Thursday, February 17, 2011

Indignez-vous? Not so fast ...

Adam Kirsch has a very interesting review of Stéphane Hessel's best-selling Indignez-vous! which he regards as a misguided and even "dangerous" perpetuation of the apolitical moralism of the Resistance into a period in which such an understanding of public life can only cause trouble:

It might seem hard to object to Hessel’s message, which, on one level, is as platitudinous as a high-school graduation speech: care about the world you live in, fight injustice, cherish non-violence (“I am convinced that the future belongs to non-violence, to the reconciliation of different cultures”). Yet there is actually something quite troubling about the huge popularity of Indignez-vous! and about the political use it makes of the Resistance legacy. For what defined the years 1940 to1944 in France was, precisely, the absence of politics: a country under foreign occupation is deprived of the opportunity, and the responsibility, of self-government. This is a source of humiliation and suffering, but it can also, to those brave people who continue to engage in public life, be a source of exhilarating clarity. Especially when the occupier is as unmistakably evil as Nazi Germany, and especially when the resister is half-Jewish, like Hessel, the compromises and uncertainties of ordinary politics are abolished. “Resisting, for us, meant refusing to accept German occupation and defeat. It was relatively simple,” Hessel recalls.

And what could be more natural than wanting to carry this simplicity and urgency into the realm of ordinary politics, where everything is so maddeningly complicated and drawn-out? “We are determined to replace politics with morality,” Camus wrote in an editorial in Combat, the Resistance newspaper, on September 4, 1944. “That is what we call a revolution.” Yet, within days of the Liberation—as you can see dramatically in the remarkable volume Camus at Combat: Writing 1944-1947—the Resistance’s exemption from politics began to crumble, as the compromises involved in actual governing returned.

Since I am the translator of the Camus volume, and have also been struck by the abrupt transformation of Camus's thinking occasioned by postwar divisions and purges, I am pleased by this comparison. But no doubt it will make some readers indignant, because Hessel's book has become a rallying point for many.

Outrage à dictateur

Un professeur du lycée français du Caire a été convoqué à l'ambassade puis rapatrié « pour sa sécurité » parce qu'il avait manifesté contre Hosni Moubarak, place Tahrir, avec une pancarte « Casse-toi pauvre con ». C'est une curieuse histoire que révèle Car deux semaines plus tôt à Tunis, la famille d'un autre professeur, assaillie par les pillards, s'était vu, elle, refuser un rapatriement. Deux conceptions de la sécurité.

Full story here.

Sarko-Microsoft Lovefest

Hmmm. President Sarkozy has decorated Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer with the Légion d'honneur, saluting a firm that "understands the humanist values of France and Europe." And Ballmer returned the favor, recognizing France as a "land of innovation ... attractive [to investors, presumably] ... with many resources to be one of the leaders in international competition."

Cool. So why can't Google digitize the books in the BNF? Surely a Google monopoly is no more a threat to "the humanist values of France and Europe" than a Microsoft monopoly.

Ben Ali Had Many Friends in High Places

According to Le Monde.