Rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Plus Ca Change
Anton Chekhov and his wife, the actress, Olga Knipper
Punctuating pieces of writing is with French phrases is a
charming affectation that was more prevalent in previous ages. The idea of
course is the English or American writer can evince a certain level of
cultivation and/or sophistication through his knowledge of French. Who knows if
this even goes as far back as the Norman conquest of England in l066. Chekhov’s feckless provincials exhibit this
tendency in the Russian context when they employ French locutions. In the case
of l9th century Russia, the obsession with French derives from Peter the Great
whose attempts to Europeanize his country resulted in making French the
language of the upper classes. Chekhov’s strivers dream of going to Moscow,
where the elegant cosmopolitian (as opposed to rural aristocracy) conversed in
French. Naturally there are still writers, primarily those who might have been
educated in the 60’s and 70’s, when such pretensions were still in vogue, who
evidence such Francophilia and it’s particularly interesting since the French during
those decades were going through an equally and opposing xenophobic tendency in
rejecting the cultural invasion of American consumer culture with its
concomitant linguistic repertoire of expressions. American psychobabbleese with is catchy short cuts was undoubtedly another offender. In any case for
every Big Mac or Whopper that landed on French soil, there was the American
intellectual with his faute de mieux or his plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, Latin might have been
a sine qua non for those who wanted to sport their classical educations, but
having a carte blanche with French conferred a cachet that was always apropos.
Francis Levy's debut novel, Erotomania: A Romance, was released in August 2008 by Two Dollar Radio.
His short stories, criticism, humor, and poetry have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Village Voice, The East Hampton Star, The Quarterly, Penthouse, Architectural Digest, TV Guide, The Journal of Irreproducible Results, and other publications. One of his Voice humor pieces was anthologized in The Big Book of New American Humor (HarperCollins). He is presently the Co-Director of The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination (philoctetes.org), where he supervises roundtable discussions on topics as varied as “The Psychology of the Modern Nation State” and “Modern Traffic Theory, Behavior, and Imagination”.