Shivbakhtabruce (publius_aelius) wrote in _lutetia,

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Les Arts Actuelles en France

x-posted in france

La situation actuelle de la culture francaise—bien que je ne suis pas d’accord avec tout ce qui est ecrit ici (j’aime la theorie et le style philosophique des romanciers francais)—c’est meilleure qu’on croit aux pays anglophones :

Certain aspects of national character may also play a role. Abstraction and theory have long been prized in France's intellectual life and emphasized in its schools. Nowhere is that tendency more apparent than in French fiction, which still suffers from the introspective 1950s nouveau roman (new novel) movement. Many of today's most critically revered French novelists write spare, elegant fiction that doesn't travel well. Others practice what the French call autofiction — thinly veiled memoirs that make no bones about being conceived in deep self-absorption. Christine Angot received the 2006 Prix de Flore for her latest work, Rendez-vous, an exhaustively introspective dissection of her love affairs. One of the few contemporary French writers widely published abroad, Michel Houellebecq, is known chiefly for misogyny, misanthropy and an obsession with sex. "In America, a writer wants to work hard and be successful," says François Busnel, editorial director of Lire, a popular magazine about books (only in France!). "French writers think they have to be intellectuals."

Conversely, foreign fiction — especially topical, realistic novels — sells well in France. Such story-driven Anglo-Saxon authors as William Boyd, John le Carré and Ian McEwan are over-represented on French best-seller lists, while Americans such as Paul Auster and Douglas Kennedy are considered adopted sons. "This is a place where literature is still taken seriously," says Kennedy, whose The Woman in the Fifth was a recent best seller in French translation. "But if you look at American fiction, it deals with the American condition, one way or another. French novelists produce interesting stuff, but what they are not doing is looking at France."

French cinema has also suffered from a nouveau roman complex. "The typical French film of the '80s and '90s had a bunch of people sitting at lunch and disagreeing with each other," quips Marc Levy, one of France's best-selling novelists. (His Et si c'Etait Vrai... , published in English as If Only It Were True, became the 2005 Hollywood film Just Like Heaven starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo.) "An hour and a half later, they are sitting at dinner, and some are agreeing while others are disagreeing." France today can make slick, highly commercial movies — Amélie, Brotherhood of the Wolf — but for many foreigners the taint of talkiness lingers.

How to make France a cultural giant again? One place to start is the education system, where a series of reforms over the years has crowded the arts out of the curriculum. "One learns to read at school, one doesn't learn to see," complains Pierre Rosenberg, a former director of the Louvre museum. To that end, Sarkozy has proposed an expansion of art-history courses for high schoolers. He has also promised measures to entice more of them to pursue the literature baccalaureate program. Once the most popular course of study, it is now far outstripped by the science and economics-sociology options. "We need literary people, pupils who can master speech and reason," says Education Minister Xavier Darcos. "They are always in demand."

Sarkozy sent a chill through the French intelligentsia last summer by calling for the "democratization" of culture. Many took this to mean that cultural policy should be based on market forces, not on professional judgments about quality. With more important adversaries to confront — notably the pampered civil-service unions — Sarkozy is unlikely to pick a fight over cultural subsidies, which remain vastly popular.

But the government may well try to foster private participation by tinkering with the tax system. "In the U.S. you can donate a painting to a museum and take a full deduction," says art expert Boïcos. "Here it's limited. Here the government makes the important decisions. But if the private sector got more involved and cultural institutions got more autonomy, France could undergo a major artistic revival." Sarkozy's appointment of Christine Albanel as Culture Minister looks like a vote for individual initiative: as director of Versailles, she has cultivated private donations and partnerships with businesses. The Louvre has gone one step further by effectively licensing its name to offshoots in Atlanta and Abu Dhabi.

A more difficult task will be to change French thinking. Though it is perilous to generalize about 60 million people, there is a strain in the national mind-set that distrusts commercial success. Opinion polls show that more young French aspire to government jobs than to careers in business. "Americans think that if artists are successful, they must be good," says Quemin. "We think that if they're successful, they're too commercial. Success is considered bad taste."

At the same time, other countries' thinking could use an update. Britain, Germany and the U.S. in particular are so focused on their own enormous cultural output that they tend to ignore France. Says Guy Walter, director of the Villa Gillet cultural center in Lyon: "When I point out a great new French novel to a New York publisher, I am told it's 'too Frenchy.' But Americans don't read French, so they don't really know."

What those foreigners are missing is that French culture is surprisingly lively. Its movies are getting more imaginative and accessible. Just look at the Taxi films of Luc Besson and Gérard Krawczyk, a rollicking series of Hong Kong-style action comedies; or at such intelligent yet crowd-pleasing works as Cédric Klapisch's L'Auberge Espagnole and Jacques Audiard's The Beat That My Heart Skipped, both hits on the foreign art-house circuit. French novelists are focusing increasingly on the here and now: one of the big books of this year's literary rentrée, Yasmina Reza's L'Aube le Soir ou la Nuit (Dawn Dusk or Night) is about Sarkozy's recent electoral campaign. Another standout, Olivier Adam's A l'Abri de Rien (In the Shelter of Nothing), concerns immigrants at the notorious Sangatte refugee camp. France's Japan-influenced bandes dessinées (comic-strip) artists have made their country a leader in one of literature's hottest genres: the graphic novel. Singers like Camille, Benjamin Biolay and Vincent Delerm have revived the chanson. Hip-hop artists like Senegal-born MC Solaar, Cyprus-born Diam's and Abd al Malik, a son of Congolese immigrants, have taken the verlan of the streets and turned it into a sharper, more poetic version of American rap.

Therein may lie France's return to global glory. The country's angry, ambitious minorities are committing culture all over the place. France has become a multiethnic bazaar of art, music and writing from the banlieues and disparate corners of the nonwhite world. African, Asian and Latin American music get more retail space in France than perhaps any other country. Movies from Afghanistan, Argentina, Hungary and other distant lands fill the cinemas. Authors of all nations are translated into French and, inevitably, will influence the next generation of French writers. Despite all its quotas and subsidies, France is a paradise for connoisseurs of foreign cultures. "France has always been a country where people could come from any country and immediately start painting or writing in French — or even not in French," says Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian whose movie based on her graphic novel Persepolis is France's 2008 Oscar entry in the Best Foreign Film category. "The richness of French culture is based on that quality."

And what keeps a nation great if not the infusion of new energy from the margins? Expand the definition of culture a bit, and you'll find three fields in which France excels by absorbing outside influences. First, France is arguably the world leader in fashion, thanks to the sharp antennae of its cosmopolitan designers. Second, French cuisine — built on the foundation of Italian and, increasingly, Asian traditions — remains the global standard. Third, French winemakers are using techniques developed abroad to retain their reputation for excellence in the face of competition from newer wine-growing regions. Tellingly, many French vines were long ago grafted onto disease-resistant rootstocks from, of all places, the U.S. "We have to take the risk of globalization," says Villa Gillet's Guy Walter. "We must welcome the outside world."

Jean-Paul Sartre, the giant of postwar French letters, wrote in 1946 to thank the U.S. for Hemingway, Faulkner and other writers who were then influencing French fiction — but whom Americans were starting to take for granted. "We shall give back to you these techniques which you have lent us," he promised. "We shall return them digested, intellectualized, less effective, and less brutal — consciously adapted to French taste. Because of this incessant exchange, which makes nations rediscover in other nations what they have invented first and then rejected, perhaps you will rediscover in these new [French] books the eternal youth of that 'old' Faulkner."

Thus will the world discover the eternal youth of France, a nation whose long quest for glory has honed a fine appreciation for the art of borrowing. And when the more conventional minds of the French cultural establishment — along with their self-occupied counterparts abroad — stop fretting about decline and start applauding the ferment on the fringes, France will reclaim its reputation as a cultural power, a land where every new season brings a harvest of genius.,8816,1686532,00.html

Dites-moi, ou dans le monde Anglophone dirait un ministre d’éducation, "Nous avons besoin de gens littéraires, d’étudiants qui se spécialisent en raison et en discours"?
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