There is something about the French, a certain . . . No, I won’t say it. But their best writers can abstract and poeticize deep, dark thought in a way that somehow “lightens” it (paradoxically), connects it with other worlds, and sends it to the stars. Thoughts dance in windy minds. They run off in their own directions, joyous (in a sense), even when the darkness of the topic engulfs you. No one seems to be able to make death dance like the French, though this can sometimes grate on certain Anglo nerves. Perhaps those who have less/no Celt in them are more susceptible to anger due to this, tempted as they may be to see it as frivolous and disrespectful.
Moi? I overflow with Celtic blood, at least in my mind’s eye—having never taken the DNA tests. Regardless, the best examplars of the dark and dancing mind, like Elisabeth Roudinesco (1944–), often thrill, provoke, and open up new horizons.
The book is a short, idiosyncratic look at Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze, and Derrida, most of whom she knew personally. Most moving, aside from her mention of the Shoah’s victims, is Derrida’s goodbye to his departed peers, his brothers and sisters from the Republic of Letters. She also draws freely from important last words by the likes of André Malraux, whose great eulogy for the Resistance hero, Jean Moulin, can be found here, (in pdf form).
The video, in French, is below:
“It is the funeral march of these ashes you see before you. Alongside those of Carnot with the soldiers of the Year II, those of Victor Hugo with his Misérables, and those of Jaurès under the guardian eye of justice, may they rest here with their long cortège of disfigured shadows. Today, young people of France, may you think of this man as you would have reached out your hands to his poor, unrecognizable face on that last day, to those lips that never let fall a word of betrayal: on that day, his was the face of France…”
I did have to skip the last couple of pages of Turbulent Times, however, because the author weaves in the story of the deaths of the Four Musketeers, and I want read the sequels. It’s not difficult, however, to see how that fits in with the rest of her philosophy of honor, respect, and freely given gifts to friends, family and intellectual audiences worldwide, and how she sees too much of that lacking in recent times. She wrote this group-bio in 1999/2000, so it’s a good guess her feelings on that matter have been radically exacerbated in the last two decades.
This is my third book-read with her as author or co-author. So far, I’ve limited myself to borrowing her titles from the library. I may just have to expand that to buying Roudinesco’s best works. She’s that good. A very learned, thought-provoking and expressive writer, and she pulls no punches, which I respect.