SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
CECILIA: I'm Cecilia [INAUDIBLE]. I'm an undergraduate in the School of Arts and Science and president of the Cornell French Society. It's great to see you all here for our inaugural event. We founded this society the beginning of the semester, and we have two goals in mind. Basically, we want to promote the French culture on the Cornell campus and, in a way, foster the intellectual vibrancy of it.
And we also want to not only act as a catalyzer for those events just by saying, oh, this is happening right now, but we also want to create a community of people who come together and who share common interest in French culture and its relevance to the world and whatnot.
So it's in this society mindset that I warmly invite you to attend the reception that's going to front this talk that's happening in the adjoining room. So you can all get to meet each other. And the event tonight is very interdisciplinary, because it draws from topics of philosophy, history, government, politics, and it develops parallels and distinctions between France and the US, which is, I think, very important.
So first, it's-- well, I don't know. We could wonder what's the relevance of Sartre today, because he's an old philosopher. He lived in the second part of the 20th century, and we're in a context of financial crisis and crisis of confidence with wars in Afghanistan, wars in Iraq, war on terror, whatnot. So how is it relevant to the elections or to study and talk about him? What can he teach us today?
And it's an honor to have Annie Cohen-Solal here to answer these questions. Annie Cohen-Solal was born in Algeria and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. She taught in Paris, Cannes, Berlin, and even Jerusalem. And in 1985, she wrote a book called Sartre a Life, which was a true success, and it was translated in over 16 languages. And it's the most complete and official biography of Sartre today.
So from '89 to '93, she served as the cultural counselor to the French embassy in the United States. And drawing from this experience, she wrote a book called Painting American-- The Rise of American Artists, Paris 1867 to New York 1948, which is one of my favorite books, and it basically explains the shift in the cultural capital from Paris to New York.
So her latest book is on Leo Castelli, a gallerist, American gallerist, and it's going to be published in 2009. And she's now a professor in the Tisch School at New York University. She's going to talk for about an hour on the topic of Sartre, the question of terror, and the US presidential election. So please join me in welcoming Annie Cohen-Solal.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: Thank you, Cecilia. So I came to Cornell a few times already in different roles-- as a cultural counselor, as a writer, as a lot of things. But the first time that I'm invited by these French Society, you call it, and it's very-- it couldn't be more appealing to me. I mean Cecilia called me. Luis, too. I want to include him. Cecilia and Luis are friends of my son, and I knew them when they were little, little children. And there's no way I would have refused this invitation.
It was not easy for me, because I was yesterday in Chicago. I flew back to New York late last night, and I took the bus here. But there was no way I would miss this appointment, because it is a great honor for me to respond to a call from students. I think it's the most important is when there is a need from students to learn and to hear and to debate. Then I am always there. When it comes from my colleagues, not so much, but from students, always, especially from people like you.
So now-- and Cornell is a campus where a lot is happening. I have been around. Like even last week, I was in like 10 different colleges. But one thing, which is specific at Cornell, is that, and which I had no idea before coming to the United States, is this campus has, first of all, a French tradition. And I was interested in discussing with Dominique La [INAUDIBLE], Kaplan. I came also here with Jacques [INAUDIBLE] that came here very often and who happened to be my cousin. I came also to see the museum with this extraordinary collection.
And Cornell has also a history with [FRENCH]. And that's one of the reasons that-- the title is not exactly what I'm going to talk about, but you can forgive me, and you can ask me all kinds of questions in the end. Basically, what I want to do is have a debate with you. That's why I'm here.
Why is Sartre linked to Cornell? Because Sartre's relationship with the United States, which I'm going to start talking in a minute about, is extremely interesting, extremely complex, and not at all what people think it is. But Sartre came to the US twice. It is a country he knew the best, the country he understood the best. And the third trip was supposed to be at Cornell in 1965, Cornell University.
He never came, but he wrote the conference, nevertheless, which is called the Cornell Conference, which is extremely interesting conference and which is to located somewhere in the campus and which is the topic of a lot of investigations from Sartre scholars, especially philosophers, and politologists. And it has also to do with the American presidential campaign.
So when I was coming here on the bus, I was asking myself, yeah, exactly the question Cecilia was asking. What is the relevance of Sartre today, of this old philosopher? You said, Sartre is not an old philosopher. It's a dead philosopher. OK
But I think he's a dead philosopher, but he's a very relevant philosopher. OK. So for me, he's a young philosopher, a dead, young philosopher, who is really addressing people like you, people in search. Sartre has always been someone who was searching, who was looking for the truth, who was trying to hunt the truth, wherever it was, somebody who didn't mind contradicting himself, somebody who expressed his own points of views according to the different context where he was involved.
So let me just, before wrapping up my introduction, also talk a little bit about why a French club in a college or in a university today, and then we'll switch to this young, dead philosopher. So what is-- why is it so that it is so important? Why is it so important to open our eyes to foreign cultures, to other cultures?
Last week, a guy came to tutor my son. He came from Princeton Review. He was 27 years old. He went to Wesley, and he's now doing PhD at Penn. So he's got an excellent American education, and when he went out, he said to me, what do you write about? And I said, Sartre. And he said, Sartre? I mean, Sartre? I said, yeah, yeah, Sartre. Sartre?
I mean anyway, the guy had never heard the name of Sartre. So I mean it happened to me that if people didn't know whether he was, I don't know-- but anyway, that absence of knowledge, I mean I was pretty shocked. So I'd like to check who-- I hope you know who Sartre was, right? So basically, that is an interesting element, because somebody can go through a good American education through Ivy League colleges not having heard at all the name of Sartre.
So who is there to blame? Is it the American education? Is it the French system? What is it? Why is-- my position is that you don't have to learn to go through French language or French literature to hear the name, Sartre. It's not a question of going through another language. But it's also general knowledge.
Sartre was the philosopher of the 20th century. He was born 1905, died in 1980. He was the most prolific writer of the century. And he is someone that could be compared in his importance in civil society as Voltaire in the 18th century, Zola in the 19th century, because he is a man who worked with his own tools, which were a pen and paper, like very, very simple tools.
But with those tools, he raised to the studies of universal consciousness and addressed issues, such as the issue of authority, and started to demand answers from heads of states and from most powerful countries in the world on behalf of the civil society.
So what is interesting here is that the role of the French philosopher, as it was born in the 18th century, the 19th century, the 20th century, is the studies of an intellectual, who is also caring about the issues of his own society. You will hear Sartre today talk, and I really want you to get a feeling of his voice, of his presence, of his charisma.
He's going to say something like an [FRENCH]. An intellectual is someone who's caring about things, which are not directly-- I'm sorry.
SPEAKER 2: Are none of his business.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Are not of his business. Exactly. So basically, what he's saying is that you have to be involved. You have to be committed. You have to put your nose everywhere where it's forbidden. You have to address taboos. You have to look under the rug. You have to address those very issues that people want to keep behind the veil. That's what a responsible citizen is about.
So I think that's a-- so we had discussed many times the different options, talking about art, talking about-- but I think that it couldn't be a better idea than talk about Sartre today and to launch your French society. I can come again if you want, not by bus, not by the same bus, but another time, if you like it.
So that's why I think that there is something a little worrying here for me that someone who's 27 years old out of an Ivy League college or university has never heard the name of Sartre, because Sartre should not be known by people who are reading [INAUDIBLE] or see his play, [INAUDIBLE], No Exit, whatever, or read [FRENCH], his novels, and so on, or read his articles of journalism and so on.
But people who have simply learned history of the 20th century and people who have learned about the movements of decolonization, Sartre was absolutely crucial to what happened in Algeria, for example, in Korea, in Vietnam. Sartre addressed those issues. And just for that, it's a scandal that his name has been erased from American higher education.
Now the best thing we should do, I think I'm going to turn him on. We're going to invite this young, dead philosopher with us today. I don't know how to do that. [INAUDIBLE].
- [SPEAKING FRENCH]
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: All right. So that was in French, and I feel that a few people didn't get the whole-- where the problem is some people don't speak French, right?
SPEAKER 3: It's garbled.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: OK. But I will make a kind of summary of the whole thing. First of all, the context of this interview-- this interview was conducted for the Canadian television in 1967 just during the Vietnam War. And the first question, it was conducted by someone-- [WINDOWS SOUND] so by someone you might have recognized. The man is Claude Lanzmann, the man who did the film, Shoah, right? And next to him was a Canadian journalist, Madeleine Gobeil.
The first question they ask him has to do with the last sentence of Sartre's autobiographical, Les Mots, The Words. The last sentence of this autobiography is, "What is left with me-- a man made of all men and who is worse all of them--" and I'll tell you in English-- in French, it's easier. [SPEAKING FRENCH]
Basically, [SPEAKING FRENCH], made of all other men. [FRENCH], it was worth any other. [FRENCH], and whom anybody can--
SPEAKER 4: [INAUDIBLE].
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: I'm sorry.
SPEAKER 4: [INAUDIBLE]
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: No.
SPEAKER 5: [INAUDIBLE].
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: No.
SPEAKER 5: [INAUDIBLE].
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: Exactly. Exactly. And that anyone could be worse-- yeah. So basically, it's a statement of extreme megalomania and extreme humility. Sartre is the heir of a grand family, a grand tradition. He's the son of Anne-Marie Schweitzer. His mother is a niece of Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Prize of Peace, Nobel-- Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the priest who went to Africa. Sartre is-- so he's empowered with this genealogy that he will all together carry over and try to destroy.
Sartre is someone who presented himself as a subversive heir. From the age of 20, he started to try and subvert the tradition, the heredity he had. He came from this family of great pedagogues, because the Schweitzer were the origin of the French public teaching in France. And then he went to Ivy League. I mean the equivalent of the Ivy League [FRENCH], I mean in the grand way.
But once he was there, at the age of 20, he challenged the authority. At the age of 20, he challenged the director of the economic superior, who was called Gustave Lanson, who was not only the director of this Ivy League school, but also the head of French literature studies in the country.
Sartre challenged him by writing a play, where he would mimic the director, and who'd really try and challenge authority, because he thought that the way things were taught at that time were extremely rigid. He really challenged the rigidity of not only the French system, but also the hierarchy between disciplines. Sartre was fascinated by philosophy and literature, but he was also fascinated by what he called the culture of the present. He was fascinated by cinema. He was fascinated by jazz music. He was fascinated by cartoons.
But at that time in France, when he was 20 years old, which is in 1925, those disciplines were not considered as legitimate-- were not legitimized by the French Academy system. They were considered as garbage. They were considered as non-serious disciplines, whereas cinema, jazz, and cartoons were not worth academic research.
But Sartre, as a 20-year-old, was looking around, trying to figure out what was exciting for people his age. And basically, he tried to bring that into the circle of the academia, those disciplines. It's like as if today you would be deciding to lecture on rap music or like the culture of the marches. So what he did at the age of 20, he wrote a whole thesis on cinema and the economics [INAUDIBLE] that nobody was asking him to do.
And he also went looking outside of French culture. He went grabbing music from the United States, jazz music. He went grabbing a philosopher from Germany, Husserl and Heidegger. And that attitude was not at all considered appropriate in the France of the 1920s and 1930s. He was basically, as a 20-year-old, young genius, because that's how everybody described him.
I interviewed everybody from his own class. He would really cross borders in all respects. He crossed borders of disciplines and crossed the borders of national cultures. He would look elsewhere, and with that, he would organize his own, first of all, concepts, notions, theories, attitude. So what is fascinating when you see him now at the age of 60 here, you see him answering these two journalists. But you also see him answering the question about the Nobel Prize.
So Sartre, at the age of 20, challenges the director of the school. Sartre, at the age of 40, challenges-- maybe at the age of 50, challenges the head of state, which is General de Gaulle, 1960. In 1960, Sartre is responsible for awakening people about the Algerian revolution and the Algerian War and the decolonization of Algeria.
And he will criticize the French state for torture in Algeria or for-- and so he would say, he would build up a group of people saying, I would have supported-- me, Sartre, I would have supported the Algerian revolution. If I had to do it, I would have done it. So basically, he challenged the authority of the president of France, de Gaulle, in transgressing the order and saying, I would have committed something illegal if I had to do it. So that's what he was talking about. That was called [FRENCH], 121 signatures to challenge the French state on this issue.
But later on, Sartre gets the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964 and refuses it. So that's also one thing which is mentioned here-- why did you refuse the Nobel Prize for Literature? Would you have accepted it if you had been given the Nobel Prize for Peace? And he answers-- I don't know if you got that. He said, no, I wouldn't have accepted it either, but I would have accepted it if it had been given to me in 1960 rather than 1964 for this petition for the signing, the signature of people against the French state about the Algerian War.
So basically, he would have accepted this honor from Stockholm if it had been about this challenge of the French government in this situation. So why did I want to show you a little bit of this interview? Just to have a little feeling of the voice, of the attitude, of the way Sartre expresses himself, which is, in fact, something that I think is really a little-- has somewhat disappeared today.
But now let's go back to what I wanted to talk to you about, which is the relationship between France and the United States throughout Sartre. Sartre is somebody that has been accused of being one of the epitome of the enemy of the United States, the French intellectual who's been accused of being an enemy of the United States.
Why? Because he criticized the politics of the United States during two very important moments-- one, the McCarthy era in 1952 about the Rosenberg trial, and second in 1967 about the Vietnam War, where he accused the government of the United States to decimate the Vietnamese population.
And he became then the president of a tribunal, something which had never existed before, the Russell Tribunal, together with Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher, where he was-- basically, Bertrand and Sartre empowered themselves for this position when they played the role of a universal consciousness.
So those are the two instances where Sartre criticized the United States. And definitely he criticized the country on two very political, I mean foreign policy issues. Now for the rest, I must say that Sartre is someone whose career has developed, as I said before, by transgressing the natural borders of his class and of his education and especially in criticizing in French culture what he found the [INAUDIBLE], the most [? tatic ?], the most rigid.
I mentioned earlier that he found the education in France in the '30s too stiff, too closed, not enough interested by the culture of the present. For him, everything which came from the United States of America was equivalent of modernity. So as a young boy, he would read cartoons like Texas Jack, Sitting Bull, Buffalo Bill. They were the way where he basically invented his passion for adventures.
He said later on, "My life was to be a series of adventures, or rather one adventure. That was how I saw it. The adventure took place more or less everywhere, but rarely in Paris, because in Paris, you don't often see a redskin leap out. So the need for adventures made me conceive of them in America, Africa, or Asia. Those continents were made for adventure. So I began to dream that I would go to America, where I would fight with roughnecks and come out of it safely having knocked around a fair number of them."
So basically, that's how he pictured his life-- a series of adventures and adventures in America. Later on, he will be the first one to discover the great, great American writers from the '30s-- [? John ?] [? Duspasos, ?] William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville. But not only discover them-- translate them and present them, basically opening the French public to those writers and showing how [? Duspasos, ?] Faulkner, and Hemingway were revolutionizing the art of fiction and how we needed them in France.
So much so that William Faulkner, who can be very often-- I mean whom I do compare with Sartre in a lot of issues-- William Faulkner who had a hard time in his own country here said, when I read what Sartre wrote about me and what Sartre did for me in France, I felt better in my own country.
As you know, Faulkner is also someone coming out of a family, of a rich family of Mississippi, who himself decided to revise, reconsider the way his family had behaved and wrote these incredible novels, where he challenges the status of the African-Americans in the Southern states of the United States.
So the fact that Sartre adored Faulkner or recognized Faulkner is not-- doesn't come by accident. So this is another element that-- so American cartoons, American literature, American music-- Sartre writes his first novel, Nausea, which is published in 1938, and which is the first philosophical novel, existentialist novel, where the hero finds himself completely at odds with the French provincial context and manages to reinvent his own realities through the music he hears in a bar, which is "Some of These Days," a piece of music which comes from the United States. It's a blues. And that will completely reorganize his perception of reality.
So the organization of Sartre's writings, of his [? sinkings ?], of his evolution cannot be organized without this temptation to pull out from the United States culture what he imagines as the country of modernity. Later, he would write, when we were 20 years old in 1925, we thought of the United States as the country of the future. The skyscrapers were the architecture of the future. Jazz was the music of the future. The novels were of the future. That's where we wanted to go.
So for this intellectual born in Paris, surrounded by books, from this elitist [FRENCH], the United States of America carried an incredible wealth of elements, which would help him decipher his own culture, challenge his own culture, and reach his own culture.
Now that's the passion. In 1945, Albert Camus arrives and tells Sartre that there's an invitation to spend six months in the United States on behalf of a newspaper called Figaro Figaro and another one called [? Kumbah ?]. And he wonders whether Sartre is interested. And Sartre says, I am going. Immediately, he jumps on the plane, and for six months, he's going to explore the country, even come to Albany, Ithaca, and discover the country of his dreams.
What happens here is extremely interesting, because Sartre at the context of the United States, Sartre is not only switching from the point of view of a professor, a reader, a writer, somebody really entrenched from reality to the stories of a field work journalist, who is confronted with reality and the reality of a foreign country. And he's going to write a lot through his travels.
And these texts, which are very humorous and have not been published yet is one of the projects that I have to really bring out those incredible texts about-- there's text about Hollywood. He sees for the first time this film by Orson Welles. What is it? Rosebud. Citizen Kane. Thank you so much. Citizen Kane. He sees it from Hollywood. He goes-- I mean it's really a fascinating panorama.
But more important is that this text about the United States show a very deep empathy between Sartre and the country. It is the portrait of a country in time of war. It is also the travel journal of an ethnographer. It's also a philosophical essay on something that Sartre calls Americanism. And in many respects, it's maybe the best travel diary through the United States after [INAUDIBLE].
Sartre wanted to make a book out of it. He wanted to call it [FRENCH], Little Portraits of America. He never did it, because his friend, his girlfriend, the woman he lived with, Simone de Beauvoir, did her own book on the United States called [FRENCH], America Day by Day, which happens to be a terrible book, extremely poor. I just lectured on that recently at New York University for this [FRENCH] centennial.
She wrote two books at the same time between 1947 and 1951. She started two different books. One is the book on the United States, which is, I mean, the worst. I mean a bunch of gossips, a bunch of-- I mean basically, as she says, people in Santa Fe look like people in Saint Tropez. I mean unbelievable. But this is Simone de Beauvoir.
But while she was writing this horrible book, in fact, stealing the books that Sartre had to write about the United States, she was also starting another book, The Second Sex, which happened to be the Bible of feminism in the 20th century. But that's for next time or next year or whatever. It's Simone de Beauvoir's own trajectory.
As for Sartre, what you see in his text on American democracy shows this empathy I was talking about. Let me just quote something. Yeah, sorry. "The American considers his thought as universal. This might be a sign of the influence of puritanism." Something else. He says, "One should not see--" oh, yeah. He says-- he talks about the function of money in the United States.
He says, "One should not see it as greed or simply a taste for luxury. Money in the United States, I would say, is merely the necessary but symbolic sign of success. One has to succeed, because success proves the moral virtues of intelligence and also because it shows that one enjoys divine protection."
So you can see here through this text, through this description of the meaning of money in the USA, somewhere the Max Weber, the ethic of Protestantism, and the spirit of capitalism. And Sartre would also talk about education values in America, philanthropy in the United States. And one thing I have been able to decipher is that the way Sartre would read American values, he would read it through the prism, through the lenses, through the glasses of his own Protestant education.
In this interview, another time in this interview, he would say-- by accident, Sartre said, Luther said each man is a prophet. Just like that, even without even thinking. So Sartre's thinking is completely mingled with his Protestant ethic. And that's not surprising, because he was raised by his grandfather, Schweitzer. He was home schooled until the age of 12. And the grandfather was the one who created this method of teaching languages through context, the actual German language.
So when the little boy arrived at school, he was really like a bore, because he was self-taught and taught by this incredible pedagogue who was like 70 years older than him. But nevertheless, that made him react to the virtues of American democracy like nobody else. And so he would come back and lecture about the United States in France and write about the United States.
But another thing Sartre discovers from these trips is for the first time, racial discrimination. And in the Southern states in the United States, at the time, he noticed that in the train, you had segregation, in the train, segregation in the schools. So he reacted to that saying, in this wonderful country, in this wonderful democratic country, there are still these millions of people who have no rights.
And that would be the very first-- the awakening of his career of an ethical militant. So basically, it's by looking at a country, which is far away from his own, by looking at, by discovering racial segregation far away from his own home that he will become his career of ethical militant. So both the United States helped Sartre furbish his own tools as a modernist, inventor, or creator, or philosopher, writer, playwright, critic, but also, they made him aware of racial discrimination.
When Sartre comes back to France after these first two trips, that's when he's going to stand up and challenge two things-- first, the fact that in France during the World War II, when the Germans were occupying France, there was the attitude of the French population against the Jews. I mean the Germans, of course, but also some French police. So Sartre wrote a book called [FRENCH], 1946, which is translated, Anti-Semite and the Jew in the United States, where he says, who is a collaborator? Who are these French people who collaborated with the Germans?
So basically, instead of accepting this wonderful attitude of that's it. We finished. We all love each other and so on. He said, no. Let's look under the rug. Let's address this taboo. There was collaboration in France. Let's try to understand why such a thing existed.
He did the same thing. This attitude of trying to address taboos-- he did the same thing. In 1947, he wrote a book called-- actually, it was the introduction. It's called Black Orpheus, the introduction for poetry from the West Indies and from Africa, where he introduced poets like Aime Cesaire, the poet from Martinique who passed away last June at the age of 96, who was the mayor of [INAUDIBLE]. And he introduced another wonderful, wonderful writer called Leopold Sedar Senghor, who was from Senegal and [FRENCH] and president of Senegal.
So Sartre introduced their poetry and showed the incredible value of people coming from outside of-- from the French colonial empire, but whose voices were immensely enriching the French heritage. So at the same time, Sartre wakes up on these two issues-- anti-Semitism and colonialism. And his own trajectory of evolving from a militant, from discovering racial discrimination in the United States, discovering the voice from the colonized, the support of the Algerian revolution would take him to attack the American government around the Vietnam War.
That's what he said in 1967 when he was the president of the Russell Tribunal. And what I want to show here is that Sartre's evolution is extremely consequent, someone who always coming from the tradition of the French intellectual who challenges his own country like Voltaire had done for the [FRENCH] in the 18th century, like Zola had done for the Dreyfus case in the 19th century, Sartre did it for all those cases in his own culture and in foreign cultures.
So in 1967, when he decides that he will not come to Cornell, but he will send his lecture nevertheless, he says that he's not coming because of the Vietnam War. But he said the following thing. "We cannot come to the aid of American anti-racists. For someone to come from abroad and declare racism is wrong would help absolutely no one. American society has produced its myth and its ideology, and this myth and this ideology in a position to them will have to form the basis for a new American way of thinking. This cannot come from Europe.
Vietnam is a different story. The only way we might be able to contribute to awareness of it is by making an outright all-encompassing condemnation of American policy in Vietnam and by trying to provoke wherever possible that is in Europe protests against that policy. It is not only Vietnam that is at stake. There would be repercussions throughout the whole third world and in Latin America."
Another quote at the same time, which I wanted to address to you and ask you whether you thought it could be relevant today in the time of the Iraqi war that not many people hear about. Recently, during the presidential election, nobody seems to be knowing what is happening there. Nevertheless, a lot of money has gone into it, and a lot of mess.
I want to ask you whether you think that's relevant. That's what Sartre said in 1967, the reason why he was not coming to Cornell. "I wish to say also that we do not have to regard the United States as the center of the world. Granted, it is the greatest power in the world, but it is far from being the center.
As Europeans, we even have the duty not to consider America as the center of the world. We must show solidarity and interest in the people from all over the world and with all our friends, who have worked their way towards the threshold of survival and freedom and who can prove each day that the greatest power in the world is incapable of imposing its laws, that it is also the most vulnerable power in the world, and that the world has not chosen it to be its center of gravity. The United States will evolve, of course, slowly, very slowly, and better, I think, if one resist it than if one preaches to it."
So Cecilia, in order to start your French club, I think that these few considerations of Sartre, the French philosopher of the 20th century, might challenge a little things in this context of presidential election today in the United States. That's how I would stop my speech and take the questions. Thank you.
CECILIA: Thank you so much. We'd just like to take the time now to open this up for discussion. If any of you have any questions, I know that Annie would be more than willing to answer any of them. And also, thank you so much for coming. And please join us for the reception out there.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: Luis.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: I know you're going to criticize me. I knew that.
LUIS: I was just wondering--
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: I'm ready.
LUIS: --because this question of the French concept of the philosopher and the engaged intellectual--
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: Committed.
LUIS: The committed intellectual.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: [SPEAKING FRENCH]
LUIS: [SPEAKING FRENCH] and to have such a public stance and a public [FRENCH]. Does it exist today? And why does it seem that there is not such a presence and that there is no more [FRENCH] and no more [FRENCH] today to actually be the ones asking the questions on behalf of humanity to the leaders of our world.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: Sir, before you go, you had a question. OK. So [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 6: In France or in the United States?
LUIS: In the world today. There's a lot of--
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: So what do you think is that? What you think? You think that it's not relevant?
LUIS: I see [INAUDIBLE], and I see all that. But is that--
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: Let me laugh a little bit.
LUIS: --Sartre of today or?
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: You had a question, sir, before leaving, because-- yeah, I mean I'm going to take a few questions, and then maybe I'll answer too. Yeah.
SPEAKER 7: My comment follows [INAUDIBLE], and first of all, thank you very much for coming. Thank you especially for coming to speak to the students. Wonderful. But my question is in part a response to Luis and in part a question. When you told the story about the 27-year-old Ivy Leaguer, you didn't say which college he came from. I hope it wasn't Cornell.
Anyway, when you told that story, I asked myself, is it a question of Ivy Leaguers not knowing about Sartre, the French philosopher, or is it a question about Ivy Leaguers not knowing about philosophers? And then I asked the further question, would the equivalent Ivy Leaguer, quote-unquote, [INAUDIBLE] graduate in France be any more cultured about philosophers from other countries.
Then the Ivy Leaguer was [INAUDIBLE]. And I had to put forward a very pessimistic hypothesis, and that is the young people I meet in France today are no more cosmopolitan than the young people you will meet in American today.
And I believe it doesn't have to do with either the decline of French civilization or the decline of the American civilization. I think it has to do with something we might call overspecialization. That it is there are many young people who are extremely well-trained, both in France and the United States, in their disciplines, but who are utterly ignorant outside [INAUDIBLE].
And I think that is not their fault, because that's the way we tend to structure higher education. We tend to structure it as gaining training in a specialization, rather than gaining culture.
SPEAKER 8: In France, philosophy is part of every single back exam. Philosophy is a required subject to pass the [INAUDIBLE]. So whether you take the scientific route, the economic route, or literary route, it's required. I don't think that's true in the high school-- I don't know. I don't think it's required [INAUDIBLE].
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: I won't see Sartre as an philosopher. I see him as an intellectual. If somebody didn't know his philosophy, that wouldn't be very important for me. But if somebody doesn't know that he was a consciousness, a moral consciousness, a polit-- a committed intellectual, that's more important for me.
But we will talk about that. Extremely interesting. I'm fascinated by your topic, fascinated-- I mean with French club, Cecilia, you're not going to do confrontation between what is better here. Is it better there? I see that's not the way to go. I have never gone that way. I've never said in America, they don't know about Sartre, but [INAUDIBLE] Noam Chomsky, for example. I don't think-- do they?
SPEAKER 9: Most certainly.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: They sell those books in the airport [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 10: [INAUDIBLE], stuff like that that said Pierre Bourdieu. And for that, they would have sort of like a Noam Chomsky being a [INAUDIBLE] in reverse. So it would be that they would make that kind of comparison. They would say that one was the Pierre Bourdieu [INAUDIBLE].
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: So what is this? The way the intellectual life is [INAUDIBLE]. Yes.
SPEAKER 11: Yes. I would like to join my colleagues [INAUDIBLE] you for your enthusiasm and your willingness to share with your students [INAUDIBLE], obviously, [INAUDIBLE]. For instance, I would contend that [INAUDIBLE]. My two short question-- first, you mentioned only briefly the fact that Sartre was invited to Cornell to give a lecture on commencement day, and I believe it was in 1965.
And everything was OK, and just Sartre sent a telegram to college president only two weeks before commencement day saying that he wouldn't eventually show up because of the American war crimes in Vietnam, which was not only [INAUDIBLE]. But also raises important questions. Is it fair not to make a difference between the American administration and the American [INAUDIBLE], especially on this campus, on this [? very broad ?] campus, many [INAUDIBLE] were against the war in Vietnam.
So how would you [INAUDIBLE]? And the second question was that to this interview and especially [INAUDIBLE] when Sartre says that we should break with this [? legion ?] of labor and that writers should actually become non-specialists before they go with many issues to do simple jobs. Isn't that also problematic at the time when writers were denied the right to exist as writers and [INAUDIBLE] in the United States, but [INAUDIBLE]?
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: I'm going to answer all things, but--
SPEAKER 11: [INAUDIBLE].
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: No, no, no. [INAUDIBLE]. First of all, when I compared Sartre to Voltaire, [INAUDIBLE], and Zola, [INAUDIBLE] it was a Sartre in French society, the Sartre who raised up the bar, who raised--
SPEAKER 11: And to who would make the comparison.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, but it was about anti-Semitism and the Jew, the collaboration. I mean only French issues, issues of his own nation. Second thing about he's not going to Cornell. I think it's absolutely stupid. I think it's ridiculous he didn't come to Cornell. A lot of people-- you're absolutely right.
And in my books, there's a lot of [INAUDIBLE]. My own power [INAUDIBLE] sees that I have criticized him a lot. And I think that I criticize him about his texts in Cuba in 1968, criticizing his texts from the United States in 1954. I mean there's a lot of places where I'm totally free to say, here, you were completely wrong.
And the little interview here where it is about this [INAUDIBLE] division of labor is [INAUDIBLE] in total utopia. I completely agree with you. Sartre is sometimes somebody very problematic, but for me, the whole of his trajectory and his example is beyond that. And I will discuss that a little, but I just wanted to answer these two points before.
SPEAKER 10: I have a question that's also about cross-cultural exchange. And here, there was a name that you didn't mention that for so many that [INAUDIBLE] important in bringing up. But one, of course, is Richard Wright and Native Son. And I bring this up, because I guess I have a somewhat different appreciation of [INAUDIBLE] in that I do think it's an uneven work.
But I think one of the benefits I think for students reading it in America is the detention of Jim Crow segregation that she gives and especially the passages on [INAUDIBLE] [? Murdall ?], because Richard Wright was, in many ways, her tour guide to the United States, so the Wrights were very important in that way, and highlighting [INAUDIBLE], laws, that [INAUDIBLE] out of return until some decades later.
And so there are people who have written, such as [INAUDIBLE], Martin, Simons, and other people saying that it's actually the model of racial oppression that she gets from the United States through [INAUDIBLE] [? Murdall ?] that gives her, that comes back in The Second Sex. The Second Sex isn't so much existentialism as as it's racial oppression, and then that comes back to America and our notions of sort of feminism through the second sex so that in a certain way, then, [INAUDIBLE] becomes a more important work.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: Yeah. It's a very specific-- yeah, I know very well this argument. It's an argument to [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 10: But even if you don't agree with what [INAUDIBLE] says, but--
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: Simone de Beauvoir gets-- she uses two or three books.
SPEAKER 10: She spends a long time [? on Murdall. ?].
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: Yeah, exactly. But basically, she's been helped by-- she called him. It's true that she compares the racial issue with gender issues. I mean she would talk about that.
SPEAKER 10: She's not so much doing that there. There, she's really talking about [INAUDIBLE].
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: No, in The Second Sex. So yeah. But yeah, it's a very--
SPEAKER 10: But it's interesting how they change the words [INAUDIBLE].
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: You're right. It's more than that. Other questions. I think, Cecilia, you had something. [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 12: I was interested in your comment about Sartre's background as Protestant and his education. I'd read Les Mots years ago, and I remember putting it down and thinking he hates everything about his background. He doesn't like the fact that he's a writer. He thinks it's a just sort of joke. [INAUDIBLE] words, a sort of papier-mache person. How does that figure into what he did in that book? I mean how does his strength of-- you said he derived a great deal of strength or character from his home schooling and Protestant background. Is he positive about all that?
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: No he's not [? religious ?] at all. I mean-- he's-- Sartre was crazy. Sartre was nuts. He's a man who really--
SPEAKER 12: A man of many parts, we'd say, not crazy.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: He's the one-- he, in general, [INAUDIBLE] himself at the age of eight years old. At the age of eight years old, he was himself his own [? gender, ?] and he became a writer by his own decision. I mean Les Mots tells it clearly. Sartre has an incredible [INAUDIBLE], pride. Incredible. And he would think that through the words you just become mortality. But it was a way for him to avoid being the object in the hand of his great-grandfather.
So I mean it's a complex thing. But it's true that Sartre has no sympathy, no nostalgia for [INAUDIBLE], for past, for [INAUDIBLE]. Sartre is someone who is immediately geared towards the future, towards the new, toward the other side, toward the other one, towards the [INAUDIBLE] elsewhere.
That's this notion of adventure. Now let me answer the-- wrap up the answers. But is there any real defense of being a committed intellectual today? Why cannot we see committed intellectuals here or there? Why is there nobody that stands up to challenge such and such political issue, such and such moral issue? Or are there some people? You [? evoke ?] towards a [? smile. ?]
My dear friend, [INAUDIBLE], who was my first publisher and who compares himself to Sartre in a ridiculous way, in a totally ridiculous way. [INAUDIBLE] is driven by a personal driver was a Mercedes who drives all the [INAUDIBLE]. And he said, [INAUDIBLE] is an awfully rich man, extremely rich, extremely opulent, extremely superficial. He thought he understood something of the United States, and he did this book, which is a bunch of superficialities. And he [INAUDIBLE] destroy the New York Times by [INAUDIBLE] name of this guy who wrote the-- the man from Minnesota.
SPEAKER 10: Garrison Keillor.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: Yes. Garrison Keillor's piece was the best-- I couldn't have [INAUDIBLE] to that. So basically, [INAUDIBLE] is in the tradition of the superficial French essayist who says that going two or three places, you can [INAUDIBLE] kind of beautiful period. [INAUDIBLE]. I mean this is not at all the Sartre way. And [? Levy is ?] someone who is trying to-- Sartre was working hard. I mean [? Levy ?] doesn't work. He's somebody who tries to compensate like Michel Foucault.
Once Michel Foucault was-- [INAUDIBLE] was accused of stealing from Michel Foucault and Michel Foucault said-- people asked him, do you think that [INAUDIBLE] stole from you? And Michel Foucault said, the only thing I'll tell you is that in order to do research, you have to make your hands dirty, [FRENCH]. So Sartre is somebody who worked. Foucault was somebody who worked. [INAUDIBLE]. They just published books and loved the fancy [INAUDIBLE] appearances. But they are-- and they've been criticized by experts, and we know that.
So let's look for some other people. When Sartre passed away, 1980, it was extremely interesting to see how the French press, people tried to analyze his passing away. There were three attitudes. People would say, let's look for the 10 worst mistakes that Sartre ever made politically. So was it United States? Was it when he went to the USSR? Was it Cuba? So people tried to accuse him of all the mistakes, of political mistakes of the past years.
Second thing, people would try to find him, to find for him the successor. After Sartre, who was the name of an article by [INAUDIBLE]. Who would be after Sartre? So they have a list. [INAUDIBLE] Michel Foucault, [INAUDIBLE]
LUIS: All French.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: All French.
It was in France. [INAUDIBLE]. French story for French people.
LUIS: Yet Sartre was international, you were saying.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: This is true. But anyway, that's what the French people [INAUDIBLE]. And my position on that is that what made Sartre raise as consciousness, and right or wrong, was the combination of many elements. It was a combination of the search of an individual-- this is past, this is future-- and the combination of the context, the political historical context.
He was not involved during the '30s, but he raised as a [INAUDIBLE]. In 1945, when he created his magazine, [INAUDIBLE], at the time where after the [INAUDIBLE] of the World War II, he was looking for a meaning in French society. And also, he was looking for a meaning for French culture in the world. What has become? What has happened to us? What happened to French culture?
We have been challenged. We've been challenged during these two world wars taking place in less than 20 years. What has happened to Europe? Why has Europe destroyed itself? What is going to happen to [INAUDIBLE] the rise of American movies, American culture, American-- so these are the questions that Sartre asked himself, his own country, and the people around him. That's because he was a pioneer. He [INAUDIBLE] he anticipated, he felt the little movements of society.
Here [INAUDIBLE] when he gave this lecture in 1945 called [FRENCH], he really described himself as the intellectual of 1945 from France, and what did he have to do with the other one? The African, the American, the Asian. He was really the one who perceived that the French-- the impact of French culture had been challenged. And he's the one who understood very early on that the French colonial empire had to organize itself differently. That's why he perceived the voices from the West Indies, from Africa.
So he's someone who very early on understood that this relationship between the hegemony of French culture was at stake. And what I usually say when I'm being asked whether I endorse all Sartre's statements, I say, absolutely not. But what he did, he looked, he searched. He didn't take anything for granted. He fell down. He woke up. He stood up. He tried. He contradicted himself. He tried. He tried hard, and he was authentic. I mean there's not one instance where you could say that Sartre was not authentic.
So he did that on behalf of his own values, which were the best of the American democratic values. So why no intellectual has [INAUDIBLE] recently in the United States, in Europe? Do we find any books? Do we find any articles? Do we find the-- I agree that it's-- do we need one? When Sartre passed away, there was someone who said, now that Sartre has died, nobody-- when something very important happens in the world, we want to be able to say, but, in fact, what does Sartre think about it? That's a way to us.
I mean Sartre became what I call, and even when he was wrong, that he was challenging, I called that ethical compass. Sartre's role evolved as an ethical compass. You don't remember. You were too young.
But I remember for myself, it was true that he would stand up and say something at the right moment or point out the right question, even if he didn't write the right answer. It was not about the right answer. It was about the right question. That's what Sartre was all about. Yeah? It's asking the right questions.
So about the guy from University of Pennsylvania, who does [INAUDIBLE], the name of Sartre. And you spoke about all those specializations, France versus the United States. I would tend to think that when you look at the way education is organized in France and [INAUDIBLE] countries, one thing which is clear is that the country where foreign languages are not being taught enough, where geography is not being taught enough, mainly where the reality of the other ones have been taught enough is more the United States than France.
In France, it's very, very common people learn at school three to four to five languages. And Luis sits here among them. You never see in the United States somebody 20 years old who speaks six languages.
SPEAKER 7: I can't not answer.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: OK. Then do answer.
SPEAKER 7: First of all, I agree with you completely. We are the most provincial imperial power probably in the world. The British when they went out to India, some of them at least learned Hindi. We don't even bother. We assume-- I'm agreeing with you on that. However, the tendency for the French beyond the intellectual elite to learn foreign languages and to speak them comfortably is a very recent phenomenon.
It's a very recent phenomenon that an American who goes to Paris will comfortably find that he or she can speak English with people who speak English quite well. When I started doing research in France, most of my colleagues, who were political scientists, who were distinguished political scientists, could not speak English. And they seldom read in English.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: You're right.
SPEAKER 7: This is a relatively new phenomenon. And so it's hard for me to connect it to this cosmopolitanism. The cosmopolitanism of the age of Sartre was a much broader cosmopolitanism.
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: Yes. I understand.
SPEAKER 12: We're celebrating what Sartre did and his accomplishments here. We've become pluralistic. We've become--
ANNIE COHEN-SOLAL: No, no. No. Look. I want even to give you more than this. When I was at the French embassy, we would organize meetings with American historians who were working in France. And we had a bunch of-- 3,000 people. We had wonderful people. I mean basically, in a sense, to an American historians that would have been able to analyze some traumas of our society, Robert Paxton, Michael [? Marris ?], [? Eugene ?] [INAUDIBLE], all of them-- they are extremely important to us. And these are issues that the French cannot address.
On the other side, when we try to find French historians working in the United States, we have two. And I am extremely worried. Not only am I worried, but I have [INAUDIBLE], and I failed. And let me explain to you why. I noticed that when I was at the embassy that the French, not only in academia, but in the [INAUDIBLE] circles, they don't know how to deal with north-north. The French can do north-south. The French have history [INAUDIBLE]. They know how to deal with their [INAUDIBLE] colonies that don't know how to deal with their peers.
There's no tradition. American is not exist in the French academia, and I, myself, was elected [? tenured ?] professor [INAUDIBLE] to do American studies. There had been no professor of American studies for 10 years in this university. But then when I was right there, I was absolutely impeached. I was incapable of doing my job, because it was the lobby of the Irish scholars. And I could not [INAUDIBLE] my American studies there.
Now the point is when you go through the [INAUDIBLE] presidential election, it goes from the academia to the journalism. Basically, it's a kind of vicious circle. When you need to understand American presidential election, you need to have people in the media speak about the United States, and you have just a handful of people. And that comes from the academia, because it's from academia--
And I remember I went to the minister of education. I said, you have to create more American [INAUDIBLE]. You have to develop American studies in France. America is neither the best nor the worst. You have to look at the United States culture in a very peaceful way. We have to look at-- the tendency has been in France to ban the United States like [INAUDIBLE], people like that, and the more diplomatic. There's a long tradition of banishing the US, all to [INAUDIBLE].
French American studies have to be handled in a much more realistic way. People have to do field work. But now things are changing. There are people working in American religion. I mean we have like now 10 to 20 greatest academics working on American social issues, American religion, American [? urban ?] questions, American sociology. But you are right. The absence of fluency towards the English language, and especially American studies in France, has been a problem. Definitely.
So I am not-- I mean we should not be doing match. It's not like confronting the cultures and what is it. I mean, the only way we have to deal with the intercultural issues is complementary, in a complementary behavior. And I think that's what is challenging here.
Yeah, so to answer about-- yeah, [INAUDIBLE]. Yeah, I did answer. I am-- yeah, so I am very-- I am a critic. I'm really an open critic of Sartre. As I said, I am challenged by his attitude. I am critical of some of his positions. But all in all, I think that he just indicated the questions. And the answer is yourself. I mean, he empowered the other ones.
Sartre is the one who said [INAUDIBLE], if each teacher has to be challenged. A good teacher is someone who has to be challenged. Nobody has to get from his position the opinion that he [INAUDIBLE]. So that's what I remember from him. So any other question we can answer next door, or good luck for your French club, Cecilia, and congratulations.
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Annie Cohen-Solal is a French academic, writer, historian, and biographer. From 1989 to 1993, Cohen-Solal served as Cultural Counselor at the French Embassy in the United States. She has taught at New York University, the University of Berlin, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Université de Paris XIII. Her most famous work is a biography of Jean-Paul Sartre, "Sartre: A Life", which has been translated into sixteen languages.
During her Oct. 24, 2008 visit to Cornell, Cohen-Solal invited debate about Sartre's complex relationship with the U.S., his role in the 1965 Cornell Conference and his relevance today in the context of the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.
The event was co-sponsored by the Cornell French Society and the Cornell International Affairs Review.