On the Death of French culture

France is up in arms, as Time published an issue with the provocative title “The Death of French Culture”.
A discussion summarized in 5 links:

  • The article by author Don Morrison that caused all the fuzz: “… nobody takes culture more seriously than the French. They subsidize it generously; they cosset it with quotas and tax breaks. French media give it vast amounts of airtime and column inches. Even fashion magazines carry serious book reviews, and the Nov. 5 announcement of the Prix Goncourt — one of more than 900 French literary prizes — was front-page news across the country. … There is one problem. All of these mighty oaks being felled in France’s cultural forest make barely a sound in the wider world. Once admired for the dominating excellence of its writers, artists and musicians, France today is a wilting power in the global cultural marketplace.
  • Reply in The Independent by John Lichfield: “… This is one of the old, cyclical, favourites of foreign journalists, like the prevalence of dog-shit on the streets of Paris and the decline of French love-making. I wrote something similar on the collapse of French creativity when I first went to Paris 11 years ago. I was wrong, but not wholly wrong, then. Time is wrong, but not wholly wrong, now. If there is any news to report, it is the revival of French artistic creativity in many areas, ranging from architecture and pop to classical music and film. … You can argue backwards and forwards whether the subsidies are well used. The fact remains that France – unlike Italy, or Germany, or Britain – still has a cinema industry which is capable of making French thrillers, French comic films or French romances. They may be good or bad or indifferent but they are, at least, French. The British movie industry, by comparison, is largely a branch office of Hollywood.
  • Reply on the blog “Click Opera” by Imomus: “… One major problem with Time’s analysis of the French cultural scene is that it confuses “relevance” with “recognition in America”. Calling this a French problem is like telling the world it mumbles when you’re deaf. … If Time wants commercial culture, France has it. A store like Colette managed to redefine what a store could be — and there’s still nothing like it in New York. A magazine like Purple changed the face of fashion coverage forever. Time calls France “a nation whose long quest for glory has honed a fine appreciation for the art of borrowing”. If anything, the reality is the other way round: Paris is the lab, New York just copies, and sooner or later Madonna calls in a Frenchman to revive her flagging career.
  • Philosopher-writer Bernard-Henri Lévy replies in The Guardian “.The question, it seems to me, is not really whether this Time article is correct in its severe judgment on the state of French culture. My opinion is that it probably is correct, and that in fact many artists from my country are a bit provincial, a little stagnant, unbearably narcissistic and inward-looking. It is not bad to see this denounced. … the more I think about it, seems less and less a survey of France and more and more a savage reflection of the state of American culture itself. Because what really strikes one is the nervousness of the tone. It is this desire to prove too much which inevitably, as Nietzsche said, exhausts truth. It is the whiff of anxiety and, perhaps, of anguish, which emerges from this article.
  • Ancient member of the Académie Française Maurice Druon replies “.Et voilà ! Ça recommence. Tous les quatre ou cinq ans, les États-Unis sont pris d’une fièvre antifrançaise que l’un de leurs grands médias se charge de communiquer à l’univers. Assez de temps s’est écoulé depuis la crise précédente pour qu’on ait pu l’oublier. L’attaque paraît alors toute neuve. Si j’étais adolescent, je serais désespéré. Cette fois, c’est Time qui mène l’opération, ayant jugé l’affaire d’assez d’importance pour lui consacrer sa page de couverture. … Inculte Amérique ! allais-je m’écrier. Mais non. Les États-Unis comptent maints chercheurs, érudits, penseurs, créateurs qui sont du plus haut niveau. Seulement, ils n’écrivent pas dans Time.

My 5 cents: Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, Air, Les Rita Mitsouko, 37°2 le Matin, Jane Birkin, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Carla Bruni, Michel Houellebecq, Daft Punk, Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis)… I have no trouble whatsoever of making a strong top 10 of french cultural icons which have moved /excited me in the last year. Not bad for a culture in decline… I even think I would have more trouble putting together an American top 10 with the equal effect (Hollywood not quite my cup of tea, and American, English, Irish, Australian: hard to know the difference sometimes). At least the French have an idendity, not swamped by Anglo-saxon culture yet.

Een gedachte over “On the Death of French culture

  1. Don’t forget Vanessa Paradis…euhmm or do we categorise that under french sexy icons?

    But about French identity: they have adopted Cécile de France and Benoit Poelvoorde as if they aren’t Belgian. So they do have to import…


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