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"Tribune libre"

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Bière(s)

by Jean-Emmanuel Ducoin

Beer(s)

Translated Thursday 26 April 2007, by Jonathan Pierrel

Scene I. In a horse-betting bar of a big suburban town. Overexcited atmosphere with the usual hubbub. Unusual abundance of people and warmth. As for the bets, it’s between number 5 and 13. And then.

- Daddy, what is an intellectual?
Amused silence.
- Someone who thinks.
- Everybody does!
- Let’s say, someone who thinks about the world how it is, but who doesn’t mind imagining it as it could be.
- That’s something of your own, isn’t?
- Yes, slightly. But not too far off. Sartre said it was necessarily ‘someone who doesn’t mind his own business.’ No need to be a philosopher or a writer then. Workers may be genuinely intellectual, either in their private life or in their business, and they may even be more revolutionary than those intellectual workers in universities who play with guilty consciences.
- But you can’t know everything about life!
- No, no one does not even hold part ‘of the’ truth. Truth is only a quest. Mind you, I didn’t say it was a ‘dream’ either. One must aim ‘towards’ the truth, always get closer, tirelessly, and sometimes, when you think you hold a piece of it, you have to stare at it in its eyes to tame its power and fieriness.
- But that’s highbrow’s talk. You don’t speak like people do.
- Intellectuals may also be people who, according to their social position, have a form of authority at their disposal and turn it to good account to persuade, suggest, debate, enable critical minds to free itself from social representations.
- What do you mean in plain English?

Massive bursts of laughter. But transgenerational indisposition which only the child assumes without fuss.

- You know, the term ‘intellectual’ is recent. It’s directly linked to the Dreyfus affair. A Jew falsely accused and humiliated. The word appeared in xenophobic and antidreyfusards’ writing to denounce the commitments of writers or philosophers such as Zola, Jaurès, Mirbeau or Anatole France in favour of Captain Dreyfus. Since then, ‘the intellectual’ is a French specificity which travelled through the twentieth century and particularly through post-war years.
- Name five major intellectuals of the last fifty years?
- Impossible.
- Come on, only five!
- Well, in chronological order then: Aragon, Camus, Sartre, Foucault, Derrida… It’s an arguable list because Beauvoir, Malraux, Althusser, Castoriadis, Deleuze, Bourdieu, Morin, Debray and many more are missing! What you are asking me is such a stupid task. It’s as stupid as to name five books or five movies.
- Tell me, do you think it still means something?
- To describe the world and its injustices is already to want to change it. To imagine is to choose. If you do that, whether you are a chocolate maker or a writer, you are an intellectual. Yes it still means something.

Scene II. Overwhelming but soothing calm of a small provincial town at aperitif time.

- Do you want a beer?
- Yes, a Belgium pale lager. Always Belgian beer, after all.
- Are you going to vote for Buffet on Sunday?
- Of course. With my head, my heart, my legs.
- Don’t you think we’ve really reached the end of the political system now?
- Yes, we are even panting. This republican monarchy must go.
- What do you mean?
- Scandalous powers are provided by the presidential election, which is a universal suffrage, thus presumably not disputable. This is the opposite of the popular power, a collective suffrage abuse aimed at denoting a superior personality used not as a point of reference but as a ‘guide’. It’s terrifying. Because, with all the new citizenships and participative desires, how do you want to embody power by yourself? The crisis of representation is not over, believe me…
- Don’t you have the feeling we are going to witness a kind of ‘the weakest link’ election, like this shitty show of the same name?
- Yes, everything is decided by default. And more and more rarely by conviction. That’s what I call the retreat of politics to the benefit of ‘people-isation.’
- Yet, you have to vote.
- More importantly you have to fight arm in arm against the idea of a left-wing eaten to the core.
- Does your beer taste good?
- Bitter. But good.

Scene III. Another place. Here. There. Nowhere. A few days before the first round, astonishment and shivers of a baffling derision – ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do in the polling both,’ can be heard everywhere – but which starts to change many people’s behaviour.

- You, you are communist. That’s easy for you!
- But it’s the fruit of a long intellectual, political, trade-union and political commitment.
- So you are still waiting for the revolution?
- And why not? I will never be a fervent millenarian of cynical enwildered civilisations. The fall of the wall didn’t imply the end of history, but its radical reform. That’s different.
- You are just a leading light in the fog.
- Hope is not only a leading light. This is exactly what it is: a light which won’t die out tomorrow. There are cycles. And a progressive cycle is soon to be seen.
- Yes, maybe. But today, we can feel the triumph of naïve people who have the choice between only two ways to get by: either to wait for apocalyptic shivers, or the care given to their little vegetable garden.
- That’s another reason to convince people.
- Convince people of what? Of the triumph of the ungrateful idea of a ‘tragic left-wing’?
- Not at all. A slight melancholy, sure, but no nostalgia. We are going through a light-dark path, all right. But social hope is never tragic. It’s always the promise of a new world to invent. No one should renounce to that. You know, a real citizen democracy can be reborn from the cold ashes of the apparent lack of interest in politics and political parties. France is an old nation. Periodically, it rises up. Not only through the ballots. Also in the streets. Might it be useful to remind you that one always goes with the other?


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