Correspondence

Exhibitionism as a Way of Life

Letter From Paris

In mid-January, those Parisians (like myself) who are still interested in literary matters were aroused from the smug complacency in which we had been wallowing for several weeks, as dazed survivors of the millennial earthquake and the pyrotechnic cancan put on by a shameless Eiffel Tower, by an unexpected thunderclap. The thunderclap was ignited by Jean Daniel, founder and editor-in-chief of France's leading left-wing weekly, Le Nouvel Observateur, with a sensational cover informing us that "After twenty years of Purgatory SARTRE (in huge red letters) is coming back." But—and this was not the least paradoxical feature of this surprising resurrection—the photo illustrating this affirmation showed a somewhat stooped Jean-Paul Sartre, as though burdened by the sheer weight of his existential cogitations, trudging away from, rather than toward, the reader.

The prime mover of this literary "happening"—its Vulcan, if not its Jupiter—was not Jean Daniel, the self-crowned king of France's "progressive" intelligentsia, but rather its most flamboyant spokesman, the most dazzling of the country's once new and young but now increasingly middle-aged philosophes, a virtuoso of epistemological dialectics, and (if I may be forgiven for lapsing into French) a veritable saltimbanque de l'exégèse (an acrobat in the sleight-of-hand art of exegesis)...

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