ovels serve an interesting function in China, which is to subvert the official narrative. Instead, there’s lots of gossip and many versions of a story. I thought, “Oh good. This is my way of talking about (understanding) French politics.” Let me tell you a little bit about French politics, but with a subversive point of view, to show its relevance to us all.
Let me give you an example. M Jacques Chirac wound up running against M Le Pen in 2002.
Reader: That was almost 20 years ago. I don’t like history.
Me: History repeats itself.
Reader: Will this be long?
Me: Yes. As long as your life, you bozo! Forgive me.
LET ME EXPLAIN
In 2002, the first round of the presidential vote included 1) Socialist Lionel Jospin, a former Prime Minister associated with the 35-hour work week; 2) Jean-Marie Le Pen, far right candidate; and 3) Jacques Chirac, former mayor of Paris and also former Prime Minister.
Reader: We are still in 2002? My girlfriend wasn’t born yet.
Me: Well, I am so glad you asked, and therefore let me tell you, buddy. And you’d better listen up!
First of all, who is Jean-Marie Le Pen? Perhaps he could introduce himself, former leader of Le Front National.
I once saw Le Pen interviewed on TV. He announced that he auctioned Nazi paraphernalia. When asked why, he answered, “somebody has to do it.”
Wikipedia presents him this way: “ Le Pen focuses on issues related to immigration to France, the European Union, traditional culture and values, law and order, and France’s high rate of unemployment.” An ultra-right authoritarian voice like the Turkish leader Erdogan.
Here is the historic vote: Remember it was Jospin, Socialist, plus Chirac, center right and Le Pen, vicious far right, all in the first round. Jospin came in third, much to the chagrin of many. The Socialist party was in disarray, so people say that was a good showing, but still, he lost! So, in round two, Chirac and Le Pen were the contenders. Now here’s the “official version” from the Britannica about what happened: “With near-universal support from the political establishment in the second round, including from the French Communist Party and Jospin’s Socialist Party, Chirac was easily reelected president, winning 82 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 18 percent—the largest margin of victory in any French presidential election.”
Now to hear historians tell it, this shows how dearly beloved Chirac was. Look at that margin of victory. Well, you may remember Laurence Feniou, the director of the Extension program, an outreach program to French families as part of the American School of Paris. She told me that she had to hold her nose to vote for Jacques Chirac in order to defeat Jean-Marie Le Pen.
So, enfin bref, anyway, Chirac became president so Le Pen could not. This is a sketch of history with a small h. But it shows a view very different from the official one.
ANECDOTAL SOMEWHAT RANDOM REMARKS ABOUT CHIRAC
1) Chirac had a passion for the East, translating Mandarin poetry into French.
2) He was also responsible for the Musée Quai Branly
3) He also was a shady character as Mayor of Paris (although perhaps not the only one) giving lots of apartments to friends for a very low rent.
4) Once a waiter told me that I could have bottled water or de l’eau Jacques Chirac, which indicated Chirac was in charge of the water quality for tap water. Hmmm.
5) Bernadette Chirac, his wife, came from a family of aristocratic background. She and her husband addressed each other with the formal vous, as in “you,” and not the more customary tu.
THE PLOT THICKENS
Fast forward to 2017 in France. Marine Le Pen is in the thick of French politics. Anything familiar about that last name? Yes, it’s his daughter. She forced her father out of Le Front National and took the reins herself. A niece named Marion is also in the picture, although the rivalry weakens her aunt’s support. Sounds like the Romanov dynasty.
In 2017, Marine Le Pen ran against President Macron and lost, really at the stage of the debates. Macron was accurate and Le Pen was vitriolic. Now fast forward to Macron getting ready to run again. And it is no red herring when I ask you, “Which candidate will run against Macron in 2022?” Yes, Marine Le Pen. She is her father’s daughter: nationalistic, anti-immigration, formerly anti-Euro, pro- Brexit. She leaves the Holocaust alone. (Did you know that 16 European countries plus Israel have laws against Holocaust denial?)
WHAT IS MACRON DOING NOW TO GET READY?
First of all, colonialism is a subject near and dear to the French heart since France colonized Algeria. President Macron openly acknowledged the pain of that experience for the millions of Algerians whose descendants now live in France. And, in fact, their disaffection was one of the motors that powered Le Pen. But there will be no apology and certainly no reparations.
So far, not all that surprising. But here is the thing. Macron and other French intellectuals are rejecting the emphasis on colonialism, gender studies and race studies in—get this—American universities. They are rejecting this emphasis as “woke” American ideas. A conservative American women’s paper applauds this as being woke to the wokeism of Black Lives Matter, etc., which seems to mean not to give as much value to the understanding of underlying causes as the progressives would like to do.
Shame on you, oh France!
LOOK MORE CLOSELY
I recently learned that my alma matter, Cornell University, has changed the name of the English department to the Department of Literatures in English. Note the plural of literatures.
Here is some interesting reasoning:
First of all, the name change was inspired by a similar change in Nairobi University in 1968 and in the West Indies.
Here is a quote from the recent article in which the Trustees have approved the name change:
Boyce Davis (Assistant Professor) “After the public recognition of white supremacy this summer, the killing of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter worldwide protests, a few of my colleagues and I wanted to find a way to do something tangible that would indicate that we in the academy are also about making changes that provide our students with new tools to face the world…”
And this: Another professor “cited literary studies research that shows that the British Empire invented English as an academic discipline as part of a dedicated effort to persuade Indian subjects to view England as a culture superior to their own and so to acquiesce to English rule. In the early 19th century, the study of literature in the United States still focused entirely on classical texts, she said, and American writing was considered inferior even into the early 1900s, prompting the CIA to secretly fund scholars and creative writers, whom they saw as a weapon against the tide of communism.”
Me: Is this something to object to? Tell me, reader.
Colonialism is about hierarchies. Many videos exist of trying to learn English, the dominant language. But have you tried Swahili? This is a language in Kenyan, which I return to for the books.
WAITING FOR GODOT
For me, this play celebrates, bears witness to, and finds a placeless place for those on the margins. Who could be more on the margins than a colonized group? Colonial attitudes have long lasting effects in more than one generation. Look at the valor with which the Confederacy is still upheld, even though the Civil War ended in 1865. A couple of summers ago a Confederate flag was flying next to my rental cottage in northern NY. Totally Union country up here. (I did not tell that to my neighbors.) All the controversial Confederate monuments were put up, not immediately after the war, but in the 1960’s, a hundred years on. Why? It’s not just that the statues commemorate the war, the glorious lost cause of the south. But because they were erected during the Jim Crow era, they were yet another way of repressing the black citizens. Analyzing this is not “woke” culture in the sense of an elitist attack on others. This is thinking things through.
Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong’o writes a historical novel called A Grain of Wheat (1967) where he tells the story of a man, with a terrible secret, and a couple who are grappling with the movement towards independence in Kenya from Britain. The story is compelling because of the high personal investment and the weight of their personal history entwined with their political histories. Secrets figure prominently. I am a sucker for a secret. I am actually trying to find this book among my boxes so I can read it again.