the relation of Nicolas Sarkozy with high culture has usually been ambivalent, or aggressively indifferent. the “President Bling-Bling” as the snickering and smug detractors of his cultural legacy like to point out, is hardly in the tradition of France’s past. But then, what does it mean to be French in the 21st century? Also, the demarcations between low, medium and high culture are vague and they cannot exist independent from one another.Also, as in he case of Sarkozy’s recent plunge into the arts is whether, in his Rosetta Stone approach, is whether aesthetics and morality are the same thing.
Stephen Bayley : “Not tonight, Josephine” was something you would never hear in Sarko’s Elyséé Palace. But post-Dominique Strauss-Kahn, France’s sexual elite has abandoned posing pouches and taken to film and literature for “cinq-à-sept” diversions. “Carla, pass me the anthology of 19th-century short stories and the boxed collection of Truffaut” is now the presidential pillow-talk. A certain stratum of French society used to hang out at Les Chandelles, Paris’s notorious “club échangiste” (with full caviar menu). Now, taking the lead from the President himself, you will find them at the Bibliothèque Nationale, checking their footnotes….
…The idea of the auto-didact goes back to Mozarabic Spain, but Jean-Paul Sartre’s La Nausée, of 1938, passed the term into common currency. Before that, Flaubert’s last (unfinished) novel was about a couple of clerks who set out, unsuccessfully, to acquire the entirety of knowledge. Clearly, the French have a demented need to binge on culture. Thus, Sarko’s new regime of cinema classics and the literary canon takes its honourable place in the dodgy annals of self-invention. Fabulous, non, that the President can make knowing reference to compositional stratagems in late Hitchcock and pastoral symbolism in Boule de Suif? But what nagging personality deficiencies is the new and pitiless programme of cultural instruction intended to address? Read More:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/8650025/Is-Sarkozy-setting-his-sights-high-enough.htmla
Evidently, Sarkozy is trying to be more of a gentleman. That is, still being a predator and horny, but not cheating on Carla. It also shows a certain nervousness about manliness and a fragile identity. One wonders if Sarkozy is not pulling at a stubborn root here, one with uncertain and perhaps overrated nutritional value when there is lower hanging fruit nearby.Part of this is political and nostalgic. a conservative sentimental escapist fantasy. The cultured gentleman of the imagination is a powerful image. Sarkozy’s new fixation with cultural ideals reveals something of a societal discomfort, something disconcerting about with being adrift in a multitude of roles; a smug and comfortable Raft of the Medusa for the well-off.It also reveals the holes in our education: a quest for a sort of knowledge once integral in common schooling and now marginalized by popular culture and the parasitic marketing industry behind it. Sarkozy’s moves are simply indicators of much we feel we are missing.
But, for Sarkozy, is this just another method of putting one’s pecuniary standing in evidence; the function of culture as an evidence of ability to pay? All this viewing of art-house films would not be considered a decent activity if it should give any impression of the tradesman on the part of the viewing executive clan. It all carries the suggestion of leisure; a distancing from the unwashed. Again, we come back to what is termed “invidious comparison” Thorstein Veblen’s classification of high culture as just another form, a supplemental variety of conspicuous consumption remains valid.The culture industries do not discriminate in this sense, though Adorno described Veblen’s critique as appalling, though it unmasked a number of illusions.
Russell Smith:Middlebrow: The Taste That Dare Not Speak Its Name, by Devin Friedman, was in the June edition of the magazine. It goes over the familiar ideas of highbrow and lowbrow taste – categories of culture, with poetry at one end and pornography at the other – and stops with an embarrassed pleasure on the uneasy middle, the undefinable category that has been denounced by the educated since at least Virginia Woolf. Very roughly speaking, you might say the middlebrow is the kind of culture people consume because it shines with the veneer of the sophisticated but is actually unchallenging (the musical Cats, for example). Or culture whose main goal is to promise personal improvement (Oprah’s Book Club)….
…The idea of class distinctions in culture has been much analyzed by philosophers as impenetrable
Pierre Bourdieu (the seminal book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste is pretty much all about how we come up with these competitions) and as populist as Paul Fussell (in fun books such as Class and Bad). The specific examples of what art falls into what class category have changed dramatically over the years, though. The classical music that Bourdieu showed to be middlebrow in 1960s France is unknown to many educated Americans now….
…No one can agree on exactly what’s middlebrow because we can only define it in the light of our own exposure to the highbrow. Whatever is our own uppermost limit of enjoyment of the recherché or obscure becomes our definition of the highbrow. If that limit happens to be Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, then all that is perceived to be “below” that – Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, for example – is at least middlebrow. But if the Nutcracker represents classical music itself to you, you probably think of it as highbrow. (Cats would be middlebrow.) Friedman says Jonathan Franzen is a middlebrow taste (I’m guessing because he was chosen for Oprah’s Book Club), whereas to the non-reading public, a style like Franzen’s would be considered quite dauntingly intellectual.Read More:http://aol.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/aolstory/TGAM/20110714/RVSMITH0714ATL
So, nobody takes culture more seriously than the French; and France is a country where state promotion of cultural influence has been national policy since Cardinal Richelieu in the seventeenth century. Government spending on cultural, artistic, and recreational activities is 1.5% of GDP, as opposed to one-fifth of that in America. We are living in a world of cultural fragmentation, niche entertainment requiring specialized cultural knowledge. Sarkozy, in a sense is shilling for France’s bureaucratic, protectionist and perhaps elitist control of culture. Institutionally, a distrust of novelty, market success and “low culture,” something of the opposite in the States.
arguing that on the contrary, Sarkozy “parlait vrai” (a euphemism meant to imply the president speaks like the rest of us proles), adding that he refused to lose listeners by using “un style amphigourique” (don’t worry, this is probably the most looked-up word in French dictionaries – it means an incomprehensible and convoluted use of words). What’s that you say? A pompous declaration, overzealous in its desire to compensate for Sarkozy’s mistakes? Mais oui! At least the president has been using a more soutenu language as of late – something easily spotted by the number of imperfect subjunctives used in his recent speeches.
Sarkozy’s muscular rhetoric and use of demagoguery is indeed legendary – so much so that in 2008 a book, Les Mots de Nicolas Sarkozy, was written about it. From the soundbite “travailler plus pour gagner plus” (“working more to earn more”), which arguably won him the presidential election, to his coarse “casse toi pauv’ con”, his words are rooted in action, not nuance. They may be peppered with gut-wrenching grammatical errors (“Si y en a que ca les démange d’augmenter les impots”) and ignoble syntactical mistakes (“On se demande c’est a quoi ca leur a servi”), but above all he remains an effective communicator – something that no one on the left can currently claim. But, on top of the herculean task of amassing votes, should politicians also seek to become hommes de lettres – erudite men and women who shine not only in the national assembly, but also at the Académie Française? Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/09/sarkozy-french-language-rhetoric-gaffe-france