Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mitterrand s'explique

Here. It would appear that Sarkozy has decided to tough it out.

For Mitterrand I feel a certain pity, mitigated, however, by the rather sinuous way in which he mingles candor with equivocation. His strength as a writer is his ability to convey sincerity. As a politician, he cannot avail himself of this resource, and the strain is evident, for example, in his continuing defense of Polanski as "an artist of international reputation," even though he has clearly been told, and apparently accepts, that to interfere in the workings of international justice is not part of his brief as minister of culture.

Hence he neither recants nor reaffirms. He equivocates while attempting to cling to self-respect. That he cannot dissimulate like a born or hardened politician is to his credit, yet the effect of his performance is to make the viewer wish he were not forced to witness this spectacle in public.

I also felt sorry for Laurence Ferrari, who had to endure his outburst at the end. This was a public ritual in which each actor played a part. Ferrari played hers perfectly, neither submissive nor vindictive, and Mitterrand should have spared her his tongue-lashing. Unless, of course, the flare of anger was part of the act. The purpose of this play, after all, is to establish where the limits of decency lie, which parts of the private life of a public man should be subject to which standards of judgment. Indignation is a way of drawing a line in the sand. Marine Le Pen used it to move the line in one direction; Mitterrand uses it to move the line in another.


kirkmc said...

I found the spectacle quite disturbing. You may have missed the exceprt from an interview show to be broadcast on Sunday on France2, which was on a few minutes before he was on TF1. In the former, he was interviewed by Michel Drucker, who is no journalist, and asked no tough questions, and Mitterand was, well, just like a vedette invited on that TV show (Vivement Dimanche).

But on TF1, he used his fumbling anger to try and seem sincere, yet only came off as if he were dissimulating even more than before. He refused to answer Ferrari's questions directly, instead spinning webs of sentences to try and weasel in different directions. His semi-tears - real or fake - made the whole thing look like, I don't know, maybe Letterman's confession that he had affairs with his staff (I didn't see that one, but I can imagine what it was like). It seemed as though it were staged, as though it were simply a matter of riding out the storm on that show and getting back to work.

When it was over, I felt that I had just seen a manipulative man try and manipulate things even more. He claimed that his book wasn't fiction, but it wasn't a "récit", but he never really spoke clearly. Until the end, with an outburst that seemed to have been waiting to be used, but which was at odds with the rest of his comments.

A very, very strange man.

meshplate said...

I agree. Mitterand served the public up a large helping of very unconvincing double talk He took pains to define his book as neither factual, yet not fictional. Who but the psychoanalytically minded is going to go for that? It is clear from that book that it was precisely the youth and availability of the boys that he found particularly piquant. In the interview, he referred to a forty year old (former?) boxer, yet in the text he refers to a boy of (a respectable?) twenty. He said he was never with anyone more than five years his junior. When did these trips to Thailand take place? These facts can be checked, and Ferrari was right to ask how could he be sure about the boys' ages. Since he took a firm position without sufficient reflection on Polanksi, which we are now asked to understand was an excusable emotional reaction, why should we presume his clearly emotional (and snide: Laurence Ferrari) defense, exacted in the heat of controversy, was any more thoughtful? A decent man, which is what he would have the public believe he is, would surely have resigned in order to avoid embarrassing himself and his patron further.

Cincinna said...

Seen this evening on TF1 NEWS with Laurence Ferrarri . SHE DIDN’T BELIEVE HIM EITHER.





I found him to be arrogant, elitist, pathetic, self pitying, and not telling the truth.

Very sad . I used to love his Du Cote du Chez Fred and some of his specials on Hollywood.

Time for Fred to step up to the plate and offer his resignation, and for Sarko to accept it. His political career is fini.

What do you all think after watching the video?

Predictions on his political future?

brent said...

Unlike previous posters I found MItterand's interview quite gripping. I know little about his personal history and haven't read the book (only Marine LePen's hysterical excerpts), but as an American I thought two aspects were especially remarkable: 1) the frank claim to a "complex" sexual identity not easily categorized, coupled with a challenge to the viewers to claim faultlessness for themselves: I am reminded that absolutist (heterosexual) monogamy is the only acceptable public standard in most of America, in marked contrast to private practice; and 2) his assertion of a complex hermeneutics for literary works, despite Ferrarri's (perfectly proper) journalistic insistence on 'just the facts.' But there IS a grey zone between récit and mémoire, and works of literature (even self-proclaimed memoirs) ought not to be read like depositions. As in 1) Mitterand makes a claim for complexity of understanding in contexts where it is merited, in contrast to the 'anglo-saxon' public sphere's insistence on a childish yes-or-no, did-you-or-didn't-you simplicity.

Leo said...

Kirk and Mesh,

before Brent's comment I was about to say that this is additional proof that upbringing and home culture are the parents of sensitivity. As my wife and I (both French) were watching the video this morning (we are currently in Tokyo) we were both struck by Mitterand's sincerity. And this after having profoundly disliked his book which we bought in 2005 on the strength of a unanimous critique and which we quickly dropped, disturbing as it was.

Having now watched the video (and read Brent's illuminating comment) we now understand better why "la mauvaise vie". Unpleasant, but complex indeed.

All this does not absolve Mitterand of his stupid attitude concerning Polanski. And his "emotion" defence argument is very lame.

Finally, Art. Coming back to the cultural cum upbringing argument, I did not hear any tongue lashing at Ferrari (who by the way conducted an excellent interview) just the normal strongly worded reaction of a man who does not want, albeit indirectly, to be accused of paedophilia.

meshplate said...

Isn't the bottom line in this affair that it is impossible to have a minister who is a confessed boarder line pedophiliac sexual tourist in a government that has taken measure to prosecute pedophiliac sexual tourism? As Mr Goldhammer has pointed out, the standards for a minister and writer are not the same, especially when that minister has come to the very public defense of the indefensible Roman Polanski.

kirkmc said...

With all due respect to Brent, I don't give a rat's ass about a "complex sexual identity", as long as it doesn't involve children. He can do whatever the heck he wants with consenting adults. He, and you, just try to introduce some psychobabble to skirt the real issue: did he or didn't he bugger boys, and did he or didn't he "brag" about doing so in his book. (I personally think the latter is the case, from reading the exceprts.) There's nothing about "hermeneutics" when you're dealing with such an issue: there are only yeses and nos.

kirkmc said...

BTW, I don't think anyone - French or otherwise - is criticizing Mitterand because he's gay (or, more likely, bisexual), no more than the criticize Delanoé for being gay, or my member of parliament. If that were the case, the FN would have done so long ago.

Suzanne said...

40-year-old prostitutes in Thailand?


Just read the passage. "Des gosses"? Des "éphèbes"?

The guy strains credulity.

He denies pedophilia, but that's possibly a mental reservation. In a strict definition of the word, it refers to sex with pre-pubescent boys. And the referrence to 40-year-olds reminds me of how kids in bars claim they're 32 when they're 16, so to avoid suspicion. It just strains credulity.

And note how in the 2005 interviews, he was keen to say that had he not written the chapter on sex tourism, he would have been lying to himself.

He's trying to answer the charges without answering the charges. Instead of being more upfront-- which is what he needs to do if he's really not guilty-- he obscures the thing more. In 2005, the thing was autobiographical; now it's just a "récit".

To me, it smells like he's guilty of something. It's all reminiscent of Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman"-- whereby in HIS mind, oral sex didn't count as "sex".

And the whole "I won't dignify the charges of the plèbe" attitude is going to backfire.

meshplate said...

This debate should be viewed and discussed. Personally, I had some esteem for Finkielkraut--once.

meshplate said...

Sorry, I forgot the link:

kirkmc said...

Among other things, he's not read Proust, because the "narrator" never had sex with the "jeunes filles en fleur"... As for the rest, he sounds like he's unhinged.

Unknown said...

A couple of things. Finkielkraut: I think he's a scoundrel for justifying Polanski by invoking the fact that "the girl had a sex life." Yes, this thirteen-year-old child admitted that she had twice had sex before Polanski. Not, however, with a 43-year-old man who drugged her and had anal intercourse with her. And then Finkielkraut, having exposed her prior sexual activity, had the gall to suggest that the "publicity" had been harder on this supposed femme fatale than the act.

Second, on the age of Mitterrand's Thai partner: I believe him when he puts the young man's age at 20. Why not? The words garçon, gosse, and ephèbe in the mouth of a 50+-year-old writer apply perfectly to someone of that age. So, Kirk, I think the charge of pedophilia is misplaced, and in this respect Mitterrand is right to allege that there is "un amalgame" between the two cases. He is guilty of sexual tourism, not statutory rape (a crime that Finkielkraut seems to be unaware is a crime).

Now, when it comes to sex between the old and the young, for cash, in foreign climes, I suggest that we put things in perspective. Anyone who has served in the military in a poor country or been on a mission or business trip to the Third World knows that this sort of sin is hardly uncommon. That's not the issue. I agree with Brent that Mitterrand admirably represents the "complexity" of one man's thoughts in regard to such behavior, in this case his own. He finds it sordid and yet cannot help himself. Reading him, we understand why he thinks of his own life as an example of "la mauvaise vie," and here I take the definite article to mean that he regards The Bad Life as an antithesis to The Good Life that is beyond the reach of the fallen sinner he represents himself as being. For me, his primary error as minister was his defense of Polanski, not his sexual tourism: there is probably not a colonel in the French army who has not indulged in some questionable sexual escapade abroad. The sexual tourism issue is a problem for the government, not for Mitterrand (except insofar as his personal demons are involved). The government has in the past prosecuted behavior like his. Can it maintain him as a minister and continue to brand behavior to which he has confessed as a crime? I put that as a question. I haven't made up my mind, but at the moment I am inclined to think that Sarkozy is right to resist the denunciations of the FN, elements of the PS, Christian Vanneste, et autres Savonarole des temps modernes.

kirkmc said...

Sexual tourism is not a crime. What is a crime is sexual tourism with minors. (Which is, actually, a strange thing, when you consider that people are being prosecuted in their own country for a crime committed in another country, with different mores...)

Another point that isn't made often enough is that, at least according to early reports I saw, Mitterand is a personal friend of Polanksi, and his reaction was, in part, an abuse of his position as minister of culture. If he was reacting out of friendship, then he should resign; he should have known better.

The only reason this whole issue about Mitterand's past and his book have come up was because of that mistake, because he reacted so quickly and so violently (and, in the eyes of many, incorrectly) to Polanski's arrest. If not, no one would be having this conversation about Mitterand himself, and the issue would be only whether Polanski should face the justice he fled from.

meshplate said...

If one adds the issues together (confessed sexual tourism + defense of convicted felon (plus criticism of an major allies system of justice), surely the time has come for Minister Mitterrand to go. As a public intellectual, he can huff and puff about whatever he likes whenever he likes.

meshplate said...

I think Finkielkraut made himself look quite ridiculous, arguing as if some equivalence between the Polanski and Dreyfus affairs could be discovered if only he wished for it enough. But any miscarriage of justice in this affair bears only on Polanski's sentence, not his crime. However, Finkielkraut also takes B-HL's line that it is because Polanski is a celebrity that he is being prosecuted (rather than it is because he is a celebrity that he has gotten away with this for 30 years). There is no empirical or logical evidence for this. Are no other fugitives from justice pursued except those that are the famous? And, were this so, wouldn't Polanski have been detained years ago by an earlier publicity seeking judge?