Thursday, March 29, 2018

Daily Bread by Jacques Derrida


April 22, 1993


Among the traits that characterize a certain experience that belongs to my generation, that is, an experience that will have lasted at least forty years, and which is not over, I will isolate first of all a troubling paradox. I am speaking of the troubling effects of déjà vu, and even of a certain toujours déjà vu [‘always seen’]. I recall this malaise of perception, hallucination, and time because of the theme that brings us together this evening: “whither Marxism?”

For many of us the question has the same age as we do. In particular for those who, and this was also my case, opposed, to be sure, de facto “Marxism” or “communism” (the Soviet Union, the International of the Communist Parties, and everything that results from them, which is to say so very many things. . .), but intended at least never to do so out of conservative or reactionary motivations or even moderate right-wing or republican positions. For many of us, a certain (and I emphasize certain) end of communist Marxism did not await the recent collapse of the USSR and everything that depends on it throughout the world.  All that started –all that was even déjà vu, indubitably – at the beginning of the ‘50s. Therefore, the question that brings us here this evening – ‘whither Marxism?’ –resonates like an old repetitions. It was already, but in an altogether different way, the question that imposed itself on the many young people who we were at the time. The same question had already sounded. The same, to be sure, but in an altogether different way. And the difference in the sound, that is what is echoing this evening. It is still evening, it is always nightfall along the “ramparts,” on the battlements of an old Europe at war. With the other and with itself.

Why? It was the same question, already, as final question. Many young people today (of the type “reader-consumers of Fukuyama” or of the type “Fukuyama” himself) probably no longer sufficiently realize it: the eschatological themes of the “end of history,” of the “end of Marxism,” of the “end of philosophy,” of the “ends of man,” of the “last man” and so forth were, in the ‘50s, that is, forty years ago, our daily bread. We had this bread of the apocalypse in our mouths naturally, already, just as naturally as that which  I nicknamed after the fact, in 1980, the “apocalyptic tone in philosophy.”

What was its consistency?  What did it taste like? It was, on the one hand, the reading or analysis of those whom we can nickname the classics of the end.  They formed the canon of the modern apocalypse (end of History, end of Man, end of Philosophy, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, with their Kojevian codicil and the codicils of Kojeve himself). It was, on the other hand and indissociably, what we had known or what some of us for quite some time no longer hid from concerning totalitarian terror in all the Eastern countries, all the socio-economic disasters of Soviet bureaucracy, the Stalinism of the past and the neo-Stalinism in process ( roughly speaking, from the Moscow trials to the repression in Hungary, to take only these minimal indices). Such was no doubt the element in which what is called deconstruction developed – and one can understand nothing of this period of deconstruction, notably in France, unless one takes this historical entanglement into account. Thus, for those with experience (both philosophical and political), for us, I venture to say, the media parade of the current discourse on the end of history and the last man looks most often like a tiresome anachronism. At least up to a certain point that will have to be specified later  on. Something of this tiresomeness, moreover, comes across in the body of today’s most phenomenal culture: what one hears, reads, and sees, what is most mediatized in Western capitals. As for those who abandon themselves to that discourse with the jubilation of youthful enthusiasm, they look like late-comers, a little as if it were possible to take still the last train after the last train – and yet be late to an end of history.

How can one be late to the end of history? A question for today. It is serious because it obliges one to reflect again, as we have been doing since Hegel, on what happens and deserves the name of event, after history; in obliges one to wonder if the end of history is but the end of a certain concept of history. Here is perhaps one of the questions that should be asked of those who are not content just to arrive late to the apocalypse and to the last train of the end, if I can put it like that, without being out of breath, but who find the means to puff out their chests with the good conscience of capitalism, liberalism, and the virtues of parliamentary democracy – a term with which we designate not parliamentarism and political representation in general, but the present, which is to say in fact, past forms of electoral and parliamentary apparatus.

We are going to have to complicate this outline in a moment. We will have to put forward another reading of the media’s anachronism and of good conscience. But so that one might better appreciate the discouraging question of déjà vu, which risks causing us to drop all this literature on the end of history and other similar diagnosis, I will quote only (from so many other possible examples) an essay from 1959, whose author also published a fiction already entitled, in 1957, The Last Man. About thirty-five years ago, then, Maurice Blanchot devoted an article, “The End of Philosophy,” to a good half-dozen books from the ‘50s.  They were all testimonies from former Marxists or communists, and just in France. Blanchot would later write “On an Approach to Communism” and “Marx’s Three Voices.” With the sober brilliance of an incomparable density, in a manner that is at once discreet and dazzling, their utterances are less the full response to a question than the measure of that to which we must respond today, inheritors that we are of more than one form of speech, as well as of an injunction that is itself disjointed.

Let us consider first of all, the radical and necessary heterogeneity of an inheritance, the difference without opposition that has to mark it, a “disparate” and a quasi-juxtaposition without dialectic (the very plural of what we will later call Marx’s spirits). An inheritance is never gathered together, it is never one with itself. Its presumed unity, if there is one, can consist only in their injunction to reaffirm by choosing. “One must” means one must filter, sift, criticize, one must sort out different possibilities that inhabit the same injunction. And inhabit it in a contradictory fashion around a secret. If the readability of a legacy were given, natural, transparent, univocal, if it did not call for and at the same time defy interpretation, we would never have anything yo inherit from it. We would be affected by it as a cause – natural or genetic. One always inherits from a secret –which says “read me, will you ever be able to do so?’  The critical choice called for by any reaffirmation of the inheritance is also, like memory itself, a condition of finitude. The infinite does not inherit, it does not inherit (from) itself. The injunction itself( it always says “choose and decide from among what you inherit” can only be one by dividing itself, tearing itself apart, differing/deferring itself, by speaking at the same time several times- in several voices. For example:

In Marx, and always coming from Marx, we see three kinds of voices gathering force and taking form, all three of which are necessary, but separate and more than opposed, as if they were juxtaposed. The disparate that holds them together designates a plurality of demands to which, since Marx, everyone who speaks or writes can not fail to feel himself subjected, unless he is to feel himself failing in everything.

To fail in everything, it is true, will always remain possible. Nothing will ever give us any insurance against this risk, still less against this feeling. And a “since Marx” continues to designate the place of assignation from which we are pledged. But if there is a pledge or assignation, injunction or promise, if there has been this appeal beginning with a word that resounds before us, the “since” marks a place and a time that doubtless precedes us, but as to be as much in front of us as before us. Since the future, then, since the past as absolute future, since the non-knowledge and non-advent of an event, of what remains to be: to do and to decide (which is first of all, no doubt, the sense of the “to be or not to be” of Hamlet – and of any inheritor who, let us say, comes to swear before a ghost). If ‘Since Marx” names a future-to-come as much as a past, the past of a proper name, it is because the proper of a proper name will always remain to come. A secret. It will remain to come  not like the future now [maintenant] of that which “holds together” the “disparate” (and Blanchot says the impossible of a “disparate” that itself “holds together”;  it remains to be thought how a disparate could still, itself, hold together, and if one can even speak of the disparate itself, selfsame, of a sameness without property). What has been uttered “since Marx” can only promise or remind one to maintain together, in a speech that defers, deferring not what it affirms but deferring just so as to affirm, to affirm justly, so as to have the power (a power without power) to affirm the coming of the event, its future-to-come itself.



Sunday, March 25, 2018

Smithy by Allen Shelton


Deer Hunters found what was left of Smithy’s body suckled into the gray mud at the edge of the lake on the top of Cheaha Mountain. The body was hidden away like a forgotten Christmas present in the bulrushes. Smithy was now a part of the lake at the highest elevation in Alabama and moved imperceptibly with the subtle currents. Smithy suddenly had grace and a moral density he could never have imagined. The flannel shirt and the Plain Pocket jeans he was wearing were almost translucent. His feet were bare. Whatever he had in his pockets was gone. He used to carry a big pocket knife and a wad of keys on a strap connected to his belt. I think the knife was an Uncle Henry with a bone handle. It had been a year since he had disappeared. His pit bull had starved to death on his chain before anybody realized he was gone. Smithy lived alone on a small farm littered with the ruins of wrecked tractors and ramshackle outbuildings. He had never married. He didn’t have any friends. He had killed old man Snyder in the road with a shotgun as he was bearing down on him in his three-quarter-ton Ford.. They had been feuding for years over their property line. Smithy’s corpse was a good forty miles from home, the longest trip he had taken in years.

Smithy had dug the spillway out of the Big Lake on my grandfather’s farm. It wasn’t a graceful cut. Smithy plowed a ravine for one hundred and thirty-five yards through the growth of sweet gums, water oaks and tulip poplars. The sides were cut straight up and down. Tree roots curled out into the air seven feet above the muck like arms grabbing for a hand. From the top of Crooked Mountain a mile and a half away the ravine looked like a moccasin snake’s carcass strung through the trees. The mountain itself was a snake, a piece of Rattlesnake Mountain that reached south towards the flatlands and north towards the Appalachians.

The valley around my grandfather’s farm was a network of ruins –teetering wooden houses, graves falling into shallow yawns, dilapidated barns –over laid with brightly colored houses and trailers on green scraggily lawns. What had been small cattle farms and tiny cornfields were turning into residential properties. Smithy’s house was a rough-cut box cobbled together out of exposed insulation, sheets of fiberglass, and asphalt shingles. He and his shotgun were out of sync with the air conditioners, vinyl siding, and higher property values. But there were other notable features in the landscape. Scattered through the valley were long aluminum chicken houses that floated like moored dirigibles in the full sun, each spreading the smell of chicken shit for three-quarters of a mile in all directions. On the dirt road that wound through Crooked Mountain were piles of garbage mixed with refrigerators, melting horses, and cows with beetles swarming over their guts next to stands of deciduous azaleas and oakleaf hydrangeas. Objects, flora, and fauna, and practices from different worlds were jammed together in aboveground geological patters,. In the sixties one of the buses in the Freedom Ride from Washington, D.C., was burned on Highway 78 nine miles down the road. A man was killed. Just north was a old lynching zone from the early 1900s that had turned into the center for drug trafficking in the state. Two FBI agents had been murdered there by the redneck Mafia. Michael Tausig, and anthropologist who worked on the violent remnants of the rubber trade in Colombia, would describe the valley around my grandfather’s farm as part of a “culture of terror, a space of death,.” For Taussig, landscapes can soak up stories and practices and then ingest individuals in a whirlpool of sticky signifiers, coating the person in a prosthetic as natural as skin of a baby and as complete as anything the German sociologist Max Weber imagined with the “iron cage”. What neither Weber or Taussig directly articulates is the coordination between the body and the surrounding landscapes. The fit or coordination is more than an ecological adaptation,. It is he radicalized habitus in which the two landscapes are sewn together by the same ‘set of needles.”

Its not just a metaphor that ties Smithy to the ravine but a net of intertissular meshworks. The scar on his left forearm looks like it could have been from barbed wire ripping back under tension. I have a small one in the same place. The ravine is a larger scar,. From Crooked Mountain this is exactly what it is, a rip gored through the humus and red clay by a backhoe under hydraulic pressure. Manuel De Landa more eloquently describes this likeness as a consequence of common physical processes applied to landscapes at different levels, such as Smithy’s body and the grove behind the lake. . . the world pumping in between Smithy, the tractor, my grandfather, and their minds merges into a ghost that finds expression in scars.

Crooked Mountain is a zone where ghosts and trivial events combine into layers of hauntings that reach through the landscape and bite, then vanish back through the thin topsoil into the red clay. Here the cunning of imprisoned rattlesnakes turns people like Smithy into pink meat for crayfish at the water’s edge, a baby Moses for insects and birds in the bulrushes. The kind of space found in Colombia flexes between charged supernatural landscapes such as the Indian body, the jaguar, whiteness, the commodity in one of its most surreal forms: the hallucinogenic root yage, and the biggest of them all – the rain forest itself. The horror of the Alabama woods is different. The extremes ae muted and are as elusive as the pileated wood pecker, a crow-sized woodpecker killed for its feathers, whose traditional habitat is vanishing with the clear-cutting of the old longleaf pines. Here economic fictions bend and torque with the religious in matter-of-factness that masquerades as normal business. Smithy dug the ditch my grandfather wanted for such much per hour. The straight business arrangement beguiles how intertwined, like honeysuckle around a sapling, Smithy and my grandfather’s dreams and nightmares were with the project of domesticating the wilderness through hard work and how hidden their own characters were in the digging.

Smithy didn’t go to church. The only time he ever mentioned God was next to the idea of killing those Japanese sons of bitches. He worked hard. His tractors looked like shit but they ran. The tractors, like the rattlesnakes he baked in his tool box in the August sun,  were instruments of his will dedicated to accumulation and not preservation. Smithy didn’t accumulate objects but a singular view of himself as a compounding bank account. His body double was fond in the netherworld of banks, a thing made of interest and paper bills. This paper statue of himself mesmerized Smithy. No Madonnas in the woods or bloody Christ moved him. Smithy was the embodiment of a new saint. He smelled like diesel fuel. He was murderous. But his prosthetic covering was as smooth as any saint’s marble or as glossy as Gregor Samsa’s shiny black shell. What Smithy did is make true the retro of Weber’s iron cage into a steel or titanium coating indistinguishable from the person’s character. Smithy had $70,000 in his pocket the night he disappeared.

Crooked Mountain was like a big throbbing brain at the center of this landscape. It was the biggest ruin, the biggest grave, and the gravity that moved toolboxes, pine beetles, deer, sofas, hope chests, and packs of wild dogs across the landscape. From the top of Crooked Mountain, the whole valley could be seen. Smithy’s farm was  north across Turner’s hog farm and the rock quarry. From the mountain it was indistinguishable from the other farms, just another open field temporarily  rescued from the pine trees and broom straw, the first stage in a succession of plants and men who lived there and the wacked  pH of the soil. Fields covered in broom straw, a stiff- bladed grass that can pierce the stomach of a cow, a signal neglect. The pasture had been overgrazed without fertilization. The pH of the soil is too alkaline and doesn’t support better grazing grasses. It is also indicative of an ecosystem restabilizing the conditions that are favorable to an alternative and previous ecosystem – one more suited to the zone than the artificial grazing pastures cleared from swamps and pine woods.

The spillway petered out in a stretch of dirt beneath a huge tulip poplar tree. In May the tree is covered withy bees and fat blooms. The honey from a tulip poplar won’t turn to sugar. I never made any money selling honey, sugar or no sugar. Smithy disappeared owing me money for five gallons of honey. That came to about thirty dollars. He thought the honey would help his arthritis. “Goddamn Japs. Those little fuckers messed me up in the war,” he told me as he conned me out of honey while rubbing his left shoulder. Smithy hated anyone who drove a Japanese truck. “I’ll bushhog around the barn next week, Shelton. Soon as I get done withy Murray’s septic line,” he said as he eyed my Toyota one ton. Smithy was last seen at a bar on Highway 78, an easy connection to that lake at the highest altitude. Witnesses recall Smithy bragging about how much money he had in his wallet. He had sold his backhoe. He was going to Florida to party. Smithy was never very smart. Some things are expected of a man who kept rattlesnakes in his toolboxes.

His body and the landscape he dug were fitted together like a set of holographic Rosetta stones laid against each other. Each was covered in a pictographic language of scars and barely visible tracings laid into fat layers and humus. Together there was a repetitive depth in which one small cut on Smithy extended into the larger cut of the ravine with but the slightest modification of meaning. Each is a trail cut by a trajectory of assemblages in movement.  A molecular cloud of particalized occurrences, composed of pieces of objects and bodies drawn out of different strata of time and site, had moved across Smithy like a Portuguese man-of-war with its long, delicate tentacles marking him and then through him to the landscape he dug. When Smithy took off his cap to wipe his brow, there was a red line lefty behind on his forehead, splitting his head into two colored halves like an egg cut in two with a straight razor. He wore the cap too tight. Smithy had been beaten and then shot in the head. The bullet was never recovered. But the Bic pen-sized line it gored through his skull could easily be seen by the deer hunters who found Smithy in the mud. . .

At the peak of Crooked Mountain was  made from two pine trees nailed together. The top was cut off of a small tree, making the crosspiece and the post. A handful of twenty-penny nails were hammered   into the intersection and it was cross-tied with a rope. You can see the cross driving in from Jacksonville. It wasn’t large enough to stare down at you; it was there like a man standing in the clearing between trees waiting for something to happen. It was a reminder of another body stuffed in the ground. All through the mountains were pieces of bodies. State Police Colonel Dothard told me Satanists used these roads for their rituals. They would bury the initiates alive in shallow  graves for baptisms. Colonel Dothard looked stern as he explained this to me. But he and I knew there were real graves littered through the mountains. A coon dog was buried with a memorial plaque along a dirt road. Near the paved road was a small graveyard dating back to 1900 covered in garbage. Colonel Dothard didn’t know about the Indian burial ground dating to AD 1 at the foot of the mountains. The graves were mounds of large rock laid in careful pyramid-shaped piles and terrace walls. All of them were now hidden in the recess of a succession forest . . .

It was just after Smithy disappeared that my grandfather decided to fill in the ditch. He was always worried about a cow or a calf falling in. That is why I got permission to use the ravine as my personal landfill. I had just begun the restoration of what was called the Big House on the farm. The man and woman who lived for thirty years had moved out,. The well had gone dry. John Parker was used up. They moved mile down the road into a prefabricated house set right off the road at the entrance to a cut through the mountains. Stands of mountain laurel spread up the cleft of the slope, hugging the shade. Parker would sit, arms hanging down at his side on the narrow porch, wearing overalls and a T-shirt, and state straight ahead at the passing cars. The general store at Rabbittown was a minute away at forty-five miles an hour, so there was always a truck or a Chevy whipping by. Parker had no money other than what Opal brought in. She worked at the chicken plant. Parker didn’t go to church or watch TV. He couldn’t read. He knew Smithy. He had seen Smthy dig the ravine. He thought Smithy got what he deserved. “Son of a bitch”, he said. “Couldn’t even dig a goddamned ditch right.”


                     *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *


In the dreamworld of Alabama I imagine Jesus’ dead body stretched out like a buck on the hood of a truck. He hasn’t been shot in the abdomen; the wound in his side is a gaping hole made by a large-caliber-rifle shot, and his body has been mangled. The crown of thorns cuts into his heads, just as if they were antlers pulled out from his skeleton into the air. The ropes have cut deep straps into his limbs. His back and flanks are crisscrossed with cuts from a Taiwanese hunting knife. He looks like a bloody Rosetta stone. The body is dumped at the meat processing plant, drenched in beer. And then the first miracle – after three days he comes back to life. The wounds close. The second miracle is perhaps even more remarkable. Some wounds don’t close. They remain open and are fitted to Thomas’s hand and his hands alone - no one else touches Jesus - just as if they were the bullet and the  ropes that killed him because this dreamworld is fitted for him and him alone.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Ordinary Effects by Kathleen Stewart


Positions are taken, habits loved and hated, dreams launched and wounded. And just about everyone is part of a secret conspiracy of everyday life to get what you can out of it. She thinks it’s sort of like being a water bug, living on the surface tension of some kind of liquid. Seduced by the sense  of an incipient vitality lodged in things, but keeping afloat too. And nimble. If one is lucky.

Stress in the lingua franca of the day. It can be the badge you wear that shows that you’re afloat and part of what’s happening – busy, multitasking, in the know. Or it can be a visceral complaint against being overworked, underpaid, abandoned by the medical profession, or subject to constant racial undertows.

Stress can motivate you, or it can puncture you, leaving you alone in times of exhaustion, claustrophobia, resentment, and ambient fear.

It  can tell the story of inclusion or exclusion, mainstreaming, or marginality, But its widespread power to articulate something stems not from a meaning it harbors inside but from its actual circulations through forces and trajectories of all kinds: self-help culture, the power of the drug industry and direct advertising, social indifference, political depression, road rage, or the proliferation of countless intricately detailed little worlds built around major social injuries or inventive forms of recreation or reaction.

Stress is a transpersonal bodily state that registers intensities. A thing like stress can linger and do real damage. Or it can also flow out of a household like water down a drain, as when some one gets a job. Any job.

The objects of mass desire enact a dream of sheer circulation itself – travel, instant communication, movies, catalogues, the lure of new lifestyles patched together from commodities into scenes of possible life.

The experience of being ‘in the mainstream” is a concrete sensory experience of literally being in tune with “something’ that’s happening. But nothing too heavy or sustained. It’s being in tune without getting involved. A light contact zone that rests on a thin layer of shared public experiences. A fantasy life that can be somehow seamless and that we are in the know, in the loop, not duped. That nothing will happen to us, and nothing we do will have real consequences – nothing that can’t be fixed, anyway.

The experience of being “in the mainstream” is like a flotation device. But its very surge to enter life lite leaves in its  wake a vague sense of all the circuits that gives things a charge.

Danny worked night shift on the suicide prevention hotline for a while. He said the borderline personalities were the worse. They kept calling back, looking for attention. He got to know them all, indulging them in their tiresome games and trying to help them out if he could figure out when they were being straight. But then they would slip of reach and then call back later, starting the cat-and-mouse game again.

But at exactly  4 AM all the calls would stop dead and he would lie down on the floor to sleep for the last two hours of his shift. He said he guessed even borderlines had to sleep sometime. It was weird though, how it was like clockwork.

Redemption: the recovery of something pawned or mortgaged. A second chance born of suffering and still resonant with loss.

The dream of redemptive violence has become the ready matter of commonplace dreams, dramas of a clarifying surge of action saturate ordinary life, macho movies, laws, publics, institutions, and diffuse, existential dilemmas of personhood and power. Mythic heroes sacrifice themselves to rebirth the world. Tight little circles of religion wrap themselves in apocalyptic dreams. The nation-state gets tough on crime on behalf of family values,. The death penalty comes to stand for the execution of evil itself, one individual at a time. And everyday life is hot with the constant clash of people butting up against each other by the consuming dream of righteous revenge.

To say a thing like redemptive violence is a myth is not to say it’s like a bad dream you can wake up from or an idea you can talk people out of. It’s more like a strand in the netting that holds things together. A conduit for bits and pieces of political beliefs, networks, technologies, affinities, dream-of possibilities and events.

It can take many forms. It can mean a pettiness, a dissolute rage, a habit of self-destruction, an overcharged and swollen will, a body in a state of alarm. It can be a derailed sensibility thrashing around at full throttle. Or something really small. It’s road rage, or parents whipped into violent deeds to protect their children, or drug addicts slashing at the American dream as they spiral out of it. There’s always something a little “off” in the way it plays itself out. A little sad. It’s teenagers who kill, the pipe dreams popping up all over the place, the smoldering resentments in workplaces and intimate spaces. It’s Andrea Yates drowning her children to save them from eternal damnation. Or Thomas Junta – the “hockey dad” – killing his son’s coach in a fight on the ice. Or Junta’s brother, arrested shortly there after for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon when he threw a cell phone at a Best Buy employee who wouldn’t let him return it without a receipt.




Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Authentic Old Age by Ernst Bloch


On the whole, old age shows, like every earlier stage of life, completely possible, specific benefits which also compensate for the farewell to the previous stage of life. Thus growing old not only describes a desirable stretch of time in which as much as possible has been experienced and in which as much as possible can be learnt on the way out. Growing old can also describe a wishful image according to the situation: the wishful image of commanding view, or possibly of harvest. Voltaire says in the same vein, for the ignorant old age is like the winter, for the educated it is the gathering and pressing of grapes. This does not exclude youth, but includes it in the after-ripening; the wish to return to youth loses precisely its element of suffering thanks to this matured empathy with  what is coming, it compensates, fulfills itself with the footing it has gained, with simplicity and meaning. In general, a person’s later years will thus contain all the more youth, in the un-imitated sense, the more collection there already was to start with in his youth; the phases of life, and therefore also old age, then lose their isolated sharpness. The healthy wishful image of old age and in old age is that of thoroughly formed maturity; it feels more at home giving than taking.

To be able to be so collected means there must be no noise. A final wish permeates all the wishes of old age, an often not unquestionable one, for rest. It can be just as tormenting, even as hungry as the earlier pursuit of diversion.  The sexual flaring up, which especially in women is often reminiscent of early puberty, is also dampened by it. Even the possibly productive nature, related so closely to youth, so familiar with it, needs freedom from disturbance more than before (or even more freedom from disturbance). And every old man wishes to be allowed to be exhausted by life; even if he is caught up in the hurly-burly of the world, a part of him behaves as if he were not caught up in it.

Vanity is the last garment that a man removes, but only a very strange old man will give this garment a lot of hard wear at the expense of silence. The image of this silence is wonderfully embellished precisely in the non-embourgeoisement of old age, the image of the country instead of the city, the elapsion where the wet cloths are drying, where things are not very busy. In more important cases, the wish for rest subdues even the regret over previous omissions and mistakes; in old age the failures in his life seemed to Goethe almost unimportant in the long run, where they had not turned out well. Happiness refused, and particularly work unfinished, still rankle, but in  memory at least, rightly or wrongly, almost takes shape.

Jacob Grimm’s speech about old age, which he himself gave in his seventy-fifth year, throws light on all these friendly late wishes and late feelings. This speech, definitely more ‘nolens’[unwilling] than ‘volens’[willing], is sustained by the grateful awareness that growing old is a blessing. Physical debilities of the senses are mitigated in the general wish for rest, they even supplement its content. Even possible deafness, according to Grimm, has the advantage that superfluous talk, useless chatter can no longer interrupt us. Failing eye-sight causes many disturbing details to disappear; Grimm recalls the blind seer. And he describes the enjoyment which the solitary walk affords the old man, how feeling for nature is heightened in general. Man is alone with himself in nature, the chattering conversation of nutrient plants dies down, the world grows dark in the evening, but the water grows bright, the last drop of life is dedicated to contemplation. Past deprivation is no longer felt, past happiness is becalmed, renewed through memory, the chisel-blows of life have worked an essential shape, and what is essential can be seen by it better than ever before.

Nevertheless, of course, even this kind of separation from other stages of life, emphasized by the wish for rest and a kind of strolling standstill, is different in different periods. The  Biedermeier period* is long past where the old soul, even in much less pure forms than that of Jacob Grimm, repaired to its own breast and was served at the long table d’hote of memories. The late capitalist world is certainly not a Bank of Hope for old people. Even the winter rest of the middle class is seriously disturbed by the dwindling or the precariousness of the savings account. Only socialist society can fulfill the wishes of old age for leisure, yet even here this leisure, in a positive sense of course, is different than before, since the difference between generations is no longer so sharply divisive. Life at the moment is much more sharply delineated politically, it can no longer be said that old age, despite its reflectiveness, is simply reactionary, youth, despite its freshness, simply progressive. Often it is the other way around, and the wish of old age for rest, in a time where, to isolate one symptom, there are still fascist youth leagues with their heads thrown back, does not always coincide with the wish of old age to remain forever in the inertia of yesterday.

It has become easier than ever for old age to burn at both ends, namely with courage and experience together, with new consciousness and with that of a known inheritance. The man who grows old and who, sitting in the cool of evening on the bench outside his front door, turns over the pages of his spent life and nothing more – this feature of Grimm’s wishful image has gone out of circulation economically and in terms of content. Still in circulation, however, is the vigorous wish, so commensurate with the wish for silence, that the empty whirl of life round about should stop. Precisely love of silence can be more remote from the capitalist scramble than a youth which mistakes the scramble for life. Here old age (for which the bourgeois world no longer has any use) has the right –to be old-fashioned.

To be genteel, giving a lead, using words and casting commanding glances which are not of that day nor for that day. Embodying times in which as yet not everything was the bustle of commerce, and above all in which this bustle will cease again. This makes a striking and yet understandable connection for many an old man today, provided he has grown wise, with a new age, the age without cocky, sharp, heel-clicking wolves, i.e. the socialist age. Wish and ability to be without vulgar haste, to see what is important, to forget what is unimportant; all this is the authentic life of old age.



* Period of bourgeois culture in 19th century Germany from 1815 to 1848. Also an elaborate style of domestic art in this period.

The Principle of Hope (volume one), written 1938-47, revised 1953 & 1958; first American edition, translated by Basil Blackwell, Ltd, 1986; pages 38-41

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Credulity in 18th Century Paris by Arlette Farge


Let there be no mistake: this pursuit of rules and rationalities is not a means of ignoring hate and anger, violence and cruelty, irony and unreason. It would be imposturous to erase men’s fury, and ignorant not to present the situations which produced it, for the failure to take account of deceit and dishonor would be to give way to naïve populism. The history of a society is also the history of the clash that exists between its instinct for survival and desire for union and collaboration with its taste for destruction and ashes. The Parisian people of the lived off this clash.

The contours of the population outlined here show it forever on the look-out for what might prove threatening to it and in search of whatever might strengthen it. It was looking for an equilibrium at the heart of the fragility by which it was almost totally defined and its behavior and decisions are indications of its response to a precariousness which permanently threatened its stability.

Not being taken for a fool was one of its passions or rather one of its necessities, and thus the whole of its intelligence was put into not being abused or deceived. From this came its taste for news and gossip; its desire to know and understand; to give things a name; and the speed with which it circulated its information. Behind the effervescence, the bustle and the emotion can be found a seriousness and much understanding. History  owes it to itself to seek out and, without attempting to define it, take hold of this fragile life and thus lend it sense and weight.

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In Paris no one needed an invitation to get together or go off in a group; the natural corollary of living outdoors* was the permanent attraction of whatsoever was happening and whatever presented itself before one’s eyes or ears or called for one’s attention in one way or the other.

Thus the Parisian inhabitant is never indifferent to what is going on around him. The least little novelty is likely to make him pause on his way. Take, for instance, the example of a man who had his head in the air and is looking intently at some object or another. You are bond to see several others stop immediately and turn their eyes in the same direction thinking that they will see whatever he is looking at. Little by little, the crowd will grow, each of them asking the other what they are looking at. All it needs is for one poor canary to escape and perch on a window-sill for the whole street to be blocked by a crowd. The moment he flies from one lamp to the next, shouts and cries will go up on all sides, windows will open and there will be faces at each. The brief and momentary independence of one small bird will become a spectacle of general interest.

If a dog were to be thrown in the river, the banks and bridges would be covered almost immediately with people, some of them concerned about what might happen to it and others saying it must be saved, watching it closely in whatever direction the current happens to take it. This spirit of curiosity is not necessarily lacking in sensitivity; it is not unknown for instance for people to separate two combatants and for men to harangue them so fiercely on the advantages of peace and harmony that they would settle their grievances on the spot. (1)


It is easy and, in fact, customary to interpret this kind of up and run behavior as evidence of the immaturity of the crowd with their taste for the fortuitous and the accidental. Chroniclers, contemporaries, the literati of the period and modern historians have all described these irrational impulses of the crowd and its inability to separate the real from the imaginary, allowing itself to be carried along willy-nilly to whatever speechifying or spectacle might be on offer.

Scientific progress also had a hand in putting all sorts of odd inventions within the bounds of possibility and, whilst religion was becoming less satisfying, there was still the possibility of acts of God with their power to incite or punish,. And so  from time immemorial one has been led to believe that the crowd or common herd has submerged its fears and ignorance by submitting to immature systems of relationships with reality which were no more than pure fancy, thus providing obvious proof of the need for constant control of these potentially dangerous excesses and enthusiasm.

Strangely enough, it was a work by Nicholas Ledoux on the city and urbanization (something of a utopian dream) which expressed another view of these continual gatherings of Parisians and what it was about the daily goings-on that attracted them so much.

For Ledoux, festivities were not so important if everyday life were sweet and pleasant. The real value of the festivity was in the fact that ‘the community had the opportunity to contemplate itself and rejoice in one another.’ It is an approach well worth considering and singling out from some of the other well-worn tracks. What better way of re-appropriating for oneself not only one’s essence but also one’s meaning than by seeing for oneself, and by being oneself the spectacle of one’s perceptions of self and one’s own attempt to make sense of events. The King’s celebrations or punitive events offered the people an opportunity for consensus. The taste for freaks and curiosities (the expressions of the period), evinced different attitudes, among them a desire to offer one’s pronouncements on the significance to the day’s events. Furthermore, there was a feeling that the experience of the many lent sense and meaning to whatever was seen or heard, thus making it possible not only to gain a collective grip on reality but also, and why not, a potential mastery of events such as one need never wait for the meaning to be attributed or suggested by those who knew, controlled, commanded or governed.

This unfailing attraction for the strange and the improbable was referred to in the texts of the period as ‘credulity.’ It was a recurrent theme to be found as much on the pens of justices as in the texts of ministers or writers. The people had to be gullible: this was the basis on which the elites needed to act and react an assessment which they quite often ‘worked on’. Because it was so apparent to everyone, popular credulity was itself the subject of vast analysis. The difficulty of questioning it is that there is a permanent risk of being tricked by the initial position of ‘looking at’ or of the desire to dissect things up into small parcels of meaning. Even if every precaution is taken to distance oneself as much as possible from this position, other risks arise, most notably in the subtle shifts and shades of vocabulary employed and it is this surreptitious betrayal by mean of language that is perhaps even worse.

However, one thing is certain –popular credulity is not an entity in itself; nor does it constitute anything objectively capable of defining, once and for all, the essence of a social group. It is an opinion and that is an entirely different story; it suggests relationship, made by others, between a form of action and a mode of being, but learning unfortunately does not usually preoccupy itself with its own received ides or its stereotypes and archetypal assumptions. That the people were obviously gullible was useful more often than not as a point of departure for other forms of reasoning shored up by this principle, which is no principle at all. That credulity was a form well suited to the intelligence and social arrangements of the aristocracy, for, example, is vey rarely taken into account – or very rarely analyzed in these terms.

Credulity, as one knows, was far from being the prerogative of a single social group and the kind of peculiar events and curiosities which the people enjoyed so much and which are so complacently related by chroniclers and archivists of the time were in fact central to a complex system of beliefs that were more or less shared by those of different social spheres. It as not really until the eighteenth century that the break with  a common basis of belief took place, thereby marking the appearance of an elitist culture which strove to distinguish itself from the people and the weight of past archaism. It was a rupture which is relatively recent. It is more apparent in its desire to maintain a distance and instigate a definitive separation between the upper and lower ends of the social hierarchy and and more convincing in its strategy for the installation of cultural supremacy than in the actual content of its knowledge. Although cultural unity may have been breaking down, abundant traces remain, clearly measureable in the beliefs and activities of the elites, as well as in their treatises.

Even the Encyclopedie found itself grappling with fascination for tye extraordinary; and not even its reasoned attempts managed to refute what was, and still is, a common vision of the world.

Furthermore, life in the city (particularly between society and the authorities), saw the emergence of a number of variations and combinations as to what ought, and ought not, to be believed. The field of play might include, for instance, phenomena that were purely intended to incite; deliberate construction of events to make them believable; sudden attempts to repress and control what came to be termed ‘sheer fantasy’ where previously it had been considered ‘news’ or novelty; all this helped give ‘credulity’ a number of facets and thus enabled it to engage in a  field of activity which was both productive and destructive and in which the ordinary people and the elites played their part, each echoing the other. For the elites as well as the mob were equally keen partners in their enthusiasms for the extraordinary, the sensational, the ‘scientific’ (or at any rate, the ‘hitherto-unheard-of’) but in the treatises and discourses of the great and mighty responsibility for credulity is assigned to the backward and boorish masses. It was rare for the elite to perceive its own taste for these same items; and when it did, it did so badly. It was even worse a seeing the ambiguous nature of its own conduct in the thick of an event in which its own complicity helped render it an object of credulity.

It is possible to gain some idea of this complexity from some of the famous events of the century and some have already been analyzed from this perspective; one need only think, for example, of the phenomena of mesmerism, or the ecstatics in the cemetery of the church of Saint Medard. There were also some small events that were so insignificant that contemporaries did not think to write about them but which  nevertheless reveal, at a most basic level, an overview of the whole social scene. Because they were so small and unimportant one might believe that they were entirely the upshot of popular emotion and only relevant to that particular type of credulity, but not so – even the least of these rather strange and peculiar little affairs can conceal within it a set of mechanisms which provide a rich picture of the social world as whole with its hierarchies, challenges, disruptions and acts of common faith.

In 1756, the story of a little girl of none and a half- Madeleine Ernault ( claimed by her parents to have been molested and made pregnant by the bar hand at a wine venders)- was to arouse a great deal of astonishment and one can find traces of it in the judicial archives, The story was such that she managed to mobilize around her the police, the aristocracy, the medical bodies and the people. The bizarre nature of the phenomena, the tender years of the child, the occurrence of something that had hitherto been unheard of, and the obvious references to sexuality, all helped set up certain ideas and beliefs and led to the printing of accounts and spread various rumors which were effectively taken in hand by the police. The field of play might well be tiny but in so far as the archives allow us to make sense of it, it was in fact immense. First, there was the event itself- everyone believed it. It was true. Then it turned out to be false. As one follows the route from belief to rumor and then to error, one can see the complex social tangles which shatter the simplistic assertions which so confidently establish a clear divisions between people and elite, rational and irrational, truth and error, news and rumor.

[The women of the neighborhood we the first to detect the lie, long before the elites, including the medical establishment who went on believing long after any birth was to be expected under normal circumstances.]



* For the mass of Parisians there was little privacy. What we would call tenements were crowded, workshops were public spaces,  street vendors ubiquitous, cabarets popular meeting places, festivals and parades common.

(1)L.-S. Mercier, Tableau de Paris, 12 vols. (Amsterdam, 1782-6),  ch. ‘Melange des individus’

Friday, March 9, 2018

In Defense of Critical Thought by Elisabeth Roudinesco


[ In this narrative of the lives and works of these mid-late 20th century French intellectuals Roudinesco winds and unwinds the threads of experiential and conceptual knowledge as they perform together in a kind of dialectic or intrigue, one not existing without the other but in ‘mortal combat’, each seeking to defend its ground against the other  as if on a broad ocean when  the motions  of the tides and the winds run in opposite directions and no smooth sailing can be expected. Biological determination and psychology vs philosophy and science properly understood. One inevitably must begin with Marx, though not Marxism; his insight into the materiality of the concepts, representing the vital force of any mode of human production. She, all the thinkers in her narrative, begin with Canguilhem, The Normal and the Pathological and A Philosophy of Heroism which established a new paradigm in the French critical tradition. Beginning there, each of the other philosopher’s lives and works represent  different trajectories, different intrigues in the contest between experiential and conceptual knowledge.  Sartre on one end of ‘the spectrum” and I will venture to say Foucault on the other. Althusser the most tragic case, Derrida burdened by the necessity of eulogizing them all. Brothers resisting the ‘ the normal’ as if they were trying to compensate for their absence in the French military resistance to the barbaric beast of fascism. Their heroic struggle to expose the threads of that beast in the micro-politics of Capital as conceived and lived in the post-war world, and to overturn them, for the freedom of the subject. Here I present her Introduction.]

“We are certainly living in strange times. The commemoration of great events, great men, great intellectual achievements, and great victories never stops;  we’ve had the year of Rimbaud, the year of Victor Hugo, the year of Jules Verne. And yet, never have the revisionist attacks on the foundation of every discipline, every doctrine, every emancipatory adventure enjoyed such prestige. Feminism, socialism, and psychoanalysis are violently rejected, and Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche are pronounced dead, along with every other critique of the norm. All we are entitled to do, it would seem, is to take stock and draw up assessments, as though the distance that every intellectual enterprise requires amounted to no more than a vast ledger full of entries for things and people - or rather people who have become things.

I am not thinking just of Holocaust denial, which has been outlawed among professional historians, although its influence persists in semi-secrecy. Instead what I have in mind are those ordinary revisionisms that tend, for example, to put Vichy and the Resistance on the same footing, because of the “necessity” to relativize heroism, and the drive to oppugn the idea of rebellion. Another example is the clever reinterpretation of textual evidence to make Salvador Allende into a racist, an anti-Semite, and a eugenicist, for the purpose of denigrating the putative founding myths of socialism around the world.

As for philosophy, while its place in the educational curriculum of the schools and universities is threatened by all those who judge its useless, outmoded, to Greek, too German, and impossible to put a price on or fit into a scientistic pigeonhole (in sum, too subversive), the drive to “philosophize” or “to learn to think for oneself” is expanding outside the institutions of state, embracing Plato, Socrates, the pre-Socratics materialists, the Latins, the moderns, the post-moderns, the old and new moderns, the new and old reactionaries. There is a gap between the academicism that is returning in force to official schooling and the massive demand for “living” teaching outside the universities, and this gap continues to grow wider in a world haunted by fear of the loss of identity, boundaries, and national particularisms.

Feature stories in our periodicals and newspapers almost all convey a catastrophic outlook: the end of history, the end of ideology, the end of towering individuals, the end of thought, the end of mankind, the end of everything. Jean-Paul Sartre? – for or against? Raymond Aron –for or against? Would it suit you better to be in the right with the former as against the later, or vice versa? Should we take a blowtorch to May 1968 and its ideas, its thinkers, and their writings, seen now as  incomprehensible, elitist, dangerous and antidemocratic? Have the protagonists of the revolution in behavior and mentality all become little bourgeois capitalist pleasure seekers without faith or principles, or haven't they ?

Everywhere the same questions, and everywhere the same answers, all claiming to bear witness to a new malaise of civilization. The father has vanished, but why not the mother? Isn’t the mother really just a father, in the end, and the father the mother? Why do young people not think anything? What are children so unbearable? Is it because of Francoise Dolto, or television, or pornography, or comic books? And leading thinkers, what has become of them? Are they dead, or gestating, or hibernating? Or are they on the road to extinction?

And women: are they capable of supervising male workers on the same basis as men are? Of thinking like men, of being philosophers? Do they have the same brain, the same neurons, the same emotions, the same criminal instincts? Was Christ the lover of Mary Magdalene, and if so, does that mean that the Christian religion is sexuality split between a hidden feminine pole and a dominant masculine one?

Has France become decadent? Are you for Spinoza, Darwin, Galileo, or against? Are you partial to the United States? Wasn’t Heidegger a Nazi. Was Michael Foucault the precursor of Bin Laden, Gilles Deleuze a drug addict, Jacques Derrida a deconstructed guru? Was Napoleon really so different from Hitler? State the similarities, proffer your thoughts, assess your knowledge, speak for yourself.

Whom do you prefer; who are the puniest figures, the greatest ones, the most mediocre, the biggest charlatans, the most criminal? Classify, rank, calculate, measure, put a price on, normalize: this is the absolute nadir of contemporary interrogation, endlessly imposing itself in the name of a bogus modernity  that undermines every form of critical intelligence grounded in the analysis of the complexity of things and persons.

Never has sexuality been so untrammeled, and never has science progressed so far in the exploration of the body and the brain. Yet never has psychological suffering been more intense: solitude, use of mind-altering drugs, boredom, fatigue, dieting, obesity, the medicalization of every second of existence. The freedom of self, so necessary, and won at a cost of so much struggle during the twentieth century, seems to have turned back into a demand for puritanical restraint. As for social suffering, it is increasingly harder to bear because it seems to be constantly on the rise, against a background of youth unemployment and tragic factory closings.

Set free from the shackles of morality, sex is experienced not as the correlate of desire, but as a performance, as gymnastics, as hygiene for organs that can only lead to deathly lassitude. How does one climax, and bring one’s partner to climax. What is the ideal size of the vagina, the correct lengthy of the penis? How often? How many partners in a lifetime, in a week, in a single day, minute by minute? Never has the psychology of conditioning, of sexological or partner-swapping alienation been so overpowering as it is today. So much so that by now we are seeing a surge in complaints of every kind. The more individuals are promised happiness and the ideal of security, the more their unhappiness persists, the steeper the risk profile grows, and the more the victims of unkept promises revolt against those who have betrayed them.

 It would seem impossible not to detect, in this curious psychologization of existence that has gripped society and that is contributing to the rise of de-politicalization, the most insidious expression of what Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze called “little everyday fascism,” intimate, desired, longed-for, admitted, and celebrated by the very individual who is both its protagonist and  its victim. A little fascism, which of course has nothing to do with the great fascist systems, since it slips inside each individual without his realizing it, without ever calling into question the sacrosanct principles of the rights of man , of humanism, of democracy. 

I have chosen to render homage to six French philosophers - Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze, and Derrida – whose work is known and discussed throughout the world, and who, despite their divergences, their disputes, and the impulses they shared, had this in common: they all confronted, in a critical fashion, not just the question of political engagement (meaning a philosophy of freedom) but also the Freudian concept of the unconscious (meaning the philosophy of structure). They all commanded a literary style, and they were all passionate about art and literature.

This confrontation was inscribed in their works and their lives, and that is why it is fitting to bring them together here. The all refused, at the price of what I would call a passage through a tempest, to serve the project to normalize the human being – a project that, in its most experimental version, is no more than an ideology of submission in the service of barbarity. Each of them published his oeuvre in an age before television and other media had the importance they have now in the transmission of knowledge, and two of them, Deleuze and Derrida, laid the basis for new ways of thinking about the logic of the modern media.

Far from commemorating their former glory or devoting myself nostalgically to a simple recapitulation of their works, I have tried, by making the thought of some operate through the thought of others, and by highlighting some of the leading moments of French intellectual life in the second half of the twentieth century, to show that only the critical acceptance of a heritage makes it possible to think for oneself and to invent the thought of the future, a thought for better times, a thought that refuses to submit, a thought unfaithful out of necessity.


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Georges Canguilhem, the man who challenged authority in the most radical fashion was the same man who, in his classroom require the greatest submission from his students, as he imparted knowledge to them in a manner seemingly remote from liberty. He never advocated the sort of pedagogy that puts student and teacher on the same level, and he never yielded to the temptations of false freedom of speech. His students at Toulouse were inculcated with a sense of order, logic and discipline: no notebooks, no pencils, a refusal even to allow certain expressions to be uttered. The normal method was for students to take lecture notes, thus fixing the knowledge to be transmitted in permanent form; Canguilhem preferred them to assemble flexible archives, grouped into thematic dossiers adaptable modules. In order to exercise the critical faculty of his pupils and train them to develop an intelligent memory, he forced them to write down and submit summaries of what they had heard in class after an hour of attentive listening during which they took no notes. The summaries were neither returned nor commented upon.

Canguilhem came to regard psychology, to the extent that it is the discipline of behavior, adaptation and conditioning, as a school of submission and of the suppression of liberty. For just as he had always rejected the thought of Taine and that of the adepts of theory about native soil, race and environment, he likewise abhorred any approach to mankind that aimed to reduce the spirit to a thing, the psyche to physiological determinism, thought to a reflex; in sum, the human being as an insect.. . A ‘thing’ without essence and without object, psychology thus came down in his eyes to nothing more than a technology at the service of a corporation, itself under the sway of judges, censors, and educators whose function was the instrumentalization of man by man . . .he perceived a danger taking place – that the subjection of the noble disciplines (medicine, biology, physiology, philosophy, literature etc.) to a model of instrumentalization of the spirit and the psyche, which might in the long term transform the teachers and professors of the French republic into psycho-pedagogues more concerned with aiding students in distress than forming elites in the service of an  ideal of liberty. In is view this model also threatened, given the formidable expansion of the study of psychology in the democratic countries, to contaminate the whole of the social edifice, to the point where the business of managing interpersonal relationships would supplant all forms of political and intellectual commitment.. . he jubilantly renounced all those who, from Piaget to Chomsky, had dreamed of making thought an empty space, to the point of imagining that a machine might be capable of writing A la recherche du temps perdu,  write its own autobiography or auto-critique.  He thus donned the mantle of the founder of a philosophy without the subject, sounding a summons to all men of good will, in the name of the unity of philosophy, in which Cartesians and Spinozist would be united – that is, partisans and adversaries of the philosophy of consciousness and the philosophy of commitment – against what might well be called the most liberticide branch of psychology- without uttering the word “cognitivism’- which did not come into widespread use in France until 1981- the ultimi barabarorum ( the most recent barbarity to appear).

Foucault  was even more violent, denouncing ‘the indignity of power, from infamous sovereignty down to ridiculous authority.” Like Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, who also posed questions regarding the limits of reason, but with different gestures, Foucault sought to trouble the order of the world, to force its obscure parts, its disorder, its heterogeneity to well up out of the apparent sovereignty of order. He took part resolutely in the conceptual adventure, making the conceptuality proper to the human sciences as an object of passion upon which an entire generation, formed in the secularized and republican university system, was invited to reflect in a critical fashion.

For Foucault, as for Derrida and Deleuze, it was imperative to continually question such ideals as the rights of man, humanism, and democracy, so as to uncover, at the very core of that which presents itself as the most refined expression of Western culture, the traces of a dark force – or sometimes just the traces of that little, everyday, nondescript fascism – that never ceases to threaten their fragile equilibrium.








Monday, March 5, 2018

Rollande's Colas Breugnon by Georg Lukacs


In Romain Rolande’s own words Colas Breugnon is a kind of interlude between his large epic and dramatic cycles, a secondary line, an episode in his total production; it is cheerful and life-affirming, even though its story is full of sad, indeed tragic events – like that of Anatole France’s Rotisserie de la Reine Pedauque. This tension and the triumph of life that springs from it is the decisive thing: here the old life-affirming, epicurean materialism, the great tradition of the French humanist breaks through. The historical theme is not accidental because, with the action taking place in the time of the Regency under the young Louis XIII, it expressed the continuity of this attitude to life among the French people.

Indeed Romain Rolland intends much more than an uninterrupted historical development. The outlook of this great humanist, his belief in the eternity of human feelings and passions goes beyond continuity. “Bonhomme vit encore”(Fellowship still lives) he writes as the motto to this novel, and in the preface where he gives his reasons for publishing the work unchanged (it had been completed just before the imperialist World War) he says that the grandsons of Colas Bruegnon , the heroes and victims of the bloody epic of the World War, had proved to the world how right this motto was.

Colas Breugnon, then, is conceived by his author not only as ason of his time, a time long past, but also an eternal type. And –which is decisive – a type representative of French popular life. With Anatole France the epicurean wisdom and blithe affirmation of life “despite everything” was the intellectual property of a declassed intellectual of the eighteenth century. Romain Rolande’s outlook has deeper roots in the people. To be sure Colas Breugnon, the artist craftsman also feeds his spirit and outlook on literature, but his his wisdom is essentially more native, more directly drawn from life, from popular life.

Here lies the imperishable beauty of this work, which makes it a unique product of our time. Romain Rolande nowhere idealizes his hero. In fact he deliberately sets a whole series of negative features in the foreground: a tendency to loaf, a certain laxness and negligence about life, etc. .  Colas is not modelled to perfection: his faults and merits correspond in no way to those images which, at different times and on different sides have been used to glorify the French people.

But if Romain Rollande refuses to throw a false gloss over the French people in keeping with those traditions, he is even more strongly opposed to those modern literary trends which seek to provide a natural picture of the people by stressing human brutality; even though they would make “circumstances” responsible for this. Romain Rollande’s portrait of a popular hero is throughout blunt and robust. But inseparable from these qualities, which have more to them than their form suggests, is the hero’s human genuineness, subtlety and tenderness in his relations to people, his simple and shrewd decisiveness which in moments of real trial and danger soars into true heroism, heroic steadfastness. Certain scenes are hardly to be equaled in any other writer of the present: the hero’s encounter and farewell to the sweetheart of his youth, from whom we learn the humorous and moving story of their love, his farewell to his efficient, prosaic wife with who he has lived all his life in humorous discord. One has to go back to Gottfried Keller’s scenes of popular life to find the equal of this popular humanism. . .

The historical novels of the German anti-Fascist writers give us the poetry of the struggle for humanness and culture, against reaction and barbarism; but as yet this poetry is still abstract, not fed by real popular forces. It  is quite different in Romain Rollande. We have already stressed the lofty ad vital poetry of popular life in this novel. This, however,  rests on a conscious aloofness from the political struggles of the time portrayed, an aloofness which has been raised into a philosophy. Not that Colas Breugnon and his author do not take sides in these struggles. But the position they do take is one of blunt plebeian mistrust, repudiating both contending parties of the age, the Catholics as well as the Protestants. Romain Rollande has his hero say; ‘One party is worth as much as the other; the better one is not even worth the rope with which it ought to be hanged. What do we care whether this or that good-for-nothing plays his knavish tricks at court”?” And even more clearly at another point : “God protect us from the protectors! We are quite capable of protecting ourselves. Poor sheep!  If it was only a question of defending ourselves against the wolf, we’d soon know what to do. But who will protect us against the shepherd?” Romain Rollande not only has his hero state this view repeatedly, but shows by striking examples through the course of the story how right the plebeians of the time were to distrust both sides in this way and how they attempted to translate their mistrust into deeds, now slyly, now boldly. . . .