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Something not unique, but quite rare, seems to be happening in France. The country, which once was leading the nations to aspire to new models of civilization nurtured by freedom and human rights, and was inspiring the world towards these universal ideals, later took its turn to join a queue for some sort of political balconing to explore how private and corporate interests could maximally spoil the people's fundamental rights and common good.
The country that once was that of du Guesclin, of Jeanne d'Arc, of Robespierre, of Desaix, of Victor Hugo, of Lamartine, of Bernanos and of de Gaulle, became the country of Pompidou, of Giscard, of Chirac, of Sarkozy and of Hollande, in an observably worsening sequence. Each next president of the French republic was less popular than the previous one. For the latter in the series, the indicators even became qualitative: Sarkozy was the first president not to be re-elected and Hollande was the first to not even try. And then came Macron.
It is unsettling to consciously realize that there is only one unit of human history (a century) that separates us from the great war (!?). I remember the same odd feeling of History suddenly shrinking to a speck of insignificant duration at the occasion of the bicentenary of the French revolution, which was the first of the decisive turning points leading to our contemporary society: the revolution leading to the first war, the first to the second and the second leading us to where we are now (see Jean Dutour for the details of this sequence would this not be evident). The French revolution, however disruptive and terrible it was, still carried at least the illusion of a step forward. It made such a great impression on such a great man as Victor Hugo. With the first war just behind him, Bernanos, the most visionary writer of his time, was already observing that "le visage du monde devenait hideux" (en). After the second, it was plain for everybody to see its traumatic proportions. In this droplet of time that separates us from the first war, three generations of my ancestors have gone. It almost took me out as well.
Slaughterhouse-Five is Vonnegut's masterpiece, and the second book of him I read (after Cat's cradle). I enjoyed it so much I naturally turned to the rest of his work, with the anxiety that the minor pieces would not be up to the famous ones (a problem with every author). Vonnegut is a peculiar writer, with strange sci-fi plots and uncanny characters whose recurrences throughout his work make you feel there is a thread to follow. Reading the synopsis of his works does not really make you crave to read them. The titles, in particular, are, to my taste, extremely poor. Even the book covers are, for some reason, repelling. It looks like every care has been taken by both the author and the people in charge of his marketing to make you flee away. It all changes, however, when you open the book and start reading.
How shocking! Big Ben has gone silent until 2021! That's a recording of our last hearing of it:
Since I have recently worried more than on average (this is a constant preoccupation) on political turmoil, oppression and dictatorship, etc., in the wake of the American political landscape, brexit, and, of course, the French elections, I have put back at the top of my list some old-time classics that I have wanted to read for a long time, plus a political essay/documentary from someone I personally know:
In the French presidential debate , where the liberal discourse was confronting the nationalistic one, but which everybody agrees was of terrible quality, full of unwarranted aggressiveness, insults, belittling of the other, etc., the pathetic Marine Le Pen had one good rhetorical line: "whoever wins the election, a woman will govern France, either me or Mrs. Merkel" (?!).
Our democracies have little left even of the mere appearance of what they proclaim to be. A recent "incident" in Spain provides a neat illustration of the totalitarian regimes that now rule us. Two puppeteers performing for the Carnival in Madrid were detained by the police and jailed without bail for apology of terrorism .
In the two weeks of holidays we have in August this year, I will be reading:
Regardless of a gloomy situation and of everything bad that may/could/can/will happen, one has to strive to be happy, resolutely happy, hopelessly happy, I therefore wish to wish you (no pun intended) a Happy New Year.
To emphasize that, I'll put it apart and in the official languages of our little group:
It is great whenever a scientific breakthrough is so big that everybody knows the Nobel prize will be awarded according to the original wish of its atoning patron: to honor those who during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.
Voltaire wrote Candide from the shock of hearing about Lisbon's earthquake. This emotion was probably fueled by his rivarly with Rousseau on the question of Christianity. Voltaire's grief was, really, religion.