12 May 09
I am very happy to be back in touch with an old friend and wonderful translator from my Harvard Press days, Art Goldhammer, and even more so to learn that he has a blog, French Politics. It’s a great way to follow gallic happenings, which I admit I haven’t been, much. (I really wish there were a counterpart for Spain, and if anyone knows of one, in Spanish or English, please let me know.)
Today there’s a link to an article by Jean Daniel of the Nouvel Observateur on his recent luncheon meeting with Nicolas Sarkozy. This is quality, elegant writing, and reveals, as Art points out, a nuanced series of layers in the French President which I found surprising. (Why? I mean, nobody can argue he’s not a clever bastard.)
Nuanced he may be, but Sarkozy doesn’t seem to tire of the sound of his own voice, and the quote in the article I thought most telling about his character, about his vision of his place in history, and which he apparently uses to justify his “maverick” independence, is this one: « Les grandes choses, on les décide seul car le consensus interdit l’audace. Reste que les grandes réformes, comme la décolonisation ou l‘élection au suffrage universel, sont nécessairement impopulaires au départ puis qu’elles modifient le cours des choses. » (The really big things, you decide on alone because consensus precludes audacity. So the great reforms, such as decolonisation or universal suffrage, are necessarily unpopular at first, because they change the course of things. Sorry if my translation’s not as good as Art’s would be, but you get the idea.)
This sort of quote would in years past have found its way into British A-level, Oxbridge entrance, or university examination papers, with the simple addition of the word “Discuss.” We’d have been expected to provide copious (but not too many!) historical examples along with memorized quotes for bonus points and provided a series of pros and cons, plonking down in the end on one side or the other, trying all the while not to make it look too pedestrian. Our French counterparts, though, would have been expected to provide, in addition to such arguments, an elegance of phrasing and structure.
I bet Sarko aced these kinds of exam questions.