Wednesday, December 5, 2007

L'Étranger

It has to be seen to be believed. The clip is here. Sarkozy stands gazing pensively at the coruscating azure of the Mediterranean as a passage from Camus's Les Noces is read to him. Camus, who would have been a most unwilling conscript in this sham, you can be sure, is extolled by the president as the most French of Algerians or the most Algerian of the French, it hardly matters which. The subtext of the preferred presidential symbolism is reinforced: we are two peoples, all but identical, who share a painful past, which we readily acknowledge, while resolutely setting our sights on a better future. I have nothing against this chronological tropism, which is proper to a politician, for whom tomorrow should eclipse yesterday, unlike the writer, for whom the remembrance of things past may well loom larger than the present. L'écriture, c'est la trace. But there is something particularly unseemly about this violation of Camus, the purist of stylists, who suffered so much in his lifetime for his dual allegiance. Indeed, his situation was precisely the opposite of the role in which Sarko would cast him: he was not Algerian enough for the Algerians yet too Algerian for the French, particularly his comrades on the left, who never forgave him for placing his mother before History.

I wish I had not seen Sarkozy in Tipaza. It would have been easier to tolerate his readiness to deplore colonialism without apologizing for it had I not seen his desecration of Camus, whose writings on postwar famine and brutality in the colony might have served to show the president why an apology might be expected. You can read Camus's text in my translation.

4 comments:

alain q. said...

If I understand you, N.Sarkozy should have followed the steps of the American President who apologized for the way the Native Americans have been treated, in the past and now.

No US President ever apologized for what would be qualified under today's standards as a genocide ?

I cannot believe it...

Scott Guye said...

It's disappointing to see such a figure used to Sarkozy's (attempted) advantage considering Sarkozy's FIRST visit to Algeria was a strong effort to talk about moving on with the future and forgetting the past, something I'm sure the Algerians aren't so quick to accept.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for alerting us to that video. The expression on Sarkozy's face as Camus's text is murmured in his ear by a minion is incredible: he seems to be really uncomfortable, and to have no idea what would be the best pose to strike. Shades of the "My Pet Goat" fiasco. I am starting to see why Sarkozy feels Bush is a kindred spirit. Sarkozy must be a bitter pill to swallow for the more refined and intelligent class of French person.

gregory brown said...

I think the comparison to Bush is apt not because Sarkozy is a political idiot savant the way Bush is -- far from it -- but because Sarkozy continues to attempt American-style image-making, in which irony is entirely absent and the part must be played with the utmost sincerity, on a political culture in which the most prized values are self-referentiality and omniscience.