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Short Cuts

Christopher Prendergast: Sarah Palin’s Favourite Frenchman, 2 December 2010

... Hands up who knows that a major source of Tea Party ideological fervour is a long-forgotten 19th-century French economist – French no less (it wasn’t so long ago that John Kerry was derided for being ‘a bit French’). Indeed, hands up who has even heard of Frédéric Bastiat. The name, canonical and talismanic in Tea Party circles, means nothing to most British economists ...

Short Cuts

Christopher Prendergast: Student Loans, 6 January 2011

... A ‘progressive’ system means, broadly speaking, that some people pay more than others for the same benefit, on the grounds that they can afford to, just as some pay more taxes, both absolutely and proportionally, to fund government services. There can be no doubt that the Coalition policy on student debt is ‘progressive’ in the sense that some will pay (back) more than others depending on how much they earn after graduation ...

Tears in the Café Select

Christopher Prendergast, 9 March 1995

Paris Interzone: Richard Wright, Lolita, Boris Vian and Others on the Left Bank 1946-1960 
by James Campbell.
Secker, 305 pp., £20, September 1994, 0 436 20106 2
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Foreign Correspondent: Paris in the Sixties 
by Peter Lennon.
Picador, 220 pp., £16.99, April 1994, 0 330 31911 6
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The Good Ship Venus: The Erotic Voyage of the Olympia Press 
by John de St Jorre.
Hutchinson, 332 pp., £20, September 1994, 0 09 177874 3
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... Paris figures in the titles of both James Campbell’s and Peter Lennon’s books, but this is a restricted, specialised Paris. Campbell takes us into something called the ‘Interzone’ (the term is odd, and troublesome), inhabited by assorted exiles, misfits and drop-outs during the Fifties and late Forties. Lennon’s jaunty impressionistic book takes us into the Sixties, with an account of his experiences as a young journalist writing, sporadically, for the Guardian, while, in the intervals, getting caught up in all kinds of adventures (best of all an improbable encounter, in the company of Samuel Beckett, with Peter O’Toole ...

La Bête républicaine

Christopher Prendergast, 5 September 1996

The Dreyfus Affair: ‘J’Accuse’ and Other Writings 
by Emile Zola, edited by Alain Pagès, translated by Eleanor Levieux.
Yale, 208 pp., £25, June 1996, 0 300 06689 9
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Zola: A Life 
by Frederick Brown.
Farrar, Straus, 888 pp., £37.50, May 1996, 0 374 29742 8
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... In September 1894, the Intelligence Bureau of the French Army intercepted a memorandum (the so-called ‘bordereau’) sent to the German military attaché in Paris, informing him that important details concerning French national defence would shortly be communicated to the Germans. The military authorities were baffled as to the source, but suspicion fell on Captain Alfred Dreyfus, at the time serving in a probationary capacity on the General Staff ...

Fumbling for the Towel

Christopher Prendergast: Maigret’s elevation to the Panthéon, 7 July 2005

Romans: Tome I 
by Georges Simenon.
Gallimard, 1493 pp., €60, May 2004, 2 07 011674 3
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Romans: Tome II 
by Georges Simenon.
Gallimard, 1736 pp., €60, May 2004, 2 07 011675 1
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... I am old enough to remember the Maigret series on television, with Rupert Davies in the starring role. To the accompaniment of a mildly haunting theme tune, a portly figure would appear onscreen, drably but comfortably dressed in raincoat and hat, strolling through the damp, mist-laden streets of Paris, pausing on a bridge to light his pipe and look over his shoulder, the whole scene held in grainy black and white ...

Diary

Christopher Prendergast: Piss where you like, 17 March 2005

... Doubtless a good Catholic, he didn’t so much as blink when I asked him to chisel: ‘Jim Prendergast, Communist. 1914-1974.’ I went back the next day and the job was done. I paid the mason his 70 quid, then set off back to London. Years later, on a trip to Ireland with Wynne Godley, I asked him to accompany me to the cemetery to pay my ...

Horrible Dead Years

Christopher Prendergast, 24 March 1994

Baudelaire 
by Joanna Richardson.
Murray, 602 pp., £30, March 1994, 0 7195 4813 6
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... would have thought, for example, that, after Edward Said’s Orientalism and the important work of Christopher Miller on Baudelairean ‘exoticism’, the youthful trip to the Ile de la Réunion would have produced something more analytically strenuous than references to ‘his Oriental odyssey’, ‘negresses with shadowy hair, the smell of musk and ...

Making the world

Christopher Prendergast, 16 March 1989

Gillette, or The Unknown Masterpiece 
by Honoré de Balzac, translated by Anthony Rudolf.
Menard Press, 64 pp., £5.95, December 1988, 0 903400 99 5
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... In his Souvenirs sur Paul Cézanne, Emile Bernard records a conversation in which he raised with Cézanne the topic of Balzac’s Le Chef-d’Oeuvre Inconnu – the story of the fictional painter Frenhofer, who spends ten years trying to create the perfect picture of a woman but ends up painting what, in the story itself (which mixes fiction with 17th-century fact), the young Nicolas Poussin describes as ‘nothing ...

Happy Babble

Christopher Prendergast, 7 March 1996

Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton 
by Mark Polizzotti.
Bloomsbury, 754 pp., £25, September 1995, 0 7475 1281 7
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... Imagine a ‘movement’, not retrospectively constructed by the tidy, potty-trained minds of academics, but consciously created by its actors with a view to putting an end to the culture of potty-training (perhaps one of the meanings of Duchamp’s notorious urinal). Surrealism was such a creature. It was a ‘movement’ in the sense of having a whole apparatus: committees, bureaux, meetings, manifestos, publicity, recruits, sectarian disputes, purges, punch-ups and, of course, in André Breton, a leader ...

By the Width of a Street

Christopher Prendergast: Literary geography, 29 October 1998

An Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900 
by Franco Moretti.
Verso, 206 pp., £16, August 1998, 1 85984 883 4
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... Somewhere around the middle of An Atlas of the European Novel, in a discussion of images of London in the 19th-century novel, Franco Moretti throws in a parenthetical aside on the whereabouts of his publisher (‘in a rather bleak part of Soho’). It’s a sort of joke, consistent with the laidback tone that Moretti seems able to combine effortlessly with high intellectual endeavour ...

Hitchcocko-Hawksien

Christopher Prendergast, 5 June 1997

Projections 7 
edited by John Boorman and Walter Donohue.
Faber, 308 pp., £11.99, April 1997, 0 571 19033 2
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Cahiers du cinema. Vol. I: The Fifties. Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave 
edited by Jim Hillier.
Routledge, 312 pp., £65, September 1996, 0 415 15105 8
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Cahiers du cinema. Vol. II: The Sixties. New Wave, New Cinema, Re-evaluating Hollywood 
edited by Jim Hillier.
Routledge, 363 pp., £65, September 1996, 0 415 15106 6
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Cahiers du cinema. Vol. III: 1969-72. The Politics of Representation 
edited by Nick Browne.
Routledge, 352 pp., £65, September 1996, 0 415 02987 2
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... In Martin Scorsese’s Casino, Ace Rothstein (Robert De Niro) remarks that Las Vegas is about ‘selling people dreams for cash’ and, in a memorable elaboration of this cliché, that ‘it does for us what Lourdes does for hunchbacks and cripples.’ Much the same has been said about the culture of cinema, and how Scorsese’s film stands in relation to its subject is an interesting question ...

Capital’s Capital

Christopher Prendergast: Baron Haussmann’s Paris, 3 October 2002

Haussmann: His Life and Times, and the Making of Modern Paris 
by Michel Carmona, translated by Patrick Camiller.
Ivan Dee, 480 pp., £25, June 2002, 9781566634274
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... In September 1848, Louis-Napoleon returned from his long exile in London armed with a startling blueprint for what he was later to call his ‘plan for the embellishment of Paris’. It consisted of a colour-coded roll of parchment representing the soon-to-be Emperor’s provisional thoughts on the renovation of the capital’s thoroughfares. This was the Urtext of the drastic transformations to the material and social fabric of Paris that were to take place during most of the Second Empire (the term ‘transformation’ was used for the first time in connection with city-planning during this period ...

Amused, Bored or Exasperated

Christopher Prendergast: Gustave Flaubert, 13 December 2001

Flaubert: A Life 
by Geoffrey Wall.
Faber, 413 pp., £25, October 2001, 0 571 19521 0
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... And so another literary ‘life’, framed, as is the custom, by a beginning (childhood) and an ending (death), although Geoffrey Wall, on retiring from his story, decorates the frame with a nicely incongruous detail: ‘Flaubert’s coffin, too big to fit into the grave, had to be left stuck at an angle, headfirst, and only halfway into the earth ...

‘I am not dead’

Christopher Prendergast: H.C. Andersen, 8 March 2001

Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller 
by Jackie Wullschlager.
Allen Lane, 506 pp., £20, November 2000, 0 7139 9325 1
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... Can it be, as Jackie Wullschlager maintains, that in the 1840s and 1850s Hans Christian Andersen was ‘the most famous writer in Europe’, and that ‘two centuries after his birth Andersen is still not appreciated as the world-class author that he undoubtedly was, as representative of the European Romantic spirit as Balzac or Victor Hugo’? These are grand claims and, if they’re true, we might well use this lively and informative biography to acquaint ourselves further with Andersen’s life and work ...

Pirouette on a Sixpence

Christopher Prendergast: Untranslatables, 10 September 2015

Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon 
edited by Barbara Cassin, translated by Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra and Michael Wood.
Princeton, 1297 pp., £44.95, February 2014, 978 0 691 13870 1
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... On​ the face of it a Dictionary of Untranslatables looks like a contradiction in terms, either self-imploding from the word go, or, if pursued, headed fast down a cul-de-sac in which it is doomed to end by putting itself out of the business of dictionary-making. Strictly speaking, all the definitions of the listed terms would have to be blanks, a new version of Flaubert’s dream of the ‘book about nothing’, a Dictionnaire des riens, replacing the Dictionnaire des idées reçues ...

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