Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jacques Marseille

The death of historian Jacques Marseille is in all the papers today. One might take his passing as symbolic of what has happened to Sarkozyan France. Of modest background, a Communist in his youth, he became a convert to economic liberalism with a nationalist tinge. After retiring from the Sorbonne, he worked as a regular contributor to Le Point. His ideas seemed for a brief moment to have triumphed. And then he was stricken.

I was amused to discover this morning that he felt that the French needed to be taught to love France again. L' esprit râleur had taken its toll. Of course the pessimistic mood that he so deplored was in part the fruit of the "declinist" discourse that neoliberals dispensed during their years in the desert: France was being strangled by its sclerotic musculature, they argued, and would not be itself again until it had been "reformed." But Marseille wasn't a scold in the mold of Nicolas Baverez.

«Le remède, il n'y en a qu'un, donner aux Français quelque chose à aimer. Et leur donner d'abord à aimer la France, concevoir la réalité correspondant au nom de France de telle manière que dans sa vérité, elle puisse être aimée avec toute l'âme.»
He used this quote from Simone Weil as an epigraph to a sort of textbook on the love of France. There's something odd about the mish-mash of things he felt every Frenchman ought to have in his mind's eye:

Certes, on pourra penser que ce bric-à-brac est particulièrement hétéroclite. Qu'y a-t-il de commun entre la 2 CV et La Marseillaise, le pastis et Le Serment du Jeu de Paume, la Grande Vadrouille et le général de Gaulle, Jean Jaurès et le champagne, le bac et la tour Eiffel, Clovis et le RMI, la galanterie et Verdun ? 

But true love is often odd and not seldom "heteroclite." When I think about France, a comparable--not identical, but comparable--jumble of images comes to mind.


Kirk said...

Many of his show his age: the 2 CV (one of the most uncomfortable, and unsafe cars I've ever ridden in), La Grand Vadrouille (perhaps these days a better reference would be Bienvenu Chez les Chtis; ten years ago it would have been Les Visiteurs), and Le General.

But, yes, your France is different from his, and mine is different from both of yours'. My guess is that in most countries - in the west at least - such differences are much more common today than when I was young (my teenaged years were in the 70s). There's more of everything today, and fewer people share the same cultural references because of fragmentation.

Unknown said...

Sorry to place this here as it is unrelated to Marseille, but related to being French. A massive simplification of identity papers has just been decided, and this will be of great importance to the millions of French whose family was not always French.

To wit (but this is not wit, this is what happened, for instance, to my mother and, I suspect, to Anne Sinclair), guys, you don't have to prove anymore that your great-grand-parents were French in order to get your ID renewed. Your previous ID is now enough.

Why did they do that? No, it's not because someone of hungarian or greek origin had to renew their papers, it's because the bureaucratic system had finally caught up with its contradictions and had stopped functioning. Check it out.