Saturday, April 09, 2005

Dominique de Villepin and Rene Char

The title of French interior minister (and foreign minister at the time of the Iraq war) Dominique de Villepin's new book is Le Requin et La Mouette, which translates as The Shark and the Seagull. (Photo at left.)

As reviewer Martin Walker notes in his The National Interest review, "French Without Tears," No. 79, Spring 2005, Villepin has "carefully avoided challenging the general view of his reviewers that the shark is a metaphor for the United States while the seagull represents France." Quoting Villepin, the shark "drives through the sea to snatch its prey ... a symbol of power, strength and the refusal to be halted by the complexity of the world." The seagull, by contrast, "watches, soars, approaches, climbs and swoops, turns suddenly. The straight line is seldom her course. She listens to the world."

It hardly bears saying that I am no fan of Villepin's - he incarnates the wild romantic and the romantic intellectual in power (if you think wild romantic - leave aside intellectual - is a description of George Bush, then see Villepin's book on Napoleon; Bush is not in the same universe of romance as this minister who hopes to replace Chirac). It is to our global benefit that he has been the faithful representative of a France largely without power save to ... well, swoop, soar, approach and turn suddenly. Fly around, in a word.

(Villepin reminds us of that epigram of Stendhal in the Red and the Black - "Julien fell asleep, dreaming of honors for himself, and liberties for everyone else.")

Nevertheless, the title of Villepin's book comes from none other than the great and, in English, almost entirely unknown, French poet Rene Char. I am using a phrase from Char, "this time of damned algebra," as the title for my book manuscript on the just war. So let it be said ... a man, even Villepin, cannot be wholly without merit who quotes from the very great Rene Char.

No comments: