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Absolute Modernity

Paul Driver, 26 September 1991

Gabriel Fauré: A Musical Life 
by Jean-Michel Nectoux, translated by Roger Nichols.
Cambridge, 646 pp., £45, April 1991, 0 521 23524 3
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Pierre Boulez 
by Dominique Jameux, translated by Susan Bradshaw.
Faber, 422 pp., £25, March 1991, 9780571137442
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Stocktakings from an Apprenticeship 
by Pierre Boulez, translated by Stephen Walsh.
Oxford, 316 pp., £40, August 1991, 0 19 311210 8
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... mentioned have matured into a style informed by a concept of modal tonality), and from Messiaen to Pierre Boulez – whose orchestral Rituel in memoriam Maderna (1974) rescinds ‘total serialism’ and plumps (as Dominique Jameux explains) for a seven-note mode. To set beside this image of ‘Fauré the progressive’ (to adapt another Schoenbergian ...

Who invented Vercingétorix?

Julian Jackson: French national identity, 27 June 2002

Rethinking France: Les Lieux de mémoire. Volume I: The State 
by Pierre Nora, translated by Mary Trouille.
Chicago, 475 pp., £25, October 2001, 0 226 59132 8
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... kind of positivist and exclusively political history. Almost a century later, the seven volumes of Pierre Nora’s Lieux de mémoire, of which this is the latest to be translated, stand comparison with Lavisse at least in ambition and scope. Sumptuously produced and copiously illustrated, they contain 130 articles by the most distinguished contemporary ...


Robin Blackburn: In Haiti, 8 October 2009

... international standards of human rights. The conference was opened by the prime minister, Michele Pierre-Louis, who was appointed despite a scurrilous campaign by opposition forces, who argued that appointing a lesbian to such a prominent position was a violation of Haitian manhood. Pierre-Louis had been the director of an ...

The Paris Strangler

John Sturrock, 17 December 1992

‘L’Avenir dure longtemps’ suivi de ‘Les Faits’: Autobiographies 
by Louis Althusser.
Stock, 356 pp., frs 144, May 1992, 2 234 02473 0
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Louis Althusser: Une biographie. Vol. I: La Formation du mythe 
by Yann Moulier Boutang.
Grasset, 509 pp., frs 175, April 1992, 2 246 38071 5
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... in 1974 an upbeat first-person account of his crime written by a 19th-century French murderer: Moi Pierre Rivière ayant égorgé ma mère, ma soeur et monfrère ..., a statement precious, in Foucauldian terms, as a rare public instance of the normally suppressed discourse of madness. Now, from the man who coached Foucault in philosophy, we have another bold ...

Communiste et Rastignac

Christopher Caldwell: Bernard Kouchner, 9 July 2009

Le Monde selon K. 
by Pierre Péan.
Fayard, 331 pp., €19, February 2009, 978 2 213 64372 4
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... published an exposé accusing Kouchner of various intellectual, political and financial misdeeds. Pierre Péan is best known for having revealed that the dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa, of the Central African Republic, had given diamonds worth millions of francs to Giscard d’Estaing, and for uncovering the extent of Mitterrand’s work for the Vichy ...

Sinister Blandishments

Edmund White: Philip Hensher, 3 September 1998

by Philip Hensher.
Chatto, 304 pp., £14.99, August 1998, 0 7011 6728 9
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... that is funny, sort of, in a queasy-making way, but not particularly apt. A West German fag named Pierre asks: ‘But can you imagine anything more frightful than choosing to be a frightful spotty homosexual and wear horrible plastic clothes and live in the German Democratic Republic?’ When someone points out that no one chooses anything in the GDR, ...

Two Wheels Good

Graham Robb: The history of the bicycle, 6 July 2006

Bicycle: The History 
by David Herlihy.
Yale, 480 pp., £15.99, August 2006, 0 300 12047 8
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... flailing about in sheds until two pieces fit together more or less by chance. It turns out that Pierre Michaux, who made iron parts for carriages in a workshop near the Champs-Elysées, and whose velocipedes ‘with pedals and a brake’ appeared in Paris in 1867, was not the inventor of the bicycle. He was the manufacturing partner of two brothers from ...

Republican King

Philippe Marlière: François Mitterrand, 17 April 2014

Mitterrand: A Study in Ambiguity 
by Philip Short.
Bodley Head, 692 pp., £30, November 2013, 978 1 84792 006 5
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... what they called the ‘invasion métèque’, the foreign invasion. In 1994, the journalist Pierre Péan brought much of this to light in Une Jeunesse française: François Mitterrand, 1934-47. The president claimed that his early association with the nationalist right was the result of his upbringing in the Charente. In 1939 Mitterrand joined the ...

Flowery Regions of Algebra

Simon Schaffer: Pierre Simon Laplace, 14 December 2006

Pierre Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Determined Scientist 
by Roger Hahn.
Harvard, 310 pp., £21.95, November 2005, 0 674 01892 3
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... of the French, they use the word ‘Cartesian’. But they ought rather to say ‘Laplacian’. Pierre Simon Laplace was born into a prosperous rural family in 1749; he trained for the priesthood; and in 1773 was elected to the Académie. He had recently composed a series of astonishingly assured calculations about the application of probability calculus to ...


Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, 3 November 1983

Léon Blum 
by Jean Lacouture, translated by George Holoch.
Holmes & Meier, 571 pp., $39.50, October 1982, 0 8419 0775 7
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... socialism. He also attempted (something which is greatly to his credit) to save the life of Pierre Laval, about whose execution de Gaulle was to show fewer scruples. In 1947 he served a final term as leader of the provisional government. Visiting the United States, he confirmed his deep-seated affection for Britain and America. He died in 1950 and ...

A Touchy Lot

Lynn Hunt: Libelling for a Living, 11 March 2010

The Devil in the Holy Water, or, The Art of Slander from Louis XIV to Napoleon 
by Robert Darnton.
Pennsylvania, 534 pp., £23, December 2009, 978 0 8122 4183 9
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Policing Public Opinion in the French Revolution: The Culture of Calumny and the Problem of Free Speech 
by Charles Walton.
Oxford, 348 pp., £32.50, February 2009, 978 0 19 536775 1
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... 1780s choked off the oxygen of legitimacy necessary to the survival of the monarchy. He endorses Pierre Bayle’s remark of the late 17th century that ‘the tongue and the pen of one man alone are sometimes more useful for a cause than an army of 40,000 soldiers,’ though Darnton has in mind not one man but a few handfuls of hacks. Walton, a student of ...

In Defence of Allusion

Robert Pinsky, 22 May 2003

... a twig To deflect the starling, the starling is a little stare Alluded to by Shakespeare: Jacques-Pierre, His name alluding not to spears or beers Or shaking, though the mantis trembles a little, Helpless refugee. Or I imagine she does, Feeding that fantasy to my heart, an organ Alluded to by the expression ‘courage’ Like ‘Shakespeare’ from the ...

In bed with the Surrealists

David Sylvester, 6 January 1994

Investigating Sex: Surrealist Research 1928-1932 
edited by José Pierre, translated by Malcolm Imrie.
Verso, 215 pp., £17.95, November 1992, 0 86091 378 3
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... in La Révolution surréaliste; the other ten were unknown until a French edition edited by José Pierre appeared three years ago. This translation has an Afterword by Dawn Ades, characteristically learned, limpid and illuminating. Incidentally, Pierre’s use of the word ‘transcripts’ to describe the reports of the ...


Patricia Beer, 8 November 1979

The Intruder 
by Gillian Tindall.
Hodder, 286 pp., £5.95
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Mother Can You Hear Me? 
by Margaret Forster.
Secker, 269 pp., £5.90
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Treasures of Time 
by Penelope Lively.
Heinemann, 199 pp., £4.95
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Wild Nights 
by Emma Tennant.
Cape, 134 pp., £4.50
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... For the reality presented in the story is indeed hard to bear. Having accompanied her lover Pierre to France, Jane, a young married woman, is trapped there by the outbreak of the Second World War. She and her son spend the next five years in the remote village of St Laurent-la-Rivière. The dragging privations, dangers and heartbreak suffered by the ...

Into the Eisenshpritz

Elif Batuman: Superheroes, 10 April 2008

Life, in Pictures: Autobiographical Stories 
by Will Eisner.
Norton, 493 pp., £18.99, November 2007, 978 0 393 06107 9
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by David B..
Cape, 368 pp., £12.99, March 2006, 0 224 07920 4
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by Adrian Tomine.
Faber, 108 pp., £12.99, September 2007, 978 0 571 23329 8
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Misery Loves Comedy 
by Ivan Brunetti.
Fantagraphics, 172 pp., £15.99, April 2007, 978 1 56097 792 6
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... the case even among non-Jewish cartoonists. A particularly striking case is that of David B. (né Pierre-François Beauchard), whose autobiographical L’Ascension du haut mal (1996-2003) is available in a single-volume English translation called Epileptic. The ‘epileptic’ is Pierre-François’s elder ...

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