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Wednesday, 31 October 2007
French thinkers in a flap

Quel désastre. From The Times, a couple of days ago:

A row has split radical chic Parisian intellectuals over the relocation of their college from the affluent Left Bank to an impoverished, multiethnic suburb where they fear being deprived of bistros and boutiques.

Some of France’s most eminent academics are campaigning to stop the elite College of Higher Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS) from moving to Aubervilliers in the Seine-Saint-Denis département north of the capital. But the move’s backers say that the real concern of the intelligentsia is to remain within walking distance of cafés in Saint Germain des Prés and shops selling Prada clothes, Ferragamo shoes, wholemeal bread and smoked salmon...

We all know that French intellectuals need the right clothes - and the right pens.

Philosophers, historians, economists and sociologists have lined up to denounce the suburb as a cultural desert, far removed from the Parisian café society they have known since the days of Jean-Paul Sartre. They say Seine-Saint-Denis – infamous as the centre of the 2005 race riots in France and known from its registration number, 93, as le Neuf-Trois – is a “zone lacking all the necessary tools for intellectual work”.

But surely a true Bohemian doesn't need any props? Can't the indomitable intellectual French spirit simply rise above its unsavoury milieu? Or is there another reason for their opposition?

Supporters of the relocation say that it could help to bridge the gulf separating Paris’s white and wealthy city centre from a periphery marked by immigration, unemployment and violence. Catherine Sautter, a member of the college administration, said: “Maybe our intellectuals are not that intelligent at the end of the day.”

Intellectuals, especially French intellectuals, are rarely intelligent. The fashionable anti-establishment Bohemianism of the Left Bank is as false and empty as Marie-Antoinette's professed empathy with the peasants when she played shepherdess. Besides, French intellectuals - especially the chic ones - are irritating, and deserve to have their silly French noses put out of joint - or at least assailed with genuinely proletarian odours. But Schadenfreude is not the whole of my reaction. Perhaps the move will be good for them. Consider what has been studiously omitted from the description of the new location, with its circumlocutory references to "immigration", "violence" and "race riots": Islam. Left Bankers - meet the real anti-establishment, who would disestablish French rule and establish Sharia. Then grow up, read the Koran and put that intellect to good use.

Michel Foucault returned to Paris from a visit Iran enraptured by the "beauty" of the Ayatollah's regime, proof - if proof were needed - that there is no fool like a French fool. Had he studied, or lived, among the beurs of le Neuf-Trois, he might have had his eyes forcibly opened, not least when they torched his "magnificent beige Jaguar".

Posted on 10/31/2007 10:49 AM by Mary Jackson
31 Oct 2007
Send an emailalfred
The trouble with intellectuals generally, and with the French variety specifically, is threefold: (1) they tend to perceive abstractions as reality; (2) they tend to perceive reality as malleable, fungible, manipulable as abstraction; (3) few rarely, if ever, dig a ditch, build a bridge, get their hands dirty, suffer deprivation, or sweat for a living. No, for they are "intellectuals"--which means, being stupid in a stupid intellectual fashion of the day.

Is it possible to imagine Eric Blair (George Orwell), "Down and Out in Paris and London", ever dedicating himself to the commonplace nonsense of the common intellectual?