December 15th 2009

The Eurostar again and the pleasures of Paris. A friend says that all power is now concentrated in the hands of one man. No decision can be made without reference upwards to Sarkosy. This development is clear in both British and Italian politics. The 24 hour news cycle and the speed of digital communication means that everybody is on message and the message is written by one individual or rather by his attaché de presse.
My last night I have dinner with Patrizia Lombardo who has taken a short leave from Geneva. She wants to talk about the book that she is writing for the Language, Discourse, Society series. It subjects the masters of modern American cinephilia Scorsese, Lynch, Jarmusch and Van Sant to the closest of readings, revealing shots where quotation and unconscious repetition become one, the very core of a modern auteurism.
Talking with Patrizia about the cinema reminds me of how much fun we had teaching together particularly in 1992 when we taught a course on the early Cahiers du cinema. It was in that course that I really discovered Bazin for the first time and set the intellectual course that I am still following. Patrizia used to dress in very violent purples and would stride up and down the classroom. We would fence and parry intoxicated by our arguments as we desperately tried to salvage some sense from the intellectual disaster that had seen the deadends of Parisian theory turn into American academic orthodoxy. Of course, the disaster has got worse but like Tennyson’s Ulysses I can say that “I have drunk delight of battle with my peers/ far on the ringing plains of windy Troy”. Although for windy Troy you have to substitute my much loved Cathedral of Learning.
And the battle continues without missing a beat, as though we have just finished teaching class in the Cathedral. Patrizia has just edited an issue of Critique on Romanticism and Europe. We talk of the etymology which goes back to the French word ‘roman” , which signals not simply the generic form of fiction but also the linguistic form of a vernacular language. Romantic is of course still completely current in English with the simple senses that attach to love. Could there be more evident example how even in our most powerful emotions we are simply playthings of fictional forms and linguistic registers.
I am full of the autobiography of Joseph Rovan that I have just read “Memoirs d’un francais qui se souvient d’avoir ete Allemand” Rovan was born an assimilated Jew in Vienna, moved to Berlin at 8, fled to Paris at 15 where he became a militant Catholic, was active in the Resistance, captured and sent to Dachau. After the war he devoted his life to Franco-German understanding. What has astonished me is the picture it paints of the immediate post-war years in France. In 1946 Rovan divided his time between the Ministry of War where he was chef de cabinet to a Gaullist minister, the editions du Seuil where he ran the affairs of Esprit, in retrospect clearly the most important of all the French intellectual magazines of that time, and Travail et Culture where he worked with Andre Bazin and Chris Marker. Rovan’s extraordinary range of responsibilities seem to me an emblem of the hopes of the cultural revolution, and that is the only accurate term for the period 1944-48. Of course the revolution was defeated as the Communist Party took up its Cold war positions but it is worth remembering that extraordinary moment, not least because it is little documented. There is a good academic history of Esprit but nothing on Travail and Culture. Perhaps I should end my jack of all trades academic career as a French cultural historian.
We talk on and on but now we are old and we stop not with the physical exhaustion of youth in the early hours of the morning but with the prudent thought that I have an early Eurostar to catch. Paris is in the grip of an unusually bitter cold spell of weather and I have come from a relatively clement London with woefully inadequate clothes. Patrizia insists I take a scarf, revealing a maternal side that I have never seen before. I am glad of it the next morning as I walk to the Gare du Nord.

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One Response to “December 15th 2009”

  1. enoitan Says:

    Please return the scarf to mother. Jibet

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