Letter From France
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A brief digression on la guerre des idées, to coin a phrase. As that notable francophobe D. H. Lawrence acknowledged, the French trust to their grey matter more than the English tend to; they also, as the late Iris Murdoch remarked, like to play with ideas, which is why so much “continental philosophy” has a strongly romantic, Nietszchean whiff about it. Unlike the Oxford logicians of language, the French intellectual has never been afraid of getting “too close to the prey”, being more of the Cambridge persuasion, ‘that’s true, but is it clever?’ rather than the ‘that’s clever, but is it true?’ favoured (so tradition has it) by Oxford. A notorious example of this philosophical shooting from the hip would be Jean Baudrillard’s ‘La guerre du Golfe n’a pas eu lieu’ in which he claims that the Gulf War was an “illusion” created by CNN, in the sense that our decadent societies are so glutted with mediatised images and copies of all kinds, the original no longer exists. Of course I simplify, but you get the picture. The book was panned by the TLS (by an Oxford philosopher) as not only utterly empty, but pernicious. We can with some certainty await Baudrillard’s philosphical droppings on Playstation and the Internet, if they haven’t already appeared. The other response (the French and francophile response) is “c’est stimulant, c’est interessant – alors, pourquoi pas?” And a shrug. You can see the (unbridgeable) gap, the exasperation and bafflement, on both sides.

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