Thursday, February 6, 2014

Martel on Finkielkraut's Identité malheureuse

A blistering review that must be read in its entirety.


barang promosi said...

great blog, i really lile it,
thanks for sharing mate :)

Mitch Guthman said...

It does seem like a blistering review. Unfortunately, I have only had time to skim Martel’s review and it was difficult reading for me because it’s written in a very sophisticated language, in a seemingly indirect way, with meanings that I may not yet be able to grasp. Frankly, the writing seemed a bit sneering and self-indulgent (a sin of which I myself an consistently guilty) and it was difficult for me to see much more than a sense of sneering disapproval for all but the last three paragraphs. Whether this reflects flaws in Martel’s writing or the inadequacy of my reading comprehension, I can’t really say.

As it happens, I have read the article to which Martel referred and some others in which Finkielkraut described his disagreements with the present version of multiculturalism where there are essentially separate nations and cultures awkwardly sharing the same physical space. The fact that there are people on the right who describe the problem similarly seems particularly damming to Martel, even though he really never says why that should be so. For myself, I have frequently spoken out in against multiculturalism and there is a large body of respectable opinion on the left that shares my concerns.

Obviously, the question of proposal resolutions of the problem is equally important than simply describing the problem and, indeed, probably far more important. Does assimilation require a “French identity” and “French culture” about which there’s a society wide consensus? I haven’t learned as much about France as many others writing here but it seems clear to me that France is still culturally divided in much the same way that it was divided before the Revolution. So, the question would be into whose culture should newcomers be assimilated? I gather that Martel thinks Finkielkraut offers nothing by way of solutions.

At this point, I actually agree with much that Martel says and the questions he raises are important ones, particularly in the last half of the review where he finally gets down to business but his sneering tone makes me uncomfortable. Speaking only for myself, I feel the tone diminishes my confidence in Martel’s reporting about what is and isn’t in the book. I think these question Martel asks are very good ones but, under the circumstances, I will need to see for myself whether they are addressed in the book.

My early impression is that Martel has written a polemic in which he condemns Finkielkraut for having written a longer, more detailed polemic.

Anonymous said...

@Mitch If it helps, here is a
translation of a considerable portion of Martel's crit

Mitch Guthman said...

@ Anonymous,

Thanks, that actually was very helpful. It’s infinitely better than my translation. Still, it’s roughly what I understood Martel to be saying. The problem for me that what I want in a book review is a description of the book's central arguments, accompanied by a critical analysis. Because of the way the review is written, it’s just impossible to know whether Martel’s on the money or is just making ad hominem attacks or arguing against straw men.

One just has to take Martel on faith or read the book and see if he’s right. So, while Martel's review was very entertaining, it really didn't address my needs as a prospective reader of the book.

Here’s an example: Martel attacks Finkielkraut’s reading of the 1905 Law as self-serving and dependent on an historical analysis that is wrong This is a very concrete thing. What did Finkielkraut say about the 1905 Law and the history of secularism? Why was he wrong? How does this error compromise the overall argument of the book? Martel never tells us where Finkielkraut went wrong or why it matters. I understand it’s in Slate, but even so a bit more substance would have been nice.

That said, I agree with Martel that what matters isn’t the persuasiveness of Finkielkraut’s arguments against the burqa or for secularism or even his nostalgia for a France that seems sadly to have vanished before his eyes. Lot’s of people (myself included) are convinced that the multiculturalist notion that one can have permanently isolated, but ever growing, groups of immigrants living separate lives in their new host country has proven disastrous. Martel is right is staying that what matters is Finkielkraut's plan.

So, what’s Finkielkraut’s plan? The defect with the review is that while it is beautifully written, I couldn’t figure out where Martel explained either Finkielkraut’s plan or offered his own critique of it.

I will just have to buy the book and try to wade through it and then we will see.

Philippe Spalart said...

Ce qui est un peu etrange est que Finkelkraut est "un europeen de souche", mais pas "un francais de souche." Pourrait-il ecrire le meme livre au sujet de l'Allemagne, ou de l'Angleterre, ou de la Pologne? Ou de l'Europe entiere?

Je ne reproche pas a sa famille d'etre venue en France, bien sur.

brent said...

Not having read Finkielkraut's book, I can't comment on Martel's accuracy, but only on the acuity of his counter-arguments. Several of his assertions seem worth underscoring:
1) F's larger argument is against immigration, or at least gives comfort to those who hold this attitude, and in particular he deplores the immigration of whole families--thus immigrant communities--as opposed to single workers, who might thus be forced to integrate more completely. The vision that immigrants should either be excluded altogether or isolated from family and ethnic community strikes this American as both cruel and narrow, a formula for stagnation.
2) F apparently chooses to ignore the whole phenomenon of internet-driven global culture, social media, the actual mechanisms of cultural exchange in our era, while expressing nostalgia for older forms of culture. This willful refusal to understand the actual nature of cultural change allows him--or his acolytes--to link the global shift in French culture to the rising tide of immigration--as if les français de souche were turning to their immigrant neighbors in the banlieues for cultural direction, rather than downloading those alien elements from wherever.
3) His tragic view of the encroachments of English on the purity of French seems oddly ahistorical for someone with scholarly pretensions. An English speaker like myself could, I suppose, suffer the despair of knowing that my beloved English was tainted by the Norman Conquest, forcing us Anglophones to digest thousands of foreign-sounding French words over the last 9 centuries ... or we could notice that the infusion of Norman French wonderfully enriched our Anglo-Saxonisms. A similar argument could be made, of course, about immigration writ large and its offspring--such as F himself. That I think is the main thrust of Martel's argument, that F's lament is really a kind of psychomachy emanating, sadly, from an adopted Frenchman who will never, ever be French enough.

ledocs said...

I did not find the review sneering. At the same time, I did not find it particularly trenchant. Martel should have given several examples of the misuse of citations (in his view) by Finkielkraut, since one of his complaints about F. is that F's greatest talent is to range citations in a highly tendentious way. And I agree that he should have had at least a paragraph detailing what he believes to be F's misinterpretation of the law of 1905 concerning laicisme.

I thought the review was sort of elegaic. It reminds me of how I reacted to Christopher Hitchens becoming the main intellectual proponent of the Iraq war in the media. "This is not the Hitchens I grew up with, the one I admired."

Is there really a serious multiculturist position that maintains that different cultural enclaves/ghettos can happily coexist? I would have thought that multiculturalism generally foresees integration/assimiliation/mongrelization/hybridization/syncretism of cultures. I don't know this, to me "multiculturalism" is just a word. But, in any event, the real question is whether Finkielkraut opposes genuine assimilation of immigrants via intermarriage, or would that, too, undermine genuine French values and identity? Another difficult to unravel, not mentioned by Martel, is that Finkielkraut's problem with immigration is probably simultaneously a problem with our age more generally, as evidenced by his lack of interest in the Internet, or his overt hostility towards it. But there will be no turning back from the digitization of scholarly materials, and there should not be, because, in the absence of digitization, no serious scholar can get access to the materials he or she needs at today's book prices.

To me, this particular brouhaha seems superficial. Finkielkraut writes a brief and polemical piece of ephemera, and an exasperated and betrayed reviewer writes an exasperated and unsympathetic review of it.

FrédéricLN said...

Well, I didn't read the book and don't know much about good or bad reviews — but I stopped listening to Finkielkraut or read his writings since years for this very double reason: his simultaneous obsession and misunderstanding of a. present immigration, b. present (digital) communication. I'm sad about that, because he was one of the "grands espoirs" of my teacher Jean-Marie Domenach, and taught after Domenach at Polytechnique — maybe Domenach pushed him for the job.

It's not so much about the person. It's about the ambition of the "famille de pensée" I'm a tiny member of, after Domenach and many, to re-connect social science and humanities as a whole, to the world as it is and people's life — after those dark ages when much of social science had been captured by totalitarian ideologies, the mirage of self-demonstrative theories, and the brilliance of Quartier Latin essays.

That's for France; the United States may have gone too far in the opposite direction, over-relying on ad hoc experiments in social psychology, and over-using a micro-economic approach of human behaviours (all that is temptative, I know so few about it, it's more feelings that opinions).

Another of Domenach's "grands espoirs", Jean-Pierre Dupuy, did a great job, from my point of view, in connecting the two traditions, in challenging experimental results with strong theoretical approaches, and benchmarking theory-based assumptions with real life facts. So far, he did not become an "intellectuel médiatique", but he has been quite a bit listened to, as well as André Orléan on similar topics, after the 2008 financial crisis.

Well — let's watch what and who will emerge from the new generation!

FRANCIS said...

Art, It would have been fair to honest to post a companion paper on Slate, written by Eric Leser, one of Slate's initiators and former Le Monde correspondent in the US :
"Alain Finkielkraut ne se résume surtout pas à sa caricature"
"Ce que dit Alain Finkielkraut est qu’une société sans passé, qui renonce à ces mythes fondateurs et à son message est une société idiote et sans avenir. Un canard sans tête. «Nul ne peut penser par lui-même sans détour par les autres et notamment parce qui a été pensé avant lui… Nous ne produisons du neuf qu’à partir de ce que nous avons reçu. Oublier ou recouvrir notre passé, ce n’est pas nous ouvrir à la dimension de l’avenir: c’est nous soumettre sans résistance à la force des choses. Si rien ne se perpétue, aucun commencement n’est possible. Et si tout se mélange non plus».
Ce n’est certainement pas du fascisme dont l’ambition est de faire table rase d’une société à bout de souffle."

FRANCIS said...

Just discovered an enthusiastic review in a Canadian review. It is hard to find a quote, so that I finally choose this one :
"Plus sérieusement, il est pour le moins paradoxal de voir tous ceux qui prennent plaisir à stigmatiser Alain Finkielkraut, en suggérant à son propos des rapprochements douteux avec le Front national, abandonner à ce dernier un monopole sur ces questions d’identité nationale, d’immigration, de cohésion sociale, de règles communes, questions pourtant capitales pour l’avenir de nos démocraties. Cette démission intellectuelle de nos prétendues élites a tout d’un aveuglement, et livre bien des Français des classes populaires encore attachés à l’idée de nation à un sentiment d’abandon, qui les jette dans les bras… du Front national. Sur ce point aussi, le philosophe avait à l’avance rétorqué à ses détracteurs, en ayant sur eux l’avantage d’une certaine hauteur, lorsqu’il déclarait dans une de ces formules dont il a le génie : « Sacrifier la vérité afin de ne pas nourrir la bête, cela revient à nourrir la bête en lui faisant le cadeau de la vérité. » (p. 188)