Monday, December 24, 2007

Social Legislation

La Vie des idées succinctly summarizes critiques published in Le Droit social of 3 pieces of social legislation by the current regime: the minimum service law in public transportation, the proposed legislation on Revenu de Solidarité Active sponsored by Martin Hirsch (and supported by Ségolène Royal in her campaign, hence as close to a bipartisan program as one can imagine), and welfare assistance to families with children.

Trichet is FT's Person of the Year

Jean-Claude Trichet, the head of the European Central Bank, has been named the Financial Times' Person of the Year for his handling of the subprime crisis. Without taking anything away from M. Trichet's undoubted acumen and skill in marshaling the resources of the ECB, I suspect that this award reflects the FT's ideological commitments--the faith that central banks alone are enough to compensate for any failings of markets and the pious wish that the financial system can be rescued from the subprime debacle merely by infusions of liquidity--as much as anything else.

And speaking of ideological commitments, in La Tribune the "Person of the Year" is retrogressively altered to "homme de l'année."

Literature and Politics

The death of Julien Gracq at 97 has elicited the anticipated chorus of praise, including a tribute from that littérateur-come-lately, Nicolas Sarkozy. Pierre Assouline, a genuine admirer and not de la dernière heure, has contributed a fine appreciation that may do duty for the rest. But even he devotes too much space to Gracq's aura as opposed to his oeuvre. The aura, in Gracq's case, is composed largely of refusals and renunciations--this prize rejected, that honor warded off, the rigor of the writing, the aloofness from the world and the business of letters. Such descriptions inevitably carry a charge of hagiography. Their effect if not their intent is to embalm in an odor of sanctity, and sanctity, as everyone knows, is much more worthy though often far less interesting than turpitude. This division--this semiotic opposition--exists in all endeavors to tinker with the spiritual-temporal divide: literature is one, politics another.

It's best to remain ambivalent, I think. If there are two shores (one thinks of Herzen's From the Other Shore as well as Gracq's Le Rivage des Syrtes), the better sort are familiar with both and hug their edges closely. To plunge too far inland in either direction is to be lost--the choice is frank perdition or the eternal purgatory of excessive purity. Gracq to my mind comes close to the latter and will therefore remain eternally in the bosom of Abraham, in the tight embrace of those dazzled by the example of a writer who in all probability was never as tempted as they are by the rewards they believe it cost him so much to renounce, because they substitute their values for his.

Those who don't see the relevance of this necrology to politics may ignore it without loss. But I thought it was worth saying.