time for some conversation in the cafe, un peu de vin, a delicious dinner and, of course, l’amour. And in the morning, you extricate yourself from such sophisticated coddling — the result of centuries of art and artifice — and rush back to the theoretical barricades.

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Dominique R. Poirier

I cannot but agree with what Lee Siegel says in this paragraph, to be honest.

Political plurality is to French history what pluralism is to the American people as proponent of Western rationality.

Today’s French identity is the enlightening heritage of a rich succession of monarchic, revolutionary, imperialist, monarchic again, imperialist again, revolutionary again, and socialist-liberal democratic regimes; and Cartesian logic and equality are nothing but parts of the huge cultural wealth of this country.

Today’s leading proponent of Western rationality is the outcome of a melting pot made up of Poles, English, Swedes, Germans, Italians, Dutch, Jewish, Russian, Spaniards, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and many other else foreigners, French included; and belief in a common identity put under the aegis of freedom of thought is nothing but pluralism.

The former often finds its inspiration in the latest experiments of the later, which itself makes profit of the past experiments of the former.

And when the former happens to takes umbrage of its differences with the later, it still has the recourse to enjoy some conversation in the cafe, un peu de vin, a delicious dinner and, of course, l’amour.

I appreciate Modernism too, as it stresses on freedom of expression.



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