Thursday, October 26, 2017


Fascinating recent article in the Guardian about Macron, Orbiting Jupiter: My Week with Macron by Emmanuel Carrère. 

One of my favorite parts:
He started by breaking the ice in a particularly effective way with a two-minute preamble in Greek, learned phonetically. 
And, speaking as someone with a smattering of modern Greek, I can tell you that’s no mean feat. Then he launched into his favourite topic: Europe, and the sovereignty of the European peoples, which he doesn’t want to leave, he says, to the faint-hearted, fearful clan known as sovereigntists – those rightwing populists who want to shut out the world and retreat into splendid isolation. 
Half an hour of fine rhetoric leads up to the oratorical climax: “Look at the time that we are living in: it is the moment of which Hegel spoke, the moment when the owl of Minerva takes flight.” Macron doesn’t explain the metaphor; no doubt he overestimates his audience’s level of philosophical sophistication. Minerva is the goddess of wisdom, and the owl is her symbol; this owl, Hegel says, waits for night to fall before flying over the battlefield of history. In other words, philosophy can’t keep pace with events. “The owl of Minerva,” he continues, “provides wisdom but it continues to look back. It looks back because it is always so easy and so comforting to look at what we have, what we know, rather than at the unknown … ”
You would never catch an American president, even Obama, making allusions to a German philosopher and Roman mythology, let alone in the same sentence. That's what's great about the French, they don't despise someone who displays intelligence even to the point of esotericism. 

A little later on in the article:

When it’s not Hegel he’s quoting, it’s Spinoza, who he loves for his struggle against the “sad passions” such as bitterness, resentment and defeatism – to which Macron himself seems to have had remarkably little exposure. Today in interviews he engages in dialogue with the German thinker Peter Sloterdijk, and while still in his 20s he served as assistant to Paul Ricoeur, an immensely respected, octogenarian humanist philosopher. Since Mitterrand, we have forgotten what it’s like to have a cultivated president. The day after his speech on the Pnyx, there was a lunch with Greek intellectuals. These Greek intellectuals were ardently Francophile, and quoted one great French poet after the next. With each poem Macron was able to pick up where the other person had left off, reciting the next verses without missing a beat. Baudelaire, Rimbaud, all by heart: it’s hard not to believe that this man really likes poetry.

I despise Hegel but I still respect his knowledge of his work. And Carrère doesn't mention it but it strikes me that French socialists will appreciate Macron's shout-out to Hegel, given that the Hegelian dialectic is at the heart of Marxism (although the mystical nonsense that ruined Marxism according to anthropologist Marvin Harris.) 

I have seen Bernie Sanders-supporting socialists with Hegel quotes in their profiles, so that's some indication of where Hegel stands to the far left. And that matters especially since, according to this article, Macron has been leaning right.

Like many people, Carrère speculates on the authenticity of the Macron marriage and comes down firmly on the side of love:

Philippe Besson, a French writer who knows him well, wrote a book about him aptly called Un Personnage de Roman, or “a character from a novel”, which contains the following description: “This man, so warm, so physical, who knows so many people and whom so many people know, has no friends.” Is that true? I ask. He’ll go on to answer that it’s not exactly true, that although he has few real friends, he does have some, and that his private life is absolutely essential for him. But before he says these reasonable things, before reflecting at all, he blurts out: “My best friend is my wife!” 
It’s tempting to see Macron as a sort of cyborg, a seducing machine completely void of emotion. It’s tempting, but no sooner has it occurred to you than you’re obliged to think the opposite. Because there’s no getting around the fact that the young, ambitious technocrat, the man who tells everyone what they want to hear, is also, at the same time, the hero of a grand love story. I think this story is what the French like most about him, particularly French women. It’s a kind of revenge for centuries of patriarchy during which everyone found it normal for a man to be 24 years older than his wife, but not the other way around. And, taking this breach of convention to the extreme, the woman who is 24 years older than him seems perfectly at ease, and her husband loves her as much as he did when they first met.
He also offers this charming portrait of Brigitte Macron:
She had been one of those teachers that students love, to the point of hanging around after class to talk about Stendhal or Flaubert. Even though she’s retired, she remains a teacher, and accepts with a smile that she’s a bit of a pedant. Where others would say “I don’t want to talk in my husband’s place”, she said something I’ve never heard anyone else say: “I don’t like prosopopoeia.” (Just in case you don’t know, prosopopoeia is a figure of speech in which an absent person, or even an abstract thing, speaks.) Coming back to my question, she let me know kindly that both she and her husband faced their share of adversity. “I can’t honestly say we’ve had to deal with defeat, but we’ve had our share of adversity. To live a love like ours, we’ve had to harden ourselves against malicious remarks, mockery and gossip. We’ve had to stand shoulder to shoulder, be courageous and joyful.” And she was joyful when she said it, just as joyful – and likable – as everyone told me she would be. (Everyone loves her.)
Again that failure to apologize for a large vocabulary. J'adore!