Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Compagnon on Brunetiere, pt 1

Compagnon, Antoine, Connaissez-Vous Brunetière ?: Enquête sur un antidreyfusard et ses amis. (Seuil, 1997).

I’m still in the middle of reading this, but I wanted to pause and record some impressions. Above all, confusion about how and to what purpose Compagnon constructs his books. Compagnon is an immensely productive and interesting scholar—I’ve read various essays, most of his book on Proust, chunks of Les Antimodernes, and some of Troisième Republique des lettres (I’m going to have to go through that one with some care in the coming weeks). He seems to be interested in many of the same things I am (what hubris). For instance, since working on Maurras I’ve been impressed by Albert Thibaudet—and Compagnon has set himself the task, apparently, of sparking a renewal of interest in this interwar critic. [See the two brand-new and hefty collections, Réflections sur la littérature and Réflections sur la politique, both 2007, Gallimard Quarto and Bouquins, respectively--so it's pretty obvious which one has more prestige.] I’ve gone over what seem to be the most important texts in his polemic with Naomi Schor about the French canon—and I must say that he seems to me both conservative and correct in his opinion that the canon as manifest in coursework and publications in French studies is smaller than it should be. I’m less certain about the “shrinking” part. It’s painful to admit, but I think he gets the better of Schor.

At any rate, as I said, I’ve just begun this book. The introduction is sure-footed, and makes a case for investigating Brunetière and looking more critically at the intellectual positions which radicalized themselves into for-or-against during the Dreyfus affair. But then, and I suppose the book will be as much about her as about Brunetière, we get 40 pages on the history of the family of “Mme Alexandre Singer, née Ratisbonne.” The family is interesting (uncle Alphonse famously converted to Catholicism in Rome...Compagnon points out that William James discusses the case at some length—I’m reasonably certain that I remember this, at least, from Varieties). Indeed, the history of Jews in 19th century France is inherently fascinating. It’s cosmopolitan, but also speaks volumes about the vicissitudes of Republican ideology. Indeed, I’ve also today just finished a relatively careful reading of Pierre Rosanvallon’s The Demands of Liberty—and admit with some chagrin that only now do I realize that he doesn’t mention (possibly even once) the case of the Jews. I know very little about it. Perhaps it isn’t relevant to the problem of intermediary organizations.

Perhaps the remainder of Compagnon’s book will justify or explain what seems now like a totally unnecessary narrative side-track.

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