The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘France’

So Long, Circumflex, and Other News

February 8, 2016 | by

The circumflex dares to show itself on this piece of signage telling it to stop showing itself.

  • In France, a twenty-five-year plan to streamline the language for schoolchildren may spell the end of the circumflex, that most mysterious of diacritical marks: “The circumflex came into use in France much later, in the sixteenth century, and the Academie Francaise—let’s dump the acute and the cedilla—haven’t fought to the death to hang on to this trifling novelty. Diacritical marks are now ironic, as they were for Joyce. Anglo-Saxon bands use them as a design feature … From côte to côte, the circumflex tells us how closely French was related to other languages, often via Latin. But according to the Academie Francaise even educated people (‘les personnes instruites’) have trouble with the circumflex, and there’s no need to build a diacritical cult around a consonant that’s disappeared from any given part of speech.”
  • In which Vivian Gornick rereads Howards End to discover that Forster knew far less than she’d remembered: “It has often been my experience that rereading a book that was important to me at earlier times in life is something like lying on the analyst’s couch. The narrative I have had by heart for years is suddenly called into alarming question … Howards End has proven just such a book for me. I read it when I was in college and now, many decades later, have reread it only to find myself dismayed not only by how much I got wrong but by how much in the book is wrong—the sexual naïveté, the rhetorical posturing, the hand from the grave all read like hokum today—and yet how absorbing this novel of novels still is!”
  • The poet Richard Siken has found an unlikely cult following in the fanfic community, which mines his work for lines they can use to describe the mystery of, say, two characters from Sherlock. Siken, though he intended no resonance here, has embraced his new audience: “Fan fiction sexualizes. It’s transgressive because it suggests the possibility of the erotic. It’s political, because it complicates power structures. And it’s personal, because it grants permission for range of previously unacceptable expressions and interactions. I think my poems enact a space for complicated, multivalent relationships. I think that’s the draw.”
  • Meanwhile, Gerry Adams, the president of the Irish republican party Sinn Féin, has become the latest public figure to publish his tweets as poetry: “The book, with its routine dispatches from Adams’s extracurricular activities (‘Pilates. Aaaaaahhhhh’; ‘1st Pilates of 2015…’; ‘Seriously overstretched myself @ pilates’) and its endless jokily plaintive references to overdue household chores, creates a vacuum of significance so total that you wonder whether you’re missing some deeper intent. There is, for instance, an overwhelming emphasis on bathing: aside from the frequent testimonials to his menagerie of rubber ducks, Adams insists again and again on his enjoyment of every aspect of the bathing process. ‘So the bath beckons!’ we are told. ‘Plastic ducks. Soapy suds…’ Elsewhere, he tweets that his bath ‘Overflowth,’ advising his followers that he has just taken delivery of his ‘1st Orange Duck,’ and that ‘A Good Suddy Soak’ awaits him.”
  • The Lost Rolls: 1988–2012 collects unused pictures from the photojournalist Ron Haviv, depriving them of context and giving them a strange new beauty. As Colin Dickey writes, “The images of The Lost Rolls were selected from various rolls of undeveloped film that were tucked away in drawers and bags, mostly forgotten, in Haviv’s house for decades. The result is an assemblage of deteriorating photographs, depicting random moments in time and revealing a range of physical imperfections. Many are washed with a rose tint; others are streaked with broad swaths of yellow or drooping blemishes of cyan … Photojournalism is, by its nature, obsessed with the moment and defined by action verbs: to document, to witness, to reveal, to inform, to effect change. The images in The Lost Rolls, by contrast, are unmoored from context. Like the rolls themselves, the time signature here is lost.”

Kicked Toward Saintliness

January 21, 2016 | by

On the dark erotics of Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers.

From a German edition of Our Lady of the Flowers.

On September 11, 1895, the deputy chaplain of Wandsworth prison wrote a worried report about one of his new charges, Oscar Wilde, who had been transferred from Pentonville two months before. “He is now quite crushed and broken,” the chaplain recorded:

This is unfortunate, as a prisoner who breaks down in one direction generally breaks down in several, and I fear from what I hear and see that perverse sexual practices are again getting the better of him. This is a common occurrence among prisoners of his class and is of course favoured by constant cellular isolation. The odour of his cell is now so bad that the officer in charge of him has to use carbolic acid in it every day.

The possibility that a famous author had been driven to masturbating during his internment in Wandsworth would not have reflected well on the prison’s authorities, who immediately denied the charge and changed the indiscreet chaplain’s assignment. One wonders how they would have reacted to Jean Genet’s short film Un chant d’amour (1950), which the French author, playwright, and criminal directed in collaboration with Jean Cocteau soon after writing the last of the five novels that earned him international fame. Midway through the film, a poker-faced prison guard peers one at a time into a row of cells, each of which turns out to contain an autoerotic peepshow more wild, graphic, and uninhibited than the one before. A convict rubs his exposed member against the wall of his cell; a smiling bather lathers himself lasciviously in soap; a young black man, one of the many dark-skinned figures in Genet who appear to their white observers as sexual threats, dances with a tight grip on his open-flied crotch. Read More »

Black Ink

January 15, 2016 | by

Henry de Montherlant’s novels have fallen out of fashion, but at their best they’re perfect for our confused age.

Henry de Montherlant, c. 1953.

Henry de Montherlant began writing in earnest after he came home wounded from the Great War, a decorated veteran. France in the 1930s made him a literary star, awarding him the Grand Prix—yet he hated the Third Republic. Montherlant, a true misfit, had many such contrarian tendencies: though he was gay, he wrote caustic articles for right-wing magazines and loathed modernity. In print, he professed admiration for the soldiers of the Wehrmacht, writing that France, with its “shopgirl’s morality,” deserved to lose the war. His book Le solstice de juin counseled “acceptance, then adherence” to German occupation and Vichy; after the war, it earned him a yearlong ban from publishing.

Even so, Montherlant was elected to the Académie française in 1960. His plays were staged, his novels published. In 1972, he swallowed cyanide and, to make sure, shot himself in the head. He has made the long slide from fame to infamy, but in his time he was tolerated and even praised, a guilty reminder that there were far more collaborators than Charles de Gaulle’s myth of noble France ever could admit. His literary biographer Lucille Becker writes, Read More »

Letter from COP21, Part 2

December 14, 2015 | by

All photos © Sara Fox

Read Part 1 here.

Day 6

Negotiators submitted a historic draft agreement today: mostly brackets and multiple choice options, but progress is more important than details right now. It is a starting point that will be handed to environmental and foreign ministers on Monday. Then the real grind begins.

The UN is calling today an official Day of Action, which is ironic—most of the official “actions” in Paris have been canceled, and the high-level ones at Le Bourget are off-limits to the public. Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein are staging a public trial for Exxon in Montreuil. Exxon was recently outed for having covered up, since 1978, the knowledge that its products were warming the planet. The dramatic reenactment includes the NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen and Peter Sarsgaard. Read More »

Letter from COP21

December 11, 2015 | by

All photos © Sara Fox

Day 0

There are more police than protestors at Place de République. White vans block the ten streets leading into the square. Officers wearing black shoulder pads, batons, tear gas canisters, machine guns, pistols, pepper spray, walkie talkies, cell phones, earpieces, sound grenades, assault rifles, plastic shields and handcuffs casually chat as the protest grows. On a side street I watch a policeman pass a large Tupperware container filled with salad around to his fellow officers.

The planet has warmed rapidly since the late nineteenth century, and nearly two hundred countries have come to Paris to talk about it. Protestors from half as many nations came, too, and planned the largest climate march in history. It was supposed to start in Place de République this morning. Since the Paris attacks of November 13, the government of France declared a state of emergency and banned the march, along with most other large public gatherings. Read More »

Ode to La Pagode

November 11, 2015 | by

La Pagode.

I should have known that La Pagode, maybe the most distinctive cinema in all of Paris, was on its last legs when I was turned away at the ticket counter last month. The heat wasn’t working in the grand Japanese room, and although there were a few blankets available for patrons, the woman at the ticket counter really didn’t recommend I stay. I caught a glimpse of the cashmere throws in Chanel red, piled behind the counter—this was, after all, the Seventh arrondissement of Paris, the same Faubourg Saint-Germain where Balzac’s Eugène Rastignac went sheepishly to his first soiree.

La Pagode looks like a Japanese temple, or at least a kitschy world’s-fair version of a Japanese temple, replete with gold lacquer, intricately carved birds and flowers, and elaborate ceiling murals. It was built in 1896, a few blocks from the Bon Marché department store as a trinket for the owner’s wife, but apparently it wasn’t novel enough: soon after its construction she left him for his partner. Abandonment, you might conclude, is its destiny. Read More »