Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

Jean-Paul Sartre (France, 1905-1980)

Bad Faith

Bad faith is a condition people suffer when they deny to themselves that they are radically free, when they think their pasts determine their future. They turn themselves into inert objects rather than free beings who can make choices. The classic example of bad faith from Sartre’s book Being and Nothingness, published in 1956, is of a cafe waiter:

“What are we then if we have the constant obligation to make ourselves what we are if our mode of being is having the obligation to be what we are? Let us consider this waiter in the cafe. His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid. He bends forward a little too eagerly; his voice, his eyes express an interest a little too solicitous for the order of the customer. Finally there he returns, trying to imitate in his walk the inflexible stiffness of some kind of automaton while carrying his tray with the recklessness of a tight-rope-walker by putting it in a perpetually unstable, perpetually broken equilibrium which he perpetually re-establishes by a light movement of the arm and hand. All his behavior seems to us a game. He applies himself to changing his movements as if they were mechanisms, the one regulating the other; his gestures and even his voice seems to be mechanisms; he gives himself the quickness and pitiless rapidity of things. He is playing, he is amusing himself. But what is he playing? We need not watch long before we can explain it: he is playing at being a waiter in a cafe. There is nothing there to surprise us.”

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Saint-John Perse, pen-name Alexis Léger (France, 1887-1975)

The following excerpt is from his poem Anabase, published in 1924:

He who makes it his business to contemplate a green stone; he who burns for his pleasure a thornfire on his roof; he who makes on the ground his bed of sweet-smelling leaves, lies down there and rests; he who thinks out designs of green pottery for fountains; and he who has travelled far and dreams of departing again; he who has dwelt in a country of great rains; the dicer, the knuckle-bone player, the juggler; or he who has spread on the ground his reckoning tablets; he who has his opinions on the use of a gourd; he who drags a dead eagle like a faggot on his tracks (and the plumage is given, not sold, for fletching); he who gathers pollen in a wooden jar (and my delight, says he, is in this yellow color); he who eat fritters, the maggots of the palmtree, or raspberries; he who fancies the flavor of tarragon; he who dreams of green peppers, or else he who chews fossil gum, who lifts a conch to his ear, or he who sniffs the odor of genius in the freshly cracked stone; he who thinks of the flesh of women, the lustful; he who sees his soul reflected in a sword blade; the man learned in sciences, in onomastic; the man well thought of in councils, he who names fountains, he who makes a public gift of seats in the shady places, of dyed wool for the wise men; and has great bronze jars, for thirst, planted at the crossways; better still, he who does nothing, such a one and such in his manners, and so many other still! those who collect quails in the wrinkled land, those who hunt among the furze for green-speckled eggs, those who dismount to pick things up, agates, a pale blue stone which they cut and fashion at the gates of the suburbs (into cases, tobacco boxes, brooches, or into balls to be rolled between the hands of the paralyzed); those who whistling paint boxes in the open air, the man with the ivory staff, the man with the rattan chair, the hermit with hands like a girl’s and the disbanded warrior who has planted his spear at the threshold to tie up a monkey . . . ha! all sorts of men in their ways and fashions, and of a sudden! behold in his evening robes and summarily settling in turn all questions of precedence, the Storyteller who stations himself at the foot of the turpentine tree . . . .
Translated by T.S. Eliot

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François Mauriac (France, 1885-1970)

Here is an excerpt from his story, From The Desert of Love, published in 1925.

Raymond hastened towards the river, though there was plenty of time before the train was due to leave. Perhaps he was yielding to that species of madness which compels those whose clothes have caught fire to run. He was oppressed by the intolerable conviction that he would never possess Maria Cross, that he would die without ever having her. Though he had had his will of many women, taken them, held them for a while, abandoned them, he felt himself to be in the grip of some sort of wild despair which sometimes overwhelms men who have never known physical love, men condemned to a life of virginity, when they face the horror of dying without ever having known the delights of the flesh. What he had had in the past no longer counts. Nothing seemed worth the having save what he would never have.

Maria! He was appalled to think how heavily one human being may, without wishing it, weigh in the scales of another’s destiny. He had never given a thought to those whose virtues, which, radiating from ourselves, operate, often without our knowing it and often over great distances, on the hearts of others. All the way along the pavement that stretches between the Tuileries and the Seine he found himself, for the first time in his life, compelled to think about things to which, up till then, he had never given a moment’s consideration. Probably because on the threshold of this new day he felt emptied of all ambitions, of all plans, of all possible amusements, he found that there was nothing now to keep his mind from the life that lay behind him. Because there was no longer any future to which he might look forward, the past swarmed into his mind. For how many living creatures had not his mere proximity meant death and destruction. Even now he did not know to what lives he had given purpose and direction, what lives he had cut adrift from their moorings; did not know that because of him some woman had killed the young life just stirring in her womb; that because of him a young girl had died, a friend had gone into a seminary; and that each of these single dramas had given birth to others in an endless succession. On the brink of this appalling emptiness, of this day without Maria, which was to be but the first of many other days without her, he was made aware, at once and the same moment, of his dependence and his solitude. He felt himself forced into the closest possible communion with a woman with whom he would never make contact. It was enough that her eyes should see the light for Raymond to live for ever in the darkness. For how long? If he decided that, at no matter what cost, he must fight his way out of the dense blackness, must escape from this murderous law of gravity, what choices were open to him but alternative of stupor or of sleep?
translated by Gerard Hopkins

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André Gide (France, 1869-1951) Pointillist painting by Théo van Rysselberghe

Observations Made by Gide

Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.

Be faithful to that which exists nowhere but in yourself – and thus make yourself indispensable.

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.

Dare to be yourself.

It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves – in finding themselves.

Obtain from yourself all that makes complaining useless. No longer implore from others what you yourself can obtain.

One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.

So long as we live among men, let us cherish humanity.

The most decisive actions of our life – I mean those that are most likely to decide the whole course of our future – are, more often than not, unconsidered.

There are admirable potentialities in every human being. Believe in your strength and your youth. Learn to repeat endlessly to yourself, ‘It all depends on me.’

Work and struggle and never accept an evil that you can change.

A Remembrance from Truman Capote:

It must have been the spring of 1950 or 1951, since I have lost my notebooks detailing those two years. It was a warm day late in February, which is high spring in Sicily, and I was talking to a very old man with a mongolian face who was wearing a black velvet Borsalino and, disregarding the balmy, almond-blossom-scented weather, a thick black cape.

The old man was Andre Gide, and we were seated together on a sea wall overlooking shifting fire-blue depths of ancient water.

The postman passed by. A friend of mine, he handed me several letters, one of them containing a literary article rather unfriendly toward me (had it been friendly, of course no one would of sent it).

After listening to me grouse a bit about the piece, and the unwholesome nature of the critical mind in general, the great French master hunched, lowered his shoulders like a wise old . . . shall we say buzzard?, and said, “Ah, well. Keep in mind an Arab proverb: ‘The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.'”

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Roger Martin du Gard (France, 1881-1958)

Roger Martin du Gard won the Nobel Prize for his novel cycle Les Thibault, but the following text is from his book Notes on André Gide: The door is pushed ajar. A man sidles into the shop, as a down-and-out slips into the warmth of a church. His eyes are hidden behind the brim of a battered old hat; and enveloping cloak hangs down from his shoulders. He looks like an old, half-starved, out-of-work actor; or like one of those behoemian wrecks who end up in a doss-house when their luck’s right out; or else like one of those habitués of the Bibliothèque Nationale, professional copyists with their dubious collars and cuffs, who fall asleep on their folios in the middle of the day after lunching off a croissant.

André Gide (French writer, 1869-1951)

Or an unfrocked priest, perhaps? An unfrocked priest with a bad conscience? Gautier accused Renan of having kept his ‘parsonical look’ . . . . But they all go to greet him; evidently he has something to do with the magazine. He takes off his hat and his cloak; his shapeless, outworn travelling-suit doesn’t seem to belong to his awkward limbs; his detachable collar, frayed and hanging loose, reveals a neck like that of some elderly bird; the hair recedes from the forehead and is beginning to turn grey; tufty above the coat-collar, it looks drab, as if it were dead at the roots. The Mongol mask, in which the oblique ridges of the brow predomoninate, is flawed by wards. The features are emphatic, but flaccid; the complexion is grayish, the cheeks hollow and ill-shaven; the line of the thin-set lips is sinuous and elastic; there is no candour in the eyes, as they hover beneath the eyelids, and with the momentary flashing glance there goes a smile that is almost a grimace; a smile at once childlike and sly, at once timid and rehearsed.Schlumberger brings him over to me. I am dumbfounded: it is André Gide….
translated by John Russell

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Henri Bergson (France, 1859-1941)

Henri Bergson (France, 1859-1941)

Normally, I post something written by the laureate, but today I’m posting a summary by Alex Scott of Bergson’s book published in 1946, The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics: This is a collection of essays and lectures concerning the nature of intuition, explaining how intuition can be used as a philosophical method. Intuition is described as a method of “thinking in duration” which reflects the continuous flow of reality. Bergson distinguishes between intuitive and conceptual thinking, explaining how intuition and intellect may be combined to produce a dynamic knowledge of reality.

Bergson distinguishes between two forms of time: pure time and mathematical time. Pure time is real duration. Mathematical time is measurable duration. Real time is continuous and indivisible. Mathematical time is divisible into units or intervals which do not reflect the flow of real time.

According to Bergson, real time cannot be analyzed mathematically. To measure time is to try to create a break or disruption in time. In order to try to understand the flow of time, the intellect forms concepts of time as consisting of defined moments or intervals. But to try to intellectualize the experience of duration is to falsify it. Real duration can only be experienced by intuition….

To summarize some of the principles of Bergson’s philosophy, as outlined in The Creative Mind: 1) ultimate reality is changing, rather than unchanging; 2) ultimate reality is knowable by direct intuition; 3) intellect and intuition provide two different kinds of knowledge, which can be integrated to produce a unified knowledge of reality; 4) intellectual knowledge is relative knowledge, intuitive knowledge is absolute knowledge; 5) intuition is a direct perception and experience of the continuous flow of reality, without the use of any intellectual concepts; 6) the flow of time as real duration can be experienced only by intuition; 6) the intellect may falsify the perception of reality by substituting stability for mobility, and by substituting discontinuity for continuity; 7) many philosophical problems are caused by the use of conceptual instead of intuitive thinking, and are resolved by the use of intuition as a philosophical method.

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