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The Grandiose Disaster of France, according to Emil Cioran

by ValentinD Wed Jun 10th, 2009 at 04:56:48 PM EST

Why has France ceased to lead the world ? Answer by Cioran - in 1941, in his book "De la France".

A column from the French weekly Le Point, published in april 2009.

This original portrait of France has been written in 1941, in the heart of the dark years, by Emil Cioran, Romanian philosopher genius which subsequently adopted the French language for his many books. This one here, published by L'Herne, is read today with emotion, as author's hints of lucidity and pessimism make us ponder upon the deep inner workings of a country at the same time sybarite and hopeless.
Born in 1911 in Romania, of sulfurous past, enamoured of France, Cioran died in Paris in 1995. He dissects here in his own peculiar way the rise and the pettiness of a nation that fascinates him. Perhaps one of the most accurate reflections on the subject.

Excerpts.


« Je ne crois pas que je tiendrais aux Français s'ils ne s'étaient pas tant ennuyés au cours de leur histoire. Mais leur ennui est dépourvu d'infini. C'est l'ennui de la clarté . C'est la fatigue des choses comprises.
Tandis que, pour les Allemands, les banalités sont considérées comme l 'honorable substance de la conversation, les Français préfèrent un mensonge bien dit à une vérité mal formulée.
Tout un peuple malade du cafard. Voici le mot le plus fréquent, aussi bien dans le beau monde que dans la basse société. Le cafard est l'ennui psychologique ou viscéral ; c'est l'instant envahi par un vide subit, sans raison-alors que l'ennui est la prolongation dans le spirituel d'un vide immanent de l'être. En comparaison, Langeweile [l'ennui] est seulement une absence d'occupation.

Le siècle le plus français est le XVIIIe. C'est le salon devenu univers, c'est le siècle de l'intelligence en dentelles, de la finesse pure, de l'artificiel agréable et beau. ... Comme je me serais rafraîchi à l'ombre de la sagesse ironique de Mme du Deffand, peut-être la personne la plus clairvoyante de ce siècle ! "Je ne trouve en moi que le néant et il est aussi mauvais de trouver le néant en soi qu'il serait heureux d'être resté dans le néant." En comparaison, Voltaire, son ami, qui disait : "Je suis né tué", est un bouffon savant et laborieux. Le néant dans un salon, quelle définition du prestige !

Un trait d'esprit vaut une révélation. L'une est profonde mais ne peut s'exprimer, l'autre est superficiel mais exprime tout. N'est-il pas plus intéressant de s'accomplir en surface que de se désarmer par la profondeur ?

Qu'a-t-elle aimé, la France ? Les styles, les plaisirs de l'intelligence, les salons, la raison, les petites perfections. L'expression précède la Nature. Il s'agit d'une culture de la forme qui recouvre les forces élémentaires et, sur tout jaillissement passionnel, étale le vernis bien pensé du raffinement.

C'est d'elle que j'ai appris à ne me prendre au sérieux que dans l'obscurité et, en public, à me moquer de tout. Son école est celle d'une insouciance sautillante et parfumée. La bêtise voit partout des objectifs ; l'intelligence, des prétextes. Son grand art est dans la distinction et la grâce de la superficialité. Mettre du talent dans les choses de rien-c'est-à-dire dans l'existence et dans les enseignements du monde-est une initiation aux doutes français. La conclusion du XVIIIe siècle ... : l'univers est une farce de l'esprit.  

La divinité de la France : le Goût. Le bon goût. ...
Un peuple de bon goût ne peut pas aimer le sublime, qui n'est que la préférence du mauvais goût porté au monumental. La France considère tout ce qui dépasse la forme comme une pathologie du goût. Son intelligence n'admet pas non plus le tragique, dont l'essence se refuse à être explicite, tout comme le sublime. Ce n'est pas pour rien que l'Allemagne- das Land den Geschmacklosigkeit [le pays du mauvais goût]-les a cultivés tous les deux : catégories des limites de la culture et de l'âme.

Le péché et le mérite de la France sont dans sa sociabilité. Les gens ne semblent faits que pour se retrouver et parler. Le besoin de conversation provient du caractère a-cosmique de cette culture. Ni le monologue ni la méditation ne la définissent. Les Français sont nés pour parler et se sont formés pour discuter. Laissés seuls, ils bâillent. Mais quand bâillent-ils en société ? Tel est le drame du XVIIIe siècle.
C'est une culture a-cosmique, non sans terre mais au-dessus d'elle. Ses valeurs ont des racines, mais elles s'articulent d'elles-mêmes, leur point de départ, leur origine ne comptent pas. Seule la culture grecque a déjà illustré ce phénomène de détachement de la nature-non pas en s'en éloignant, mais en parvenant à un arrondi harmonieux de l'esprit. Les cultures a-cosmiques sont des cultures abstraites. Privées de contact avec les origines, elles le sont aussi avec l'esprit métaphysique et le questionnement sous-jacent de la vie.
L'intelligence, la philosophie, l'art français appartiennent au monde du Compréhensible. Et lorsqu'ils le pressentent, ils ne l'expriment pas, contrairement à la poésie anglaise et à la musique allemande. La France ? Le refus du Mystère.
Elle ressemble davantage à la Grèce antique. Mais, alors que les Grecs alliaient le jeu de l'intelligence au souffle métaphysique, les Français ne sont pas allés aussi loin, ils n'ont pas été capables-eux qui aiment le paradoxe dans la conversation-d'en vivre un en tant que situation.
Deux peuples : les plus intelligents sous le soleil.
L'affirmation de Valéry selon laquelle l'homme est un animal né pour la conversation est évidente en France, et incompréhensible ailleurs. Les définitions ont des limites géographiques plus strictes que les coutumes.

Un peuple sans mythes est en voie de dépeuplement. ...
Tant que la France parvenait à transformer les concepts en mythes , sa substance vive n'était pas compromise. La force de donner un contenu sentimental aux idées, de projeter dans l'âme la logique et de déverser la vitalité dans des fictions - tel est le sens de cette transformation, ainsi que le secret d'une culture florissante. Engendrer des mythes et y adhérer, lutter, souffrir et mourir pour eux, voilà qui révèle la fécondité d'un peuple.
Les "idées" de la France ont été des idées vitales, pour la validité desquelles on s'est battu corps et âme. Si elle conserve un rôle décisif dans l'histoire spirituelle de l'Europe, c'est parce qu'elle a animé plusieurs idées, qu'elle les a tirées du néant abstrait de la pure neutralité. Croire signifie animer.
Mais les Français ne peuvent plus ni croire ni animer. Et ils ne veulent plus croire, de peur d'être ridicules. La décadence est le contraire de l'époque de grandeur : c'est la retransformation des mythes en concepts.

Les peuples ne vivent réellement que dans la mesure où ils sont gavés d'idéaux, dans la mesure où ils ne peuvent plus respirer sous trop de croyances. La décadence est la vacance des idéaux, le moment où s'installe le dégoût de tout ;
c'est une intolérance à l'avenir - et, en tant que tel, un sentiment déficitaire du temps, avec son inévitable conséquence : le manque de prophètes et, implicitement, le manque de héros.[...]

Les Français se sont usés par excès d'être. Ils ne s'aiment plus, parce qu'ils sentent trop qu'ils ont été. Le patriotisme émane de l'excédent vital des réflexes ; l'amour du pays est ce qu'il y a de moins spirituel, c'est l'expression sentimentale d'une solidarité animale. Rien ne blesse plus l'intelligence que le patriotisme. L'esprit, en se raffinant, étouffe les ancêtres dans le sang et efface de la mémoire l'appel de la parcelle de terre baptisée, par illusion fanatique, patrie.
Comment la raison, retournée à sa vocation essentielle - l'universel et le vide - , pourrait-elle encore pousser l'individu dégoûté d'être citoyen vers l'abêtissement des palabres de la Cité ? La perte de ses instincts a scellé pour la France un grandiose désastre inscrit dans le destin de l'esprit.

Si, au soir de la civilisation gréco-romaine, le stoïcisme répandit l'idée de "citoyen du monde" parce que aucun idéal "local" ne contentait l'individu rassasié d'une géographie immédiate et sentimentale,
de même,
notre époque-ouverte, en raison de la décadence de la plus réussie des cultures, aspirera à la Cité universelle, dans laquelle l'homme, dépourvu d'un contenu direct, en cherchera un lointain, celui de tous les hommes,
insaisissable
et vaste.

Display:
Emphasis by me. Here is a link to the original column in Le Point here.

Here's one to stonecoal English translation by Google, here.

To be honest though, I doubt any translation ever would be able to reproduce the message in its original richness. This is to be read in French, and I dare say,  one of those texts that make it well worth learning French :)

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! (Martin Luther King)

by ValentinD (walentijn arobase free spot frança) on Wed Jun 10th, 2009 at 05:03:14 PM EST
i think he was infected a little by the grandiosity!

the french is sublime, though the thought streams a little tangled.

it was a terrible time for france, there's a bit of 'kicking when someone's down' flavour, and what he says about being born to converse is equally if not more true for the italians, but he makes some interesting points, and has a feel for the language, for sure.

how nice to see a diary in french, thanks ValentinD.

his points about ennui tie in with sartre.

ennui, it's not quite the same as boredom, is it?

why was it so notable a pathology in france, i wonder?

are there other countries which spend so much energy dissecting it?

it suggests unmet expectations, the crash after a manic high.

perhaps the success of the revolution in deposing the church and the monarchy left a bleeding hole in the heart of the country that secular humanism couldn't fill?

the description reminds me of eliot's 'the wasteland'.

europe had really hit rock bottom at that time, it's entirely forgivable for writers, and all sensitive people to have felt so bitter and pessimistic after all that had happened. contemplating the rubble of cities, and the thousands of new gravestones, is it surprising that people looked into a nation's soul and saw a barren void, rather than a plenium?

he rails against a kind of snobbery that is particularly french in its narcissism, its reverence for salon and style, but france is -or was- hardly alone in this, and there was much greatness in the country that he omits, lacking balance, especially as he was its guest.


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 05:28:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for your words. A few good ideas in there.

Indeed French discourse tends to be entangled... there is a taste for detail, for nuance, for in-phrase sentences and a need to cover everything that is to be said in one breath, that makes long, winding phrases quite usual. A bit like the paragraph above :)

One can hardly live in France and not be touched by the grandiosity: either it gets on one's nerves, or one starts adopting it without realising.
I for one have read the above text with a vivid feeling of empathy, so many points are valid today in every  life.

Ennui is not exactly boredom, it may mean worry, or trouble, but also lassitude, fatigue, the sense employed by Cioran. There is Sartre in that, l'affirmation de l'absurdité d'être, and the profound ennui resulting from that realisation. A french writer once explained  for him the verb "faire" was trivial, unimportant, while the verb "être" on the other hand, was  fundamental, expressing someone's very essence.

"la fatigue des choses comprises"... There is a certain sense of clarity to the French spirit that Cioran points to, always going for the ultimate cause of things. The French believe in absolute truths, like most people down south - you might have also noticed it about Italians. The fatigue, as in the feeling one has  found all (absolute) truths out there, and there's nothing more to know, just like the greatness is all in the history, and there are no more great things to do. It's the tiredness of Old peoples. And I'm thinking of italians too.

May be it was also the year, 1941, after the defeat.
But the article I quote was published in a recent issue of Le Point, precisely because it seems to fit so well the current moods.
There was talk these last years about the French fundamental values, the future of France, a new direction, a renaissance... There is a feeling like no one actually can put a finger on it. Like the 20th century somehow finished the history. What else is to be done now.
So I guess there's more to this text than just Cioran's pessimism and the dark years of the nazi occupation.

Somehow this reminds me of Japan. Another old people, which don't seem to have a problem reinventing themselves over and over again, every coupl'a'centuries.

I for one have not seen this tendency to introversion, and hairsplitting, to any other country.
Related to that, many warned about  a risk of "repli sur soi" these last years, btw.

Humanism and "l'esprit républicain" have definitely replaced the church and the monarchy - that was a long process all through the 18th and 19th c. , now completed.

Of course some of these are terrible generalizations, but also the overall feeling.

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! (Martin Luther King)

by ValentinD (walentijn arobase free spot frança) on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 08:13:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ValentinD:
Ennui is not exactly boredom, it may mean worry, or trouble, but also lassitude, fatigue, the sense employed by Cioran. There is Sartre in that, l'affirmation de l'absurdité d'être, and the profound ennui resulting from that realisation. A french writer once explained  for him the verb "faire" was trivial, unimportant, while the verb "être" on the other hand, was  fundamental, expressing someone's very essence.

hmm, well looking around at the ashes of europe at that time would lead any thinking person to ask those kinds of existential questions, as in:

"we say we know who we claim to be, but look at the fruits of our actions! do they not tell more about who we really are, than the pious claims to 'progress', which are our own reflections in narcis's pool?"

interesting also that this 'god is dead' phase of nihilism in europe was harbinger to the the onrush of input from eastern religions/philosophies that started with huxley, krishnamurti, watts and others during the decade after.

our religions in the west were all about doing, and doing became our god. we neglected being in favour of doing, and became inexpert, callow and naive about our own existential qualities.

personally i believe this change has been largely positive, with some notable exceptions, and credit this sense of moral vacuum your diary describes as being the driver to seek out others' opinions and beliefs as possible alternatives to the western attitudes of cultural imperialism and taylorist industrialism whose bitter fruit lay before their stinging eyes.

yes we had dragged ourselves up out of child slavery, the black death and the inquisition...

and hitler wasn't even religious, so we couldn't use that scapegoat to explain away the collective psychosis.

it made us face that productionism had become our de facto religion, and the cosmically stupid results of taking that path.

we are still strugglng to emerge from those contradictions, imo, and you could even say that much of europe's elder generations is still in PTSD.

the old dregs of nationalism are slow to dissolve, but the young, who travel the continent like one big back yard, will bring a change, incrementally, as they see through the conditioning of cultural determinism much better than the generations presently calling the shots.

i digress...

ValentinD:

The French believe in absolute truths, like most people down south - you might have also noticed it about Italians.

actually i see it different. moral relativity is an art form here in italy!
the contributions of france to european thought and identity have been, and are immense.
placed at its heart, she represents many of our finest qualities, chief of which is nuance.

what i am happy to see lampooned is the pretentiousness that is also a national characteristic, and thin-skinned defensiveness at the merest suggestion we outside france may have some claims to culture too, lol! too self-referential...

it's often said that visitors can see a country in some ways better than its inhabitants, de toqueville was a good example of that.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Jun 13th, 2009 at 05:21:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmm. 'But look at the fruits of our actions'! do they not tell more about who we really are.

That's reasons enough to bring up thoughts about the  "fundamental absurdity of being".
And this applies to so many other contexts. From an eco view point, for instance - so much 'progress', and look what we've done to this world.
Being so careless for so long, and then suddenly waking up to the results of our deeds is doomed to lead to subliminal passive-nihilist feelings.

You're right about the onrush of input from eastern philosophies. I have a hard time calling it religion - at least here in the West it was perceived more like a way of life, with some esoterism to make it go down easier. This shows imo how people need spirituality in their lives, even in absence of established religions. I think in absence of any structure, parachuted on a desert island and left to their own devices, people would still devise a law system (that would limit the 'Positive Freedom' :) ) and a spiritual  one.

Your point about religions being about doing... this might be one of those differences between the western and eastern christianities. I'm no expert in the subject, but being educated in the eastern one, this is  how it feels.

My theory is that productionism and then consumerism are direct consequences of materialism. I don't even hold my friend Marx guilty for that (even though he did put in his brick): the progress of the physical science has been so overwhelming that we were bound to be taken away with the wave.
On the other hand, when we confound the destruction of a rigid, stratified, closed, society, with the dismantling of any moral and spiritual value system, I think we're running grave dangers.
This is why I've always made the connection between the 'positive freedom' dogma and the neoliberalism. Bankers are humans, the financial world is inside the human society, not the other way around, and we'll have to think and see if our society's ruling principles are not the root cause of the destruction we witness.

You mention the generation calling the shots, 40 to 70 yo I imagine; but they are those who were children or young adults in the  '60s and '70s, they were brought up during the sexual liberation, the flowerpower, the hippy and the wars for civic liberties. The old nationalists are long gone by now.
Erasmus and Interrail brought young people out and about in Europe, but most of my own workmates (in the 27-40 yo range) hardly ever travelled outside France.
This is why I wonder if nationalists will ever go away, just like I wondered about religions.
I don't know. I started to stop believing in 'trends'. The society seems to be much more complex than any mind could fathom.

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! (Martin Luther King)

by ValentinD (walentijn arobase free spot frança) on Sun Jun 14th, 2009 at 10:01:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Comment responses
You're right about the onrush of input from eastern philosophies. I have a hard time calling it religion - at least here in the West it was perceived more like a way of life, with some esoterism to make it go down easier. This shows imo how people need spirituality in their lives, even in absence of established religions. I think in absence of any structure, parachuted on a desert island and left to their own devices, people would still devise a law system (that would limit the 'Positive Freedom' :) ) and a spiritual  one.

i can understand why you wouldn't call eastern philosophies' religion', but the matrix whence they came certainly was, and their age and durability predate what we laughingly call civilisation-as-we-know-it.

having boiled out what you term 'esoterism' from our own worship, eastern thought contained ancient truths that we perceived as novel, as they hadn't been chez nous for centuries.

i detect, possibly erroneously, a note of disparagement in your reference to 'going down easier'.

ValentinD:

My theory is that productionism and then consumerism are direct consequences of materialism.

quite possibly so, but here's another duality we should surely be a' wearying of by now. matter and spirit are not separate, notwithstanding western efforts to claim it so.

as for a way of life, yes, but not in the accoutrement sense, bells, patchouli etc, more in a series of cultural windows opening, whose scented air revealed in contrast the foetid spiritual fumes we were idiotically committed to breathing.

the orient has a different take on time than we do, maybe because they have more of it recorded, i don't know for sure.

in trying to annihilate emptiness of time(instead of vice-versa), we have merely succeeded in speeding it up, and we are paying the price, as the desert proverb says: 'to hurry is to die'.

when the receiver breaks down, it's natural to give in to thinking/believing the sender is dead.

ValentinD:

You mention the generation calling the shots, 40 to 70 yo I imagine; but they are those who were children or young adults in the  '60s and '70s, they were brought up during the sexual liberation, the flowerpower, the hippy and the wars for civic liberties. The old nationalists are long gone by now.

excuse me, 70 year olds were very rarely affected by the new wave of ideas we're discussing, besides, don't you think the young prancing puppets sent to entertain and distract us have strings pulled by 70 and 80 year-olds?

interestingly enough the numbers you quote fall quite neatly either side of the fault line, too old or too young to have had their adolescent hearts broken by their own culture, and to have had faith rekindled by other ways of devotion, condemned as 'colourful' by the p-t-b, and relegated to sunday supplement lifesyle pages, and soon commercialised into trivia.

how much damage have rumsfeld and cheney caused, and these are only two that are visible?

being 70 ain't what it used to be, look at berli, nation wrecker extrordinaire! monkey gland extracts and the best medicine money can buy have extended these old vampires' lifespans, while a generation or go they would have been sent off to drool at pasture, now they own vaccine firms, frolic with harems and shoot their friends.

funny old world...

(devil's avocado warning)

ValentinD:

On the other hand, when we confound the destruction of a rigid, stratified, closed, society, with the dismantling of any moral and spiritual value system, I think we're running grave dangers.

yes, and in not dismantling (more peaceful than destroying) 'rigid, stratified, closed,' religious tyrannies we run equally grave ones.

 let's add 'sexist', 'child-abusive', 'medieval-minded' to that list while we're at it.

ValentinD:

Erasmus and Interrail brought young people out and about in Europe, but most of my own workmates (in the 27-40 yo range) hardly ever travelled outside France.

that's why we're still a generation away...
ValentinD:

I don't know. I started to stop believing in 'trends'. The society seems to be much more complex than any mind could fathom.

trends are mostly visible in the rear view mirror. society's over-complexity is a giant overcompensation stemming from the amount of truthiness sold us as gospel.

be your own trend, lol!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Jun 16th, 2009 at 10:07:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"moral relativity is an art form here in italy!
... what i am happy to see lampooned is the pretentiousness that is also a national characteristic, and thin-skinned defensiveness at the merest suggestion we outside france may have some claims to culture too, lol! too self-referential...
"

lol Well when one lives in France one begins to understand how that comes about, and even see it as quite harmless. On the other hand there's a certain kind of nationalism, or rather, ethnocentrism in France. I see it in relation with the obsession for nuance, which leads to sometimes absurd exigence, even perfectionism, and with the 'absolute-truth' side.

Note that I said 'absolute truths', not absolute morals! Morals are a complicate thing, it involves  empathy, style and a lot other things.
I was rather speaking about the cartesian spirit at work here. The cartesian spirit needs absolute precision, and accepts no relativity (even when it look like it does).

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! (Martin Luther King)

by ValentinD (walentijn arobase free spot frança) on Sun Jun 14th, 2009 at 10:12:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One more word - or maybe two.

Ever since the romantic period, and particularly the last 40 years, there is a certain intrinsic melancholy to the French spirit.
An economist (probably not much loved in this neck of woods: J. Marseille) was pointing out with data at hand that once that every couple of years or so the French declare themselves in Crisis. One may look at this as an acknowledgement of realities of poverty and inequalities. One may also wonder if it is quite normal for a nation to continuously feel this way.
Melancholy is certainly not a motor for progress, for adding new great deeds to the History.
And it does ressemble that mourning feeling Cioran speaks of.

As to the French reverence for style and taste, one might certainly mention Italy and Japan too in there. But for Cioran, unless the latter two countries, in France it became un fin en soi, and a river winding down in pathological ennui. It turns philosophical, which is why he compares it with Greece, and not Italy.

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! (Martin Luther King)

by ValentinD (walentijn arobase free spot frança) on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 08:28:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some points are right, some points desperately superficial, and the whole thing permeated by the defeat of 1940, which was an accident that had nothing to do with any French spirit.

Accident, indeed: If the French High Command had taken one or two basic precautions, there would have been no defeat; for example half of the French air force was not in France, and many, or most of the top line planes were not armed, because some did not trust the workers with canon... Other example : the armored mobile army had not been sent to the Netherlands, a bottomless idiocy... And so on: one may wonder if the High Command had not betrayed, and there was a trial in this sense...

Finally, let's point out that to put the French spirit in comparison with the Nazi spirit is beyond silly. Why not compare the Jews with the Eichmans?

Patrice Ayme Patriceayme.com Patriceayme.wordpress.com http://tyranosopher.blogspot.com/

by Patrice Ayme on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 01:07:26 AM EST
the 9 (or was it 7?) divisions of the French armored mobile army had not been sent to rescue the  previously treachorously neutral Netherlands, they could have been used as a reserve, and they would have easily cut behind Guderian's ten Panzer divisions, and Hitler would have lost the war completely right there.

As it was, after rushing 400 kms in 2 days, they could not turn around (although they tried, but tanks cannot go that far without breakdowns).

Cioran, in indeed superb French, is deducing philosophy from general Gamelin's befuddled mind... Silly. But not some of what he says cannot be used... It's like the Qur'an...  

Patrice Ayme Patriceayme.com Patriceayme.wordpress.com http://tyranosopher.blogspot.com/

by Patrice Ayme on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 01:34:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
had cut the dikes behind the French tanks, expecting just what happened...

Patrice Ayme Patriceayme.com Patriceayme.wordpress.com http://tyranosopher.blogspot.com/
by Patrice Ayme on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 01:36:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe it was just the echo of the defeat in 1940, although to me it looks like I can still feel the end-of-history melancholy.

There was no comparison with the Nazi btw, I think Cioran 's reflexion about german lack of taste was the kind of remark writers and philosophers allow themselves to. One  once called belgian people molusques, in a rush of deep ennnui, so well :)

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! (Martin Luther King)

by ValentinD (walentijn arobase free spot frança) on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 08:38:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This text should be read in its historical context and be taken lightly.

I very much like two lines:

l'univers est une farce de l'esprit

This illustrates France's 'a-cosmique' take on life very well, as its bourgeois ideal. It contrasts very much with Germany's (today) much more down-to-earth ways that often lack elegance or style while there's much admiration for France's airy-fairy 'Art-de-Vivre'.

I disagree with P. Ayme above who claims that Cioran compares the French with the Nazis unless he considers that German and Nazi are synonymous.

Rien ne blesse plus l'intelligence que le patriotisme.

So true!

by Lily (put - lilyalmond - here <a> yahaah.france) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 04:47:08 PM EST
"This text should be read in its historical context and be taken lightly"

You will allow me to disagree - this text is definitely not designed for the purely analythical mind :) To me, the "felt", the spiritual side to Cioran's view about the French spirit is at least as important as the rational side.

Moreover, I suspect that upon reading this, most French today would agree and even feel pride of being French, from reasons which would fully confirm Cioran ! :)

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! (Martin Luther King)

by ValentinD (walentijn arobase free spot frança) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 05:05:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Okay, there is a felt, spiritual side to Cioran's writings but they were valid in their time. While he describes Frenchness that flatters the French still today, he also holds firm views about how the German character differs from that.

Now, it is no flattery to tell Germans that they have bad taste, even if German taste doesn't compare to how French will define taste. Cioran couldn't possibly have written anything pleasant about German taste in 1941 unless he himself had been a Nazi.

That's the 'tangled' part of the story: the historical context and his timeless, genuine perception of people within that context. This is why I beg to differ from P. Ayme when he says Cioran compares the French with Nazis.

by Lily (put - lilyalmond - here <a> yahaah.france) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 05:24:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"pour les Allemands, les banalités sont considérées comme l 'honorable substance de la conversation..."

That is not flattering. Il me plait davantage d'imaginer que Cioran denonce ici plus les Nazis que les Allemands. Pour l'essentiel du reste, comme Valentin remarque, Cioran tourne la force essentielle de la culture francaise en une faiblesse... Parcequ'il regarde la defaite, l'accident....

Patrice Ayme Patriceayme.com Patriceayme.wordpress.com http://tyranosopher.blogspot.com/

by Patrice Ayme on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 10:44:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think his statement about German lack of taste was more in the direction of Germans possessing a "sense of practicality", a spirit turned to functionality, rather than unwielded artsy stuff - someone recently wrote to me about that same thing.
Cioran obviously writes from the French point of view, and I for one see absolutely nothing in his text reminding of the nazi occupation. If I cut out the year, I doubt any one could have recognized it.

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! (Martin Luther King)
by ValentinD (walentijn arobase free spot frança) on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 08:44:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
as you point out. Namely he mostly says the French are hyper critical, that's the only religion and affectionate respect for a behavior that they truly have. As you point out, most of today'sFrench would pretty much be proud of this. Indeed so, and it would be right.

So Cioran is right on the fundamental. He is now wrong on some very interesting evolutions, such as France getting empty of people. That was true in the 150 years before 1945... France natality took a dive, whereas the German one skyrocketed (so Germany ended up with about twice France's 40 millions)... Now it's the exact opposite. Maybe the French spirit, of hyper criticism, was too much to bear,then, but it feels more comfortable now.

Now this French hyper criticism is becoming a rampart against nihilism and also a rampart against the sort of financial abuse and disaster we saw last year (and still ongoing). So the French are feeling better with themselves.

Cioran misattributed France's defeat to France's hyper criticism. It's quite the opposite. Because of hyper criticism, France was well, hypercritical of the Nazis, so was more ready to fight the Nazis than any other democracy. France should have won in 1940, and the Nazis knew it, so they tried a desperate plan, which, in conjunction with bad luck and extremely incompetent tactics on the French side, while Guderian used secretly the ten Panzer division as a sport car on drugs (literally!),led to an extremely accidental defeat.

The defeat was just an accident. What was not accidental, though, is that the Nazis, as they sat in Paris and all over France with 60 divisions, became infused with the French spirit, and increasingly critical of the home office. In the coup of July 1944, the Wehrmacht locked up the SS in France (a tech term: they seized key SS installations, immobilizing the Waffen SS divisions). By 1944, the Nazi Rommel had put a warrant of arrest against the Nazi SS officer that ordered Oradour...

The spirit lives from the critique, and the more critique, the more spirit....

Patrice Ayme Patriceayme.com Patriceayme.wordpress.com http://tyranosopher.blogspot.com/

by Patrice Ayme on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 11:10:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is more than just hypercriticism, I think. And I tend to think Cioran mentioned the "dépeuplement" figuratively - at least this passage seems to indicate it:

"Engendrer des mythes et y adhérer, lutter, souffrir et mourir pour eux, voilà qui révèle la fécondité d'un peuple. Les "idées" de la France ont été des idées vitales, pour la validité desquelles on s'est battu corps et âme. Si elle conserve un rôle décisif dans l'histoire spirituelle de l'Europe, c'est parce qu'elle a animé plusieurs idées, qu'elle les a tirées du néant abstrait de la pure neutralité. Croire signifie animer.

In my understanding, the problem seems to be about "vital ideas", ideals, that France produced and defended in the past (le vrai "rayonnement") and would now be missing. On the contrary, since the '50s France contented copying each and every cultural product of the US - from blue-jeans and country music via Hollywood to the libertarianist ideas of the '60s. What is The Genuine French spiritual or intellectual creation of the last 50 years ?

The part about the germans in Paris is interesting. I've seen a book and several comments about French collaborating with the occupier (and women more than collaborating), but not the converse. Interesting.

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! (Martin Luther King)

by ValentinD (walentijn arobase free spot frança) on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 08:57:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Rien ne blesse plus l'intelligence que le patriotisme"

Faut faire attention à ce genre de phrase. En effet rien ne nous indique si Cioran assume cet énoncé lui même, ou il est juste en train de le citer comme exemple de trait d'esprit typiquement français :)

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! (Martin Luther King)

by ValentinD (walentijn arobase free spot frança) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 05:10:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I deliberately picked out this sentence and like it as it is. It may not be a helpful mantra for soldiers; hence it's part of Cioran's criticism.

I do not believe that those who win a battle are categorically right. Patriotism will 'win' wars but harm a person's soul; "rien ne blesse plus l'intelligence que le patriotisme".

In how far does C.'s criticism also harbour admiration for the French? Isn't it full of admiration?

by Lily (put - lilyalmond - here <a> yahaah.france) on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 05:40:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
never ever suggest that "German" and "Nazi" are synonymous. Quite the opposite.

I do deeply believe that fascism was an accident, a terrible one, in the history of modern Germany. I systematically refuse to use the word "German" for WWII, preferring the more correct noun for the people who invaded, National-socialists (and some changed in character, for example Edwin Rommel started the war as a Nazi, and finished with a coup against Hitler).

It seems to me that the description Cioran makes, Friedrich Nietzsche, say, would have grated his teeth, as he did, and a lot (Nietzsche saw the accident of fascism happened, and predicted that terrible wars would follow as a result). As you pointed out, Cioran was influenced, in this remarkable text, by the accident of history that had just happened.  

Patrice Ayme Patriceayme.com Patriceayme.wordpress.com http://tyranosopher.blogspot.com/

by Patrice Ayme on Thu Jun 11th, 2009 at 10:10:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
let's point out that to put the French spirit in comparison with the Nazi spirit is beyond silly. Why not compare the Jews with the Eichmans?

Il me plait davantage d'imaginer que Cioran denonce ici plus les Nazis que les Allemands.

never ever suggest that "German" and "Nazi" are synonymous. Quite the opposite.

Vous supposez que Cioran dénonce ici plus les Nazis que les Allemands mais c'est une interprétation que vous choisissez, une interprétation osée. Lorsque Cioran observe les allemands, il les observe tels qu'ils sont en son époque. Certes, il dénonce le nazisme mais il ne différencie pas entre le (vrai ?) caractère allemand et le nazisme que les allemands auraient adoptés par accident.

En 1941, tout est encore possible, aussi que cet accident mène les allemands à la victoire, imposant le nazisme au reste du monde.

Or, dénonce-t-il le caractère authentique des allemands ou des allemands nazis ? Il éprouve de la méprise face aux faiblesses du caractère allemand, propices aux allemands de son époque. Pour lui, allemand et nazi sont synonymes. Le sont-ils pour nous aujourd'hui ? Non.
Aujourd'hui, les allemands ont des traits caractéristiques qui ne sont pas tout à fait opposés aux traits qui les marquaient à l'époque, sans pour autant être imbibé dans le nazisme.

De même, la force essentielle de la culture française que Cioran semble admirer ne peut être répliquée dans notre temps. Il faut tenir en compte le contexte historique et l'évolution de la culture française qui a été marquée par l'après-guerre, ses propres guerres, l'immigration. La société française s'est transformée. Le discours de Cioran révèle des idéaux passés auxquels certains français sont toujours attachés. Serait-cela un précurseur qui mènerait à la défaite comme jadis ?

La France me semble inhibée par sa force essentielle. Cette force repose sur des valeurs essentielles, éternelles. Elle s'oppose au change, à l'ouverture et en est fière. Cette disposition entraîne des problèmes sociaux sur le plan national et elle est un facteur déstabilisant à l'international. Ses ennemies le savent. Ses illusions (de grandeur) font aussi sont charme, lui emportant de l'admiration, et elles sont sa plus grande faiblesse.

by Lily (put - lilyalmond - here <a> yahaah.france) on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 03:49:39 AM EST
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