March 24, 2011

Chicago Comes To Neuilly

Noted feminist critic Hélène Cixous takes on the rhetoric of French president Nicolas Sarkozy in Nicolas Sarkozy, the murderer of the Princess of Cleves, an essay written for The Guardian. She says in part,

To set an example he, the smooth talker, would "first of all shed his hang-ups about theFrench language". Let's get rid of this weight, of these manners. Style? Grammar? All in the past! The French language? Those centuries of literature, these treasures of humanity? What's the use? Do you need a fine turn of phrase to be president of the republic? To sway the people? A good kick up the arse, quick and cheap. But language and its inexhaustible resources, its quaintnesses – it empowers speech, carries thought. Like I said, the French people, they don't need to think no more, says the smooth talker. I'm making your lives simpler, look: "Work more to earn more." Ain't that beautiful? As good as Racine, La Fontaine or Hugo. Henceforth (now that's a word we'll chuck out), we'll have less words, more dosh. People of France, don't bother; I am the Law, take it from me.

All of a sudden France is owned by a man possessed, an outlaw; it's like Chicago's come to Neuilly. One no longer has talks or discussions, one lightens the conversation with gunshots, punches and kicks. The sovereign lashes out. He is now separated from the French language, in a thunderous divorce. You've got to see what he does to language. He mauls it, he beats it, he pummels it, he dismembers it. Pushing syncope to the limit, he swallows half the syllables and he spits the rest in his opponent's face. He imposes his idiolect on the world. Only he "speaks" this idiom; only stand-up comedians imitate it. Language gets a hammering from him. Upon its ruins he proclaims the disgrace of culture and the reign of ignorance.


Ms. Cixous is A.D. White Professor at Large, Cornell University. Among her most famous works is Le Rire de la Meduse (The Laughter of the Medusa), which has been translated into many languages.

President Sarkozy holds a degree in private law and the DEA in Business Law from the Université Paris X Nanterre. He also studied at the prestigious Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) but left before earning a degree.  He passed the bar and practiced as an attorney before entering politics.

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