Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thinking about France

Something the French I've met, are too aware to do. If you have had a lover from France, to pluck an example from thin air, and you've lapsed into a bodily compliment, you were met with a whisper, but that isn't me. One goes, figuratively or not, to France for this very kind of rejoinder; where does it come from? 

On the following day, most of the world as we know it, will ask itself this question about the existence of France. The answers that explain the great states of the world are on the tip of our tongue; and in regard to France, we know the wonderful people who've done everything they can to explain it to us, ever since all of Gaul was divided into three parts.

I, for my part, do not care to hear of tomorrow's celebration, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. That mantra belongs to one work of art which needs no justification from us, one masterpiece of passion we do not interrogate with history. 

I, Laurent, know I have no French blood but that Paris figures in the conception, gestation, death, education, and delectation of my forbears, as the ground zero it is to almost everyone I know with a mind and heart. That Paris is not France, I, Laurent, do not need to be told; but that it has other consequential crossroads, we have already published, in a motorcyclist's choice between Meursault and Puligny. Moreover, we know, then, that the claim of the name of France has more than once been hostile to other provinces, other faiths, others living next door; it exists only in that void sustained by the very arrangement of its parts, Barthes suggested.

There exists an idea of France and an elastic place and an elastic mode, that are called by that name. What accounts for the constancy of the one, with so little surety of the others? I will agree, that it is too multifaceted for an answer, but that if you turn the thing just so, you may see what you lack for there. And the first of these is what you learned on your pillow, in an embrace that changed your heart.

Roland Barthes
Richard Howard, translation
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1987©


  1. Vive la France! Where we would we be without France and the French! I ask myself everyday! Think I might go out and storm the Bastille!

  2. That is such a vivid reaction! :)

    Someday, the grand-children of your children will be partly French, Laurent!
    Or, you might be French in a few lives apart...

    We love the language, don't we?

    Let's just celebrate what every one loves about France: be it wine, cheese, croissant, men, la mode, language, Paris and all the provinces, or just the landscape...

    Meanwhile, ... we will not be celebrating gay marriage all along .... not this time... not yet!

  3. En regardant vers le pays de France,
    Un jour m'advint, à Douvres sur la mer,
    Qu'il me souvint de la douce plaisance
    Que je soulais audit pays trouver;
    Et commençai de cœur à soupirer.

    Charles d'Orléans (1394-1465)

    Orléans, Beaugency,
    Notre-dame de Cléry,


    Heureux qui, comme Ulysse ...

    Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage,
    Ou comme cestuy-là qui conquit la toison,
    Et puis est retourné, plein d’usage et raison,
    Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son âge !

    Quand reverrai-je, hélas ! de mon petit village
    Fumer la cheminée, et en quelle saison
    Reverrai-je le clos de ma pauvre maison,
    Qui m’est une province et beaucoup davantage ?

    Plus me plaît le séjour qu’ont bâti mes aïeux,
    Que des palais Romains le front audacieux:
    Plus que le marbre dur me plaît l’ardoise fine,

    Plus mon Loire Gaulois que le Tibre Latin,
    Plus mon petit Liré que le mont Palatin,
    Et plus que l’air marin la douceur Angevine

    Joachim Du Bellay, Les Regrets

    "Ma" France
    ac, américanophile digne d'être médaillé à force de défendre la belle nation américaine (race en voie d'extinction, celle des américanophiles, j'entends)... Le dernier poème, celui de du Bellay, est, à mes yeux du moins, l'un des plus beaux poèmes jamais écrits en langue française...

  4. another country> américanophile et francophile = amalgame..
    Enfin, tout est possible.. mais on ne peut pas chérir les deux un tant soit peu raisonnable qu'on puisse être: je ne dis pas que tu à tort, loin de là, ... quand on aime l'un, l'autre paraît tellement inconfortable.

  5. Joss : "Parce que c'était lui, parce que c'était moi." Michel de Montaigne, Les Essais

  6. Dink, after icebreaking in the Baltic, it should be a piece of cake!

  7. Joss et Franck, I embrace you for the fraternité of the happy debate of affection you bring to the page today, and separately before. Let us all delight in what we see through your eyes.

  8. Thank you Laurent.

    And now, let's celebrate liberté, égalité along with fraternité...

  9. If you like, and good vinaigre de Banyuls.