Friday, January 4, 2008

The Puritanical French


We denizens of the American Babylon get tired of hearing from our French cousins that we are "puritanical." It's a rare pleasure, then, to return the favor. Le Nouvel Observateur's latest issue features a nude picture of Simone de Beauvoir on the cover, and Le Monde Diplomatique is puritanically scandalized. Is this an example of the mauvaise foi that Sartre-et-Beauvoir spent their lives attacking? Or has the organ of the anti-globalization left become an exemplar of anti-neoliberal bourgeois morality? Perhaps it's the exploitation of transgression by the market ("une photo racoleuse") that is at the root of this puritanical outburst.

By contrast, La gauche caviare in the person of Mrs. BHL finds the picture rather fetching. Catherine Millet says that many men she knows fantasize about Beauvoir, bourgeoise et érotique.

Here at Harvard, the Puritan university, there have been colloquia devoted to the finer points of existentialist sexuality. Having come to Sartre myself by way of Husserl and the transcendental ego, I do at times become rather puritanical in reaction against such po-mo tawdriness. But to each his own. We may be Puritans, especially on Yom Kippur, but we live in a broadly tolerant society where different folks are allowed different strokes. Le Monde Diplo might take heart from the fact that at least Le Nouvel Obs's cover doesn't feature the presidential caress of Carla Bruni's bare midriff.

Political Heritability

Pierre Mauroy's niece will run on the UMP list in Lille against Martine Aubry (Jacques Delors's daughter). Mauroy of course used to be the Socialist boss of the city and the region. Political coloration in France used to be a highly heritable trait. It would be interesting to have statistical studies of changing patterns of political heritability. Does anyone know of any? Prosopographic studies of well-known political families would also be interesting. My hunch is that there is a good deal of fluidity in the center of the political spectrum, where the left-right identification has lost some of its meaning.