05 March 2016

How the French think #2

More on Sudhir Hazareesingh's How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People (Amazon link here).
Guardian review here. FT review here. Economist review here. NYRoB review here. SH's response to the NYRoB review and Mark Lilla's reply here.
The page references are to the Allen Lane/Penguin hardback edition dated 2015.

On writing, etc. (my bold):

  • p192: Winston Chruchill appreciated de Gaulle (while in exile in London during WWII and head of the French Resistance movement) "his intellectual rigour, his determination and his lack of verbosity — qualities the prime minister mockingly described as 'unFrench'."
  • p199: Claude Lévi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques ... So exquisite were the book's poetic and literary qualities ...
  • p200: the arc of Lévi-Strauss's philosophical narrative
  • p206: Foucault's work was challenging and at times cluttered with jargon
  • p209: Derrida's singular mode of expression was a key part of what made him the most controversial thinker of his generation
  • p210: Derrida believed that the meaning of a concept could only be properly elucidated through a relationship with other, related concepts, and the ways in which they were deployed in different contexts. (SD: I wonder what terminologists make of this?)
  • p210: This notion of différance lay at the heart of the new method of textual interpretation he (Derrida) championed, which came to be known as 'deconstruction'.
  • p211: (re democracy, polarizing divisions and the liberation of humankind) Even allowing for the difficulties of translation, Derrida's answer was gloriously perplexing: 
  • p212: (re Derrida) Characterizing Marx's legacy as a 'hauntology' (a typical wordplay on the term 'ontology')
  • p214: Indeed, the transplanting of Frenc theory to the other side of the Atlantic offered much potential for intellectual distortions and cultural misunderstandings.
  • p215: the combination of French and American theorizing generated a body of literature whose overriding characteristic was opaqueness
  • p227: the widespread belief (in France) that English was a more precise and powerful language
  • p228: Marc Fumaroli ... bemoaned the lack of style in the English language, adding (perhaps a touch hyperbolically) that it 'required no commitment from its speakers either in the manner or in the substance of their speech'
  • p232: Sartre developed a specific voice through his review Les Temps modernes
  • p237: the belief that the possession of a certain cultural capital entitled writers and thinkers to intervene in public debates and to provide overarching answers to the problems faced by French society; the preference for abstract argument over concrete, evidence-based discussion
  • p238: Sartre's work as a writer has always been impeccably classical in form and style 
  • p240: Pierre Bourdieu ... somewhat wooden prose 
  • p251: Rosanvallon's professorial and rather austere prose lacks the playfulness and the rhetorical elegance of his mentor Furet p269: Through his emphasis on the role of imagination and mythology, and his powerful rhetorical style, Jules Michelet carried the literary quality of French history to new heights.

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