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THE ETHICS AND POLITICS OF IMMIGRATION

Benjamin Boudou

(Éditions EHESS, 263 pages, 2018)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes humanity’s fundamental right to move freely within a nation-state. Everyone has the right to emigrate—to leave any country, including one’s own—but the right to immigrate is limited. This fundamental asymmetry can have fatal consequences, as shown by the deaths of thousands of immigrants today. If national borders are meant to protect citizens and safeguard institutions based on values of freedom and equality for all, then the discriminatory and repressive policing at the frontiers betrays those same values.

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Pascale says…

“An invigorating contribution to the debates on the current immigration crisis, and on how it challenges our democratic ideals.”

 Benjamin Boudou addresses this dilemma head on, and the burning theoretical and political questions it raises about the future of Western democracies. Boudou provides us with the tools to reimagine a world without borders—a not-so-ancient or abstract ideal—in order to make it, one day, possible. In The Ethics and Politics of Immigration, he invites us to reconsider the way in which we define borders, even the ones generally accepted as “natural” (for example, the Pyrenees mountains). Drawing on contemporary political philosophy, he reconstructs the conflicting arguments used to legitimize and reinforce the existence of borders, noting when they contradict democratic and liberal principles. Boudou then hypothesizes a world without borders, embracing a radical vision while acknowledging the urgent need for concrete proposals. One starting point, he suggests, would be to apply the “all-affected principle”—the idea that all parties affected by a decision have the right to participate in making that decision—to the issue of immigration. If we are able to establish or abolish existing borders and limitations on immigrant rights, the immigrants’ interests must also be taken into account. Acknowledging that we cannot immediately implement a system for a borderless world, Boudou advocates for more-open political representation for noncitizens by forming a parliament of immigrants.

 While he is aware that political theory may seem abstract, Boudou demonstrates its relevance by reminding us that thought and action are not opposed, especially in an increasingly polarized political climate. The challenging questions he asks in this stimulating and clearly argued book, and the tentative solutions he offers, are a great point of departure for addressing one of the pressing issues of our time.

 

Benjamin Boudou holds a Ph.D. in political science from the Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) in Paris. He is currently a senior research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Germany in the Department of Ethics, Law and Politics.His work focuses on questions of ethics and politics of migration, hospitality, citizenship, and theory of democracy.In 2017, C.N.R.S. Éditionspublished his first book, Politique de l’hospitalité: Une généalogie conceptuelle. He is also the editor-in-chief of Raisons Politiques, a French peer-reviewed journal of political theory.

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ANTONIO GRAMSCI: TO LIVE IS TO RESIST

Jean-Yves Frétigné

(Armand Colin, 320 pages, 2017)


Today, Antonio Gramsci is widely celebrated as one of the greatest social thinkers and Marxist political theorists of the 20th century. First published in the 1950s, his Prison Notebooks continue to exert a strikingly diverse and lasting influence. Jean-Yves Frétigné, a specialist in Italian history, believes that too often Gramsci’s legacy has been reduced to a series of key words. How do we to restore the richness and depth of Gramsci’s intellectual journey beyond the routine invocation of a few of his most well known concepts? Frétigné’s answer is to comb through the events of Gramsci’s life, and to scrupulously retrace the evolution of his thought and political engagements within the context of his times.

 

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Pascale says…

“A meticulously well-documented biography by a specialist of Late 19th and Early 20th Modern Italian History.”

Frétigné retraces the successive phases in Gramsci’s life: from his impoverished youth in Sardinia, to his student years in the political and social ferment of Turin, to his departure to Moscow in 1922, and ultimately to his death in 1937. We first discover Gramsci as a brilliant young man who endured years of extreme poverty, solitude, and physical suffering. Frétigné pays a particularly close attention to Gramsci’s early intellectual influences, and shows how his knowledge of marxism came relatively late, in the wake of  Russian revolution. While Gramsci did not have any oratory talent, he was a prolific writer, and first made a name for himself as a ‘marginal and original’ socialist journalist.  In the wake of the Russian revolution, Gramsci threw himself wholeheartedly into political activism, a path that would eventually lead him to become one of the co-founders of the Italian Communist Party.

 Frétigné offers a comprehensive account of the complex relationships Gramsci had with both the official Moscow line and his supporters in Italy and abroad. With remarkable precision, Jean-Yves Frétigné reconstructs the material and intellectual conditions in which Gramsci composed his famous Prison Notebooks. He includes a detailed study of the correspondence and network that Gramsci maintained from the ten interminable years of his incarceration in Mussolini’s jails, up until his death, a mere few days after his release.

Antonio Gramsci: To Live is to Resist is the meticulously researched biography of a man committed to translating the Russian experience into a project of political renewal adapted to his homeland, Italy. In doing so, and under harsh and tragic circumstances, Gramsci left behind an intellectual heritage still relevant to this day.

 

Jean-Yves Frétigné is a French historian and associate researcher at The Center for History at Sciences Po.  He specializes in nineteenth and twentieth centuries Italian history. His most recent book is Histoire de la Sicile: des origines à nos jours (Fayard, 2018). His other publications include a critically acclaimed biography of Giuseppe Mazzini (Fayard, 2006) and Les Conceptions éducatives de Giovanni Gentile: Entre élitisme et fascisme (L'Harmattan, 2007).

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RELEASE YOUR MENTAL WORKLOAD!

Marie-Laure Monneret

(Éditions First, 160 pages, 2018)

Women have a strong sense of responsibility when it comes to their home and family. And it is said that men still rely on their wives for the planning of these tasks… Women should let go! Men have never been so invested in the cleaning of their homes and the education of their children. Yet, a lot of women feel like it is their own responsibility. Doing things together seems fine, but thinking of what needs to be done together seems more difficult! You’ll find a 7-stage plan to let go completely and start a realistic and healthy division of tasks in your couple.

 

Oftentimes domestic balance is left up to the woman to maintain. It is her responsibility to care for the children and complete the housework while her husband works to provide for the family. While many mothers work outside of the home now, many women still feel the overwhelming pressures of balancing their professional work life with maintaining familial peace.

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Alice says

“Light-hearted yet insightful, Monneret masterfully lays out the tools every couple needs to succeed.”

In her introspective new book, Release Your Mental Workload!, Marie-Laure Monneret defines la charge mentale (the mental workload) as the mental exhaustion women feel by working twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week in the workplace and at home. This exhaustion originates from an unequal distribution of responsibility between men and women, a reinforcement of patriarchal family structure and male/female stereotypes, the need to fulfill the role of the modern renaissance woman, and a lack of trust in one’s partner. Collectively these external and internal conflicts cause stress, tensions within the couple, difficulty concentrating, and a loss of self-confidence, which also reinforce the “glass ceiling.” Monneret aims to remedy these symptoms, but believes that fixing the problem should not rest on women alone. The mental workload affects men and women both, so it is up to both parties to work toward a solution.

Release Your Mental Workload! asks us to evaluate ourselves and our relationships to create a more equal family dynamic. In seven key, concrete points, Monneret helps us communicate better, redistribute domestic responsibilities, and reduce the stress of balancing the personal and professional aspects of our lives.

 

Marie-Laure Monneret is a certified professional coach and the founder of Bloom Coaching. Wanting to align her professional life with her personal values, she became an individual professional coach to help others, after fifteen years of working in marketing and project management. Release Your Mental Workload! is her second book.

The Second life of Mohamed: The Prophet in Literature

Nedim Gürsel

(C.N.R.S. Editions, 256 pages, 2018)

 

Legendary or not, historical or sacred, it is the narrative that, above all, feeds the imagination, and contributes to the dissemination of the image of the Prophet through time and space.

—Nedim Gürsel

 

The profusion of stories and myths surrounding the life of the prophet Mohamed make it difficult for historians and biographers to determine historical facts. Their task is made harder because it is often considered a religious offense to question his life except in the ways considered traditional. Stepping outside this fraught context, Nedim Gürsel, a Turkish writer, has turned to literature, retracing changing perceptions of Mohamed and of Islam over the centuries. He carves a space beyond devotion and vilification; a place where we can appreciate the life of Mohamed as depicted and imagined through a rich variety of written perspectives.

 

The second life of the Prophet of Islam begins with his death in 632 in the arms of Aïcha, his young wife. Mohamed’s life exemplifies, in the eyes of the faithful, the highest ideal for human conduct. By contrast, at the height of the Muslim conquest, Christian Europe saw in Mohamed an Antichrist and in Islam a heresy and a scourge sent by God. Gürsel shows how medieval literature, and its deeply prejudiced representation of Mohamed, would set the tone for centuries to come. Dante, for example, in his influential Divine Comedy, condemned Mohamed to the eighth circle of Hell. But by the twelfth century, the first translation of the Koran into Latin appeared in the monastic libraries of Europe. Western authors could turn directly to the source. Enlightenment-era writers like Voltaire and Goethe took a closer interest in Mohamed as a historical figure. They, and the Romantic poets who followed, recognized Islam as a universal religion, one that offered an alternative viewpoint from which they could reflect and reimagine their own world. In the twentieth century, Mohamed became a fictionalized character in the works of North African writers such as the Moroccan Driss Chraïbi, or the Algerian novelist Assia Djebar. Each evolution in the representation of Mohamed shows a broader, less restrictive view of the man and his life, and demonstrates the changing history of the relationships between the Christian and Muslim worlds.

 

Gürsel, once the subject of a blasphemy trial in Turkey, hopes that the knowledge of Mohamed through the prism of literature can brighten a horizon clouded by fanaticisms. He shares with Salman Rushdie the conviction that the power to determine the grand narrative of Islam must and should be shared by all. This courageous book is a celebration of the power of literature and imagination.

 

Nedim Gürsel is a Turkish writer. In 1976, he published A Summer Without End, a collection of stories for which he received Turkey’s highest literary honor, the Prize of the Turkish Language Academy. In 2008, Gürsel published The Daughters of Allah. This book prompted the Turkish authorities to charge Gürsel with blasphemy, but he was eventually acquitted. Gürsel is a founding member of the International Parliament of Writers and a recipient of the Freedom of Expression and Publishing Award. Today, a citizen of France, he teaches contemporary Turkish literature at the Sorbonne and works as research director in Turkish literature at C.N.R.S. He is the author of some forty novels, short stories, essays, and travel stories, including The Last Tram (Comma Press, 2012) and The Conqueror (Talisman House, 2010), which have been translated into English.

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70 Days That Made Israel

Salomon Malka

(Armand Colin, 320 pages, 2018)

 

In May 2018, Israel celebrated its seventieth anniversary. To mark the occasion, Salomon Malka has chosen seventy significant days in the history of the country: key milestones, consequential actions of historical figures, and decisive events. But the dates are also significant because they resonate with the life of the author, a Jewish French writer of Moroccan descent born just a year after the founding of Israel. Malka touches upon a wide range of topics, from politics and international relations to archeology, culture, and technology. In 70 Days That Made Israel, he presents a multifaceted biography of Israel that allows us to better understand the journey of a state and its people, from the death of King David to the present

 

Malka’s approach is deeply personal and subjective. He imagines each of the seventy entries as impressionistic touches, each drawn from memories, testimonials, readings, and conversations. In one, he shares his favorite page in the Talmud, which relates the death of King David. In another, he evokes the strikingly premonitory book written by the Belgian Prince de Ligne in 1801—decades before the word Zionist was even coined—precognizing the return of Judea to the Jews. He relates the meaning of the commonly used expression, “Who killed Arlosoroff?” and explains why Tel Aviv may well be the Promised Land of Vegans, as it has recently been ranked as one of the best vegan cities in the world.

 

The book journeys from the creation of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to Golda Meir’s 1949 visit to the great Moscow synagogue, and then from Albert Einstein, who, in 1952, was offered the presidency of the State of Israel, to the funeral of the beloved actress Ronit Elkabetz, and finally to the recent recognition of Jerusalem as the nation’s capital. Well known and seldom recounted, contentious and benign topics are included in this account, which aims to “attest to the mistakes and successes” of the great adventure of Israel. Compelling, entertaining, and informative, 70 Days That Made Israel is a sweeping yet nuanced portrait of “a people that has not shown itself unworthy of the challenges it has been forced to face.”

 

A journalist and a writer, Salomon Malka is the author of more than a dozen books, most notably biographies on Emmanuel Levinas (Emmanuel Lévinas, la vie et la trace, Jean-Claude Lattès, 2002, and Duquesne UP 2006), Franz Rosenzweig, and Vasily Grossman. His books have been translated into many languages.

Lucretius: The Archeology of an European Classic

Pierre Vesperini

(Fayard, 400 pages, 2017)

*** Translation sample available upon request ***

 

This is an explosive book, a bombshell in its field . . . [demystifying] inherited stories and [shaking] up habits of thought.

Le Monde des Livres

 

By the end of this book, I hope to have convinced the reader that the people who preceded us in Europe so many centuries ago deserve more than to be seen merely as our precursors. We must learn to know and love them for what that they were in and for themselves, that is to say, for what made them different from us. This is how they can help us better understand who we are.

—Pierre Vesperini

Alice says

"A brilliant and passionate book which re-contextualizes Lucretius in his times and retraces the afterlife of his masterpiece... a spirited refutation of Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve.”

 

Little is known about the life of Lucretius, the first century b.c. Roman poet and philosopher, beyond his only known work, De rerum natura, usually translated as On the Nature of Things or On the Nature of the Universe. Yet this poetic masterpiece remains one of the primary sources of information on Epicurean physics. Thus, it has been naturally assumed that Lucretius himself was a proponent of Epicurean philosophy and De rerum natura a didactic poem. Pierre Vesperini challenges this assumption and other received ideas that have, since the mid-nineteenth century, coalesced into what he calls “the myth of Lucretius.” He reconstructs with virtuosity the world in which, and for which, these classic verses were produced, resituates the place of Lucretius in that world, and retraces the poem’s afterlife through the centuries.

 

In the first part of the book, Vesperini, an ethnologist as much as a historian, firmly contextualizes De rerum natura within the times and place of its production. And he never ceases to ask questions: Did the Romans have philosophical convictions? What was the place of Greece in the imagination of ancient Roman aristocratic society? What is a poeta at a time when many wrote verses? Who was Memmius, Lucretius’ patron for whom the poem was composed? From Roman cultural practices of reading and writing to poetic aesthetics, Vesperini leaves no stone unturned. He argues that the De rerum natura is above all, if not exclusively, a work of art, which can be no more reduced to a philosophical treatise than the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel can be reduced to a Church doctrine on the Last Judgment.

 

The second part of the book is devoted to the reception of the poem throughout the Middle Ages and up to modern times. Vesperini paves the ground for a spirited rebuttal of the myth of a hypermodern Lucretius popularized by Stephen Greenblatt in his bestseller, The Swerve—and the notion that the rediscovery of De rerum natura during the Renaissance, after centuries of near oblivion, sparked the modern age by reintroducing Europe to the theories of Epicurus.

 

Vesperini’s Lucretius is a scholarly book that does not assume specialist knowledge on the part of the reader. With verve, passion, and brilliant erudition, it invigorates the ongoing debate on the posterity of one of the Roman world’s great classics.

 

Pierre Vesperini is a historian of ancient philosophy. He is the author of La philosophia et ses pratiques d’Ennius à Cicéron (École française de Rome, 2012) and Droiture et mélancolie: Sur les écrits de Marc Aurèle (Verdier, 2016), which received the La Bruyère Prize awarded by l’Académie française.

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Childhood During the Times of Pericles

Danielle Jouanna

(Les Belles Lettres, 288 pages, 2017)

 

Greek myths and epics abound in memorable depictions of parent-child relationships, legendary good parents, and also murderous ones. Less is written about ordinary fathers and mothers in the classical age, their roles, their expectations, and their emotional investments in their children. To what extent did they have to comply with the educational norms and the duty of raising the future ideal citizen of Athens? And what was it like to be a child? Drawing on multiple sources from literature, art, and archeology, Danielle Jouanna vividly portrays childhood in Athens during the fifth and fourth centuries b.c. While doing so, she debunks a couple of myths along the way.

 

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Pascale says

"Clear and enjoyable...a concise synthesis of recent research on a long-neglected topic."

After numerous studies on the Greek (male) citizen—and, much later on, the Greek woman—interest has risen in the last two decades about the Greek child. Iconographic studies of headstones and archeological excavations of children’s cemeteries have shed new light on this long-neglected topic. Jouanna presents a clear synthesis of these recent contributions. An accomplished Hellenist, she weaves in her own careful analysis of Aristophanes’ plays, Platonic dialogues, legal treatises, and Hippocratic texts to depict the various stages of a Greek child’s life, from birth to early adulthood. Her areas of interest include topics as far ranging as ancient gynecology and obstetrics, gender roles, adoption, children’s tales, rites of passage, games and toys, pederasty, and the Ephebic Oath sworn by eighteen-year-old males on their way to becoming citizens of Athens.

 

Jouanna writes in the wake of the many who, since Philippe Ariès’ preeminent book on the history of childhood, have focused their research on this important but too often overlooked phase of human life. The newer research she includes adds greatly to our understanding. Scholars and lovers of Greek antiquity have, for generations, been enthralled by the famous kalos kaghatos ideal of the good and beautiful man. This ideal, as Jouanna observes in her conclusion, is remaining evidence of the greatness of Athens. But, in this clear and concise book, she depicts how real children and parents lived in those ancient times.

 

Danielle Jouanna is a historian specializing in Ancient Greece. She has published a number of well-received books, such as Aspasie de Milet, égérie de Périclès (Fayard, 2005—Prix Diane Potier-Boès 2006 de l’Académie Française), L’Europe est née en Grèce (L’Harmattan, 2009), as well as more recently, Les Grecs aux Enfers (2015) and Rire avec les Anciens (2016), both published by les Belles Lettres.

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Daily Life in a Mesopotamian Temple

Dominique Charpin

(Les Belles Lettres, 256 pages, 2017)

 

A keen reflection on the incarnation of the sacred.  —L’Histoire

 

Pascale says

"An impressively researched and refreshingly accessible book for anyone passionate about ancient history."

Since the rediscovery of Mesopotamian civilization in the nineteenth century, archeological excavations and the unearthing of vast libraries of cuneiform tablets have allowed generations of scholars to reconstruct an image of this ancient world. Temples were prominent features of the city landscape and believed to be the earthly homes of the many deities of the Mesopotamian pantheon. In this book, Dominique Charpin, one of the world’s leading Assyriologists, takes a global approach to demonstrate that temples fulfilled many more functions than previously thought. Through close scrutiny of a diverse array of clues—an accounting document, a Sumerian hymn, an Akkadian epic, and a bronze ex-voto—he takes us on a fascinating investigation that sheds new light on everyday life at the temples.

 Within their high walls, temples were long thought to be self-sufficient entities and a world unto themselves. Drawing on the latest discoveries, Charpin broadens this view and describes how different temples performed functions akin to those of our contemporary public or government agencies. The temples of Gula, goddess of medicine, he writes, served as healing centers where patients’ wounds were licked by dogs, and then dressed with herbal ointments. The temples of Samas, the god of justice, functioned as courthouses; the temples of the goddess Nungal served as jails; and those of the goddess Kittum were a sort of Bureau of Weights and Measures. In the chapter dedicated to the deities of writing, the goddess Nibasa and the god Nabu, Charpin discusses the training of scribes, the constitution of archives, and the establishment of libraries. And in the temples of the well-known Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, there was space for taverns and pleasure houses. Most important, key and sometimes mundane aspects of daily life—funerary practices, beer brewing, dairy production, and even the crafting of perfumes—were placed under the patronage of a deity or deities, whose temple served as the center of the activity.

 At every turn, the author reminds us of the danger of projecting our own categories onto the past. It was not so much that temples fulfilled secular functions but that every human activity was imbued with a sacred dimension. One of the great pleasures of this book is following Charpin, step by step, on his deductive path. With his fluid style, he makes accessible a body of highly specialized research and offers to a larger audience a vivid portrait of the activities, conflicts, and concerns of people living in ancient Mesopotamia.

 

Dominique Charpin is Professor of Ancient Near Eastern History and Director of Studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Sorbonne, Paris. An internationally recognized authority on the Ancient Near East, his books translated into English include Hammurabi of Babylon (I. B. Tauris, 2012), Reading and Writing in Babylon (Harvard University Press, 2010), and Writing, Law, and Kingship: Essays on Old Babylonian Mesopotamia (Chicago University Press, 2010).

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The Syriac World: On the Roads of an Unknown Christianity

Françoise Briquel Chatonnet and Muriel Debié

(Les Belle Lettres, 270 pages, 2017)

 

*** Translation sample available upon request ***

*** Winner of the Grand Prix des Rendez-vous de l’Histoire du Monde arabe 2018 ***

 A seminal work. —Codex

 The introductory monograph that will render the Syriac world accessible to all readers. The first book of its kind.

 Syriac Christianity is the third point in the triangle of ancient Christianity alongside the Greek and Latin traditions. The authors of this short historical monograph set out, as the title indicates, to throw light on this egregiously understudied area in the history of Christianity. Beginning with Syriac Christianity’s Mesopotamian and Aramaean origins of the pre-Christian era, Briquel Chatonnet and Debié chart the tradition’s development all the way through the twentieth century and the little-known 1915 Assyrian Genocide, known within the community as Sayfo.

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Marine says

"A prize-winning comprehensive history of the Syriac world."

The authors insist on Syriac as a “culture of contact” and thus eschew any concern with exact origins or purity of development. Rather, they emphasize the influences of various empires, other Christian traditions, Asiatic religions, and, of course, Islam. In explaining Syriac’s seeming universality, Briquel Chatonnet and Debié make the important observation that Syriac was never the official language of a state nor of a particular people. This feature of Syriac gives coherence to a work of great temporal scope. Rather than treat Syriac as simply another variant of Christianity, the authors consider it variously as a religion, a written culture, and a historical tradition. This alternation conveys the complexity of a historical subject that appears to defy categorization.

 The first attempt to lay a coherent narrative on the entirety of Syriac history, the book connects, for instance, Ottoman and modern Syriac history to the earlier classical period. Briquel Chatonnet and Debié move seamlessly between different topics such as the place of women, ecclesiastical conflict, and scientific production.

 With over one hundred illustrations, eleven color maps, a chronology, and numerous excerpts from original texts in boxed inserts, this unprecedented work invites us to discover over two thousand years of Syriac history and culture.

 

Françoise Briquel Chatonnet has a Ph.D. in history and is a research director at the CNRS, where she directs the collection “Semitic Worlds.” In addition she is deputy director of the Laboratory for Oriental and Mediterranean Studies. She is the recipient of the 2016 Irène Joliot-Curie prize for scientific woman of the year.

Muriel Debié is a professor at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, where she is chair of Oriental Christianity studies.

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Law Without the State: On Democracy in France and in the United States

Laurent Cohen-Tanugi

Preface by Stanley Hoffman

 (PUF, 288 pages, 1st ed., 1985; 3rd ed., Quadrige, 2016)

 

This is the most Tocquevillian work on the United States written since Tocqueville . . . Like Tocqueville, Laurent Cohen-Tanugi has the gift for capturing the very essence of a society.

—Stanley Hoffman

 

As Alexis de Tocqueville did so famously before him, Cohen-Tanugi turned his attention toward the United States in order to reflect on the failings of his native country. In particular, the author examines the fundamentally different roles that law plays in each country. Can France adopt, he asks, some of the most positive aspects of the American model without automatically assuming its flaws? Law Without the State is the starting point of Cohen-Tanugi’s decades-long reflection on the burning political and economic issues now facing our world

 First published in the mid-1980s, reedited three times, and now with a 2007 update, Law Without the State considers the interactions between the legal and political realms in France and the United States. A strong centralized state, Cohen-Tanugi writes, may have historically served France well on military, political, or diplomatic levels. Today, however, this model shows signs of wear and tear as it faces new economic challenges and cultural realities. How then, he asks, can we rethink the role of the state in France and reimagine an alternative model of social regulation?

 For Cohen-Tanugi, a public intellectual and internationally published author, the United States provides a useful point of comparison. In the United States, law serves as an innovative tool for social change. It is an expression of society and an outcome of the different, particular, and competitive interests that come to define the common good. In France, the state is the great architect of solidarity and social justice, and law is “nearly exclusively the product of an administrative . . . and monopolistic state.” Cohen-Tanugi’s comparative analysis avoids the pitfalls of preconceived ideas and all too prevalent generalizations on each side of the Atlantic and illuminates the differences between the ideological systems.

 Cohen-Tanugi’s reflections are not merely academic: In his view, France has no choice but to reform itself. Early on he foresaw that the rise of global governance, i.e., a multilateral international order based on the rule of law, the impact of new technologies, and the growth of Europe, would bring about the need for reforms. France, he hoped, would be pushed in the direction of a more contractual society. His latest thinking, on the impact of the book, notes its threefold contribution to the French debate: that of a deeper and more positive understanding of the role of law in American democracy; that of a less superficial vision of liberalism which greatly contributed to renovating reformist thought in France; and that of a new theoretical reflection on law and democracy.

 

Laurent Cohen-Tanugi is a Paris-based international lawyer and public intellectual, and a recognized expert on European affairs and international relations. He has published several influential books on democracy and the rule of law, European integration, transatlantic relations, and globalization, including The Shape of the World to Come: Charting the Geopolitics of a New Century (Columbia University Press, 2008) and An Alliance at Risk: The United States and Europe Since September 11 (John Hopkins University Press, 2003).

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Resistances: Democracy in the Balance

Laurent Cohen-Tanugi

(Éditions de l’Observatoire, 117 pages, 2017)

 

 

In Resistances, Laurent Cohen-Tanugi takes up the reflection on democracy that he initiated in the mid-1980s with Law Without the State. This was overall a happier time for democracy as Southern Europe, and other regions of the world, celebrated the fall of dictatorships. More than thirty years later, the political landscape has dramatically changed. Since the turn of the millennium, the world has been witnessing the retreat of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism and intensified nationalism. Western democracies have been shaken to their core by a series of political earthquakes, from the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom to the stunning presidential victory of Donald Trump in the United States.

 In May 2017, the election of the liberal and resolutely pro-European Emmanuel Macron as the new leader of the French Republic interrupted what seemed to be the unstoppable populist wave engulfing Europe and the United States. Macron’s victory may have allowed France to avoid the worst-case scenario, the election of the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. But Cohen-Tanugi writes, “this fortunate outcome must not obscure the reality of a common diagnosis: a global crisis of liberal democracy, harboring a deliberate assault—political, ideological and geopolitical—on Western values and political systems.” Why, he asks, did three nations—France, the United Kingdom, and the United States—“each in its own way a symbol of the democratic ideal, take or, in the case of France, nearly take decisions that were detrimental to the national interest and often contrary to the values that they have always embodied [?] It is this momentous fact that we must investigate: how could this have happened, and above all how can it be resisted and remedied in the future?”

 In this urgent book, Cohen-Tanugi takes stock of the gravity of these unprecedented historical events and asks whether they were merely an aberrant parenthesis or the presage of a new and foreboding world. For him, “the answers to these questions vastly transcend electoral analysis and the dominant theory that the populist wave represents the revenge of the ‘victims of globalization.’ The ills at the origin of the political shocks of 2016–17 and their aftermath call for a much more fundamental reflection on the prerequisites of liberal democracy, on the impact of technology and geopolitics on its functioning, and on the ways to counter the multiple threats it faces. Despite its misleading reference to the ‘people,’ populism is not an avatar of democracy, but rather its most resolute adversary. To reconcile popular sentiment and the democratic ideal: that is the imperious challenge facing all democracies today.”

 

Laurent Cohen-Tanugi is a Paris-based international lawyer and public intellectual, and a recognized expert on European affairs and international relations. He has published several influential books on democracy and the rule of law, European integration, transatlantic relations, and globalization, including The Shape of the World to Come: Charting the Geopolitics of a New Century (Columbia University Press, 2008) and An Alliance at Risk: The United and Europe Since September 11 (John Hopkins University Press, 2003).

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Who Was Alain Robbe-Grillet?

Alain Robbe-Grillet

(Éditions EHESS, 204 pages, 2018)

 

“Robbe-Grillet’s theories constitute the most ambitious aesthetic program since Surrealism.” ―John Updike

“Robbe-Grillet is important because he has attacked the last bastion of the traditional art of writing: the organization of literary space.” ― Roland Barthes

“I doubt that fiction as art can any longer be seriously discussed without Robbe-Grillet.” ― New York Times

Pascale says

"These lively dialogues are a great introduction to Robbe-Grillet's life, times and work."

Alain Robbe-Grillet was an emblematic figure of the postwar French avant-garde. As one of the originators and key theoreticians of the Nouveau Roman or New Novel, he wrote experimental works of fiction that rejected conventional storytelling. As a filmmaker, he is best known for his work on Alain Resnais’s 1961 cult film, Last Year at Marienbad. As the five interviews in this book reveal, he remains, even in his later years, not only a fiercely opinionated provocateur, but also a warm host and an avid ex-agronomist who never stopped cultivating a love for the world of plants. The interviews, conducted between 1991 and 2000 by Roger-Michel Allemand, show vividly both Robbe-Grillet’s polemical verve and conceptual depth and the lesser-known aspects of his life and personality.

In the first interview, “Autobiography,” Robbe-Grillet discusses his conception of autobiography and how his approach marks a rupture from the literary devices that have traditionally characterized the genre. Autobiography, he said, is not an exposition of facts whose significance has been determined in advance. For him it had to be, first and foremost, an open-ended exploration: “I do not know where I am going nor who I am,” he said, “and that is precisely why I start writing about myself.”

In “Encounters,” Robbe-Grillet talks about his family background, the value of his early education, and his literary preferences. He evokes the encounters that led him to become a literary advisor at Editions de Minuit, the publishing house that famously launched many of the New Novelists. But his more important encounters were with works of literature, and, in particular, his determinant discovery of Franz Kafka.

In “Enigmas,” he shares his predilection for Breton legends, ghost stories, detective novels, and his fascination for the mysteries of Number Theory. And that brings him to a discussion of intertextuality and his practice of making collages, sometimes in collaboration with artists such as René Magritte and Robert Rauschenberg.

In “Theories,” he returns to the early days of the New Roman, which was, in his eyes, an adventure more than a movement. He shares anecdotes on the various writers now identified under that label and critically evaluates their works.

 Finally, in “Sentiments,” the reader is invited into the intimacy of the artist. Robbe-Grillet details his writing habits, the things he loves, from botany and cactuses to Gustave Flaubert and German culture. The intimation of aging and death is delicately touched upon in the retelling of the traumatic loss of his beloved garden devastated by a storm.

Roger-Michel Allemand, a French literary critic and specialist of the New Novel, is a worthy, and not easily fazed, interlocutor. His brilliant and, at times edgy, conversations with Robbe-Grillet―often interrupted by Robbe-Grillet’s invitation to share a meal―offer rich insights into Robbe-Grillet’s personality, life, and thought.

Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922-2008) was a novelist and filmmaker, and the pioneering spokesman of the Nouveau Roman. His early novels include A Regicide (Oneworld Classics, 2015), The Erasers (Grove Press, 1994), The Voyeur (Grove Press, 1994), Jealousy and In the Labyrinth published together in 1994, by Grove Press. Robbe-Grillet’ s other works translated into English include For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction (Northwestern University Press, 1992) and La Belle Captive: A Novel, written in collaboration with René Magritte (The University of California Press, 1996).

The Discreet Ambition of Angela MErkel

Marion Van Renterghem

With a preface by Alastair Campbell

(Les Arènes, 270 pages, 2017)

 

“I am not vain. I know how to use the vanity of men.” — Angela Merkel

 “It happens sometimes, but rarely, that a person is not only a product of her time but comes to define it . . . Historians will refer to the period in which we now live . . . as ‘The Merkel years.’” — Alastair Campbell

 In September 2017, Angela Merkel was elected Chancellor of Germany for the fourth consecutive term. “Mutti,” the affectionate nickname Ms. Merkel earned in Germany, has revealed herself to be a formidable politician with a rare talent for negotiation. For more than a decade, she has dominated European politics and has steadily, and without great fanfare, secured her place in history as one of the most powerful leaders in the world. Marion Van Renterghem, a senior reporter at Le Monde, does not hide her fascination for Merkel. In this insightful and lively biography, she sheds light on the personality and exceptional political journey of a remarkable woman.

Marion Van Renterghem traces the chancellor’s steps back to the small town where Merkel spent her youth, in what was then the German Democratic Republic, and where she still enjoys quiet weekends with her husband in their modest dacha. Van Renterghem interviewed childhood friends and former teachers, and the many who witnessed or accompanied her rise to power.

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Marine says

"A lively and instructive portrait of Chancellor Merkel."

The story of the Merkel family is unusual. Her father, a pastor from Hamburg, was offered to train seminarians in the GDR a few years before the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Unlike the millions who moved westward, he decided to stay. Merkel, well on her way to becoming a scientist, was drawn into the effervescence of a period of momentous historical change. She turned out to be the right person at the right time, a person from the East without embarrassing ties to the Stasi. Her steady temperament, quiet strength, and razor-sharp mind—and her unthreatening lack of charisma—were quickly noticed and led her to be chosen as the spokesperson of the first and last elected dirigeant of the GDR, Lothar de Maizière. Starting with her years as a minister under the Kohl government, and then as chancellor since 2005, she became one of the prime architects of the new unified Germany.

Van Renterghem follows the rise of Merkel, concentrating on her relationships, especially with world leaders, from Tony Blair to Vladimir Putin, and four successive French presidents. The anecdotes, always instructive and often amusing, underscore the personal dynamics that shaped and continue to shape the future of Europe. Merkel was perceived as a sanctimonious public accountant during the Greek debt crisis and as a courageous humanist during the Syrian refugee crisis. Van Rentenghem’s generous portrait argues convincingly that no matter how Chancellor Merkel’s actions are interpreted, she will be remembered as a key figure in the history of Europe, and the world.

Marion Van Renterghem is a writer and a journalist. She has written for the French daily newspaper, Le Monde, and is now an international reporter at Vanity Fair. She is also a contributing writer at the New European and the winner of the Albert-London and Françoise-Giroud Awards.

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LIBERTY AND EQUALITY

Raymond Aron

(Éditions EHESS, 63 pages, 2013)

Aron is the supreme destroyer, not of hopes, but of confusions and illusions.

—Stanley Hoffman, New York Review of Books

Aron scrutinized political life with indefatigable attention until his last day, because he could not retire from the place where humanity makes the test of itself.

—Pierre Manent

Raymond Aron (1903–1983) was one of France’s prominent intellectual and influential figures—a sociologist, journalist, political commentator, and, not least, an independent-minded liberal known for his fierce critique of ideological orthodoxies. In this, his final lecture at the College de France, in April of 1978, Aron concluded his long teaching career by reflecting on the nature of Western democracies and the challenges they face in reconciling their founding concepts of liberty and equality. Those challenges are as relevant today as they were at the time of this lecture, which eloquently sums up Aron’s philosophical legacy.

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Pascale says

"Not to be missed for anyone interested in the work of Raymond Aron. As relevant today as when this was recorded."

Raymond Aron preferred to speak of liberties rather than liberty: “We all enjoy certain liberties,” he wrote, “and we never enjoy all of the liberties.” Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophers based their definitions of liberty on speculations about theories on human nature. But Aron was not interested in abstraction. Rather, he examined how liberties are actualized—or not—in specific sociological and historical contexts. Well aware that the definition of freedom has varied across space and time, Aron cautiously confined his observations to his own Western, liberal, and relatively prosperous democratic society.

In this lecture, Aron classifies liberties—political, personal, and social—in a clear and accessible manner, and discusses the ways they intersect or conflict with one another, all without losing sight of the unrelenting quest for equality. Aron sees signs of the “moral crisis of liberal democracies” in intellectual developments characterized by “the detestation of power as such.” Liberty, Aron observes, has come to be mostly understood as the liberation of individual desires. This worries him, not because he objects to individuals expressing their personality and realizing their intimate desires, but because, for him, a liberal democracy, in order to be sustainable, needs to include as it did in the past a definition of “the virtuous citizen.” In spite of these concerns, Aron reminds his audience that it is still a privilege to live in societies, how imperfect they may be, “with a deep tradition of seeking liberty in equality or equality in liberty.”

Raymond Aron was a political scientist, sociologist, and journalist who made major contributions to the study of totalitarianism, liberalism, Communism, and international relations. In 1945, he co-founded with Jean-Paul Sartre the journal Les Temps modernes; and, a year later, Combat with Albert Camus. Prolific and versatile, Aron produced thousands of journalistic columns, hundreds of essays, and many scholarly books, some of which were published posthumously and appeared in at least nine languages. Of his books translated into English, the most famous is The Opium of the Intellectuals (Norton, 1962; Routledge, 2001). Others include The Century of Total War (Praeger, 1981), Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations (Anchor Press, 1973; Routledge, 2003), Clausewitz: Philosopher of War, (Simon & Schuster, 1983), Main Currents in Sociological Thought (Routledge, 1998), The Imperial Republic: The United States and the World 1945–1973 (Little, Brown, 1974), and The Dawn of Universal History: Selected Essays from a Witness to the Twentieth Century (Basic Books, 2003). He also wrote Memoirs: Fifty Years of Political Reflection (Holmes & Meier, 1995).

 

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JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE: ALONE BEHIND THE CAMERA

Bernard Tessier

(Fayard, 272 pages, 2017)

 

In Melville's films, there is an aesthetic that gives you the feeling that ... if you truly enjoy movies with all your heart, you cannot but succeed in making a good one simply by having spent time watching them. Le Doulos is my favorite scenario of all time. First, you do not understand anything and then, in the last twenty minutes, everything is explained.                    

—Quentin Tarentino

The French master Jean-Pierre ... shot great, extremely elegant and complex gangster movies, made with love,  and in which criminals and cops adhere to a code of honor like feudal knights.                                                                                                    

—Martin Scorcese

Melville is a god for me. When I saw The Samurai for the first time, it was a shock: Melville technique and his very cool narrative style felt incredibly novel ... I love how Melville manages to combine his own culture with Eastern philosophy.    

—John Woo

Jean-Pierre Melville, beloved by the best of modern directors, is considered the godfather of the French New Wave influencing generations of international filmmakers with such movies—now cult favorites—as The Red Circle, The Army of Shadows, or The Samurai. More than forty years after his untimely death at age fifty-five, his biography remained to be written. Bernard Tessier has now filled the gap with this new biography in which he draws the portrait of a man who was passionately dedicated to his art and who persisted in making movies on his own terms.

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Pascale says

"A delight for Melville fans. A sober yet powerful portrait of a man' s unbridled passion for cinema as an art form."

Born Jean-Pierre Grumbach in a Jewish Alsatian family, Jean-Pierre Melville fought in the French Resistance during World War II and adopted the nom de guerre Melville as a tribute to his favorite American writer. In the first chapters of Melville, Tessier highlights the significant biographical elements that influenced the course of Melville’s life. In particular, he details, with the help of previously unseen documents, Melville’s impressive war record. Coupled with a great admiration for Hollywood gangster pictures of the 1930s and ’40s, the experience of war was a determining factor in Melville’s work that inspired both the themes and the filmmaking style of his movies.

Tessier shows the tortuous process that accompanied the conception and production of Melville’s fourteen movies: the never-ending financial struggle, the endless negotiations and stormy relationships with authors, producers and actors. Melville decided early on in his career to go his own way and, unwilling to compromise, he started making films on a very low budget. Then, in the early 1950s, he built his own film studio in Paris  – a legendary place visited by aspiring film directors like Godard, Chabrol, Malle or Truffaut and many of the most celebrated actors of post-war French cinema – from Simone Signoret to Jean-Paul Belmondo and, of course, Melville’s iconic actor, Alain Delon.

Melville, as Tessier describes him, was difficult, obsessive, and perfectionist, but many looked up to him nonetheless as someone who inspired, and encouraged, them to make movies in a different way. From the production side, Melville was, in many respects, a pioneer of independent film making, and the notion of home movies, in his case, could be taken literally: his studio on Rue Jenner was where he lived.  On the creative side, he reinvented the rules of cinematic convention with slow-moving entry scenes, minimalist dialogue, and innovative editing techniques.

Tessier reveals how Melville transformed French cinema in his own, individualistic, way. This book presents the reader with a fair, respectful, yet not indulgent portrait of a man through the one thing that mattered the most to him: the making of a memorable cinematographic universe. 

Bernard Tessier is a journalist, documentary filmmaker and the author of numerous biographies of French actors and singers.