The French Intellectual Merry-Go-Round:
Right, Left, Up and Down
The postwar resumption of transatlantic cultural communications brought American Francophiles a series of surprises. It was soon discovered that André Malraux—who had moved across the whole political spectrum from Marxist revolutionary (Man’s Fate) through Stalinist apologist (Man’s Hope) to Bonapartist hack (tubthumper in the Gaullist weekly Rassemblement)—was no biological sport. The whole cultural constellation was politically unrecognizable, dozens of pre-war “rightist” intellectuals turning up as “leftists” and vice versa and versa vice. Nor did the new Liberation period realignment stay put: with each twitch of history, the kaleidoscope has presented a new pattern. What is happening?
Unadmitted venality is that which the record of French writing, especially journalism, causes to spring quickest to anyone’s mind. In France a writer usually starts young and ambitious at the extreme Left to end up old and successful at the extreme Right. And though recent sharp political reversals now make this progress a zig-zag rather than a straight line, material advantage, real or fancied, certainly explains a majority of cases. Nobody is a conscious villain, of course; rather, an alert writer can follow the Ariadne thread (invisible to the general public) of an inner integrity through vicissitudes that cause him, justifiably, to denigrate today precisely what he whitewashed yesterday. The hitch occurs when some rude fellow points to the curious coincidence that the subtle convolutions of that thread roughly parallel the rise and fall in political or economic power of the various ideological tendencies, or, with the Stalinists, the gyrations of the Kremlin weather vane.
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