Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bastille blues

In his wonderful book entitled Jerusalem, City of Mirrors (1989), the late Amos Elon [1926-2009] spoke of a mysterious affliction referred to as the Jerusalem syndrome. Affecting American Protestant males, almost exclusively, this torment causes them to take off their clothes, evolve into a state of crazy ecstasy, and preach nonsensical prophecies to passers-by on street corners. After a few days in hospital, victims recover their normal behavior as calm tourists in the Holy City, and they even feel good about their traumatic experience. Psychiatrists explain that victims of this affliction arrive in Jerusalem with a preconceived but totally false vision of the place, which they've always imagined as a gentle and harmonious Holyland: a pastel-hued picture from a children's book.

When such a visitor discovers the stark present-day Jerusalem, and finds it totally unlike his vision, his convictions are shattered traumatically... and his subsequent reactions and behavior express his momentary desire to be born again (naked, of course) into a reassuring but make-believe Christian context.

Here in France, a similar kind of affliction—which I designate as the Bastille blues—affects certain local intellectuals.

Typical signs of this disturbance are a sudden obsession that we might be on the eve of a replay (with variations, naturally) of the French Revolution of 1789. Victims of the affliction start to be hallucinated by visions of rioting, smoke and flames, destruction, bayonets, gunshots, guillotines... but they generally keep their clothes on. In May 1968, the youth of France were totally intoxicated by a severe case of Bastille blues.

Fortunately, the summer holiday season arrived just in same to save the nation from descending into total anarchy. And afterwards, everybody felt so much the better for having let off so much steam... much like a patient emerging from an attack of the Jerusalem syndrome.

A few days ago, I was intrigued to discover that a prominent French journalist, Franz-Olivier Giesbert, was apparently suffering from a massive onslaught of Bastille blues.

In his role as chief of the weekly magazine Le Point, he has written an editorial suggesting that France is bogged down in a pre-revolutionary quagmire.

Click here to access the French article. Not surprisingly,  64-year-old "FOG" (the acronym has become Giesbert's nickname)—born in Washington, and impregnated with Franco-American culture—backed up his claim by evoking the works of the celebrated viscount Alexis de Tocqueville [1805-1859]: in particular, his masterly analysis of the events and climate of 1789, The Old Regime and the Revolution, which describes the French people's appalling erosion of confidence in their monarchy.

Today, it's a fact that the Cahuzac affair [click here to see my recent blog article entitled Champion liars] has had a disastrous effect upon the waning respect of French citizens for their political leaders. Has modern France truly lost hope in its destiny? Is one half of the nation ready to cut the heads off the other half? Have the French become totally pessimistic and cynical? What has gone wrong?

Basic differences between American and French attitudes to economic progress are illustrated by a humorous anecdote concerning the reaction of onlookers towards a prosperous fellow who drives by in a luxury automobile. A typical American might ask himself: "What can I do in order to buy myself a car like that?" A typical Frenchman would complain: "Why doesn't that wealthy weasel drive a worn-out jalopy like the rest of us?" In the above article, FOG evokes the metaphor of François Hollande scooting around on an antiquated Vespa, while some of his acquaintances drive Ferraris. This image of an old-fashioned president, no longer on the same wavelength as progressive citizens, is made explicit in the cover of the current issue of FOG's weekly.

The rhetorical question "Pépère, est-il à la hauteur ?" could be translated as follows: "Can Grandpa still handle things?" Many citizens are starting to consider that the answer to that disturbing question might indeed be negative. But maybe, hopefully, there are plausible remedies that would fall short of a bloody revolution.

BREAKING NEWS: The Bastille blues theme has become quite explicit in the cover of the latest issue of the weekly:

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