"This book offers yet another delicious glimpse into a relationship that never ceases to fascinate, that between the US and France. It has taken an American to crystallize what France doesn't want to admit: that French culture is no longer an international force to be reckoned with. What is most compelling about it is the accuracy of Morrison's argument, combined with his deep affection for France. There is no rejoicing in his writing. Morrison's is a true lament. In his appraisal of France's growing incapacity to maintain its universal cultural pull, Morrison entreats us to think about the meaning of culture and universalism in the twenty-first century."
Prospect Magazine For centuries, France and its culture have been one and the same. The greatness of the former reinforced the influence of the latter, and vice versa. French writers, artists and philosophers were at the center of the world's attention and enjoyed unparalleled prestige. Of this past glory, all that is left today is navel-gazing, nostalgia, and timidity.
This was the disabused verdict reached by Donald Morrison, an American in Paris, at the conclusion of his inquiry into the place of French culture in the world. The creativity of its artists may be undeniable, but the influence (ghostlike) and the importance (derisory) of France in international cultural exchanges indicate that French culture no longer speaks to the world. This decline ultimately suits the French national mentality, inclined as it is to lamentation and regret.
When Morrison originally published this piercing verdict on contemporary French culture in Time magazine in November 2007, it caused a sensation. Morrison was pilloried by the French press and attacked in countless newspapers, magazines and blogs. Morrison's article gave rise to an extended interrogation of French culture and cultural policy by admirers and critics alike.
Undeterred by the controversy, Morrison has returned to his original article to see how well his central arguments hold up in the light of the criticisms leveled at him. This new, updated and greatly expanded version of his controversial text is accompanied by a thoughtful reply by Antoine Compagnon, the respected French literary historian. Compagnon highlights a certain ambivalence within French culture, still capable of achieving the best but seemingly paralysed by a preoccupation with its own grandeur. This important exchange between Morrison and Compagnon will be of great interest to anyone concerned with French culture and its legacy in the world today.
Donald Morrison is former Editor of Time magazine's European and Asian editions
Antoine Compagnon is Professor of French Literature at the College de France and Blanche W. Knopf Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Colombia University.show more