Orwell om den franska civilisationen

A Kind of Compulsion, The Complete Works, vol. X, artikel 125, s. 244-245.

Recension av The Civilization of France av Ernst Robert Curtius. Maj 1932

This book is an attempt to sum up, from a purely cultural, non-political point of view, the special contribution that France makes to civilisation. It is written by a German, and a terrifically learned one, but its general attitude to life and thought is quite of the English stamp. In effect Herr Curtius’s criticism of France is that a German finds the French intelligence very much smaller than his own, though more perfected and perhaps more adult, rather as one might feel if one met a man from antiquity face to face. Thus “a Hegel, a Schoenhauer, a Nietzsche are unthinkable in France. They would destroy the garden of civilization and the realm of humanity. The sense of infinity cannot live freely within French philosophy.” In other words, French culture is classical and anthropocentric, and to those outside the classical tradition it looks rather like a strait-waistcoat, though an exceedingly elegant one. This is the sum of Herr Curtius’s conclusions, and, apart from the scholarship shown, it is very much what would be said by any well-informed Englishman.

Frågan är dock vad som orsakar dessa skillnader. Orwell vill lägga större vikt vid ekonomiska faktorer än vad författaren gör: “Surely recent life, especially recent economic life, is more important than remote Celts and Latins.” Frankrike under artonhundratalet: “settled” jordbrukarliv, “unsettled” politik. Storbrittanien blev däremot “urbanized and regimented with enormous speed”.

Even now the French are far more nearly a race of peasants than we are. And peasants as a rule have perfect taste but few new ideas […]. The ruling impression that one gets from living in France is that the French are not essentially different from ourselves, but simply, for good and evil, a little behind the times.

Därefter tar Orwell upp, i samband med rättegången mot Sacco och Vanzetti, “the enthusiasm for justice, which Herr Curtius rightly names as a French characteristic, and which is really a symptom of old-fashioned radicalism.” Demonstrationerna (som Orwell betraktade i Marseilles på väg hem från Burma) angående rättegången var av ett slag som kunde ses i England på 1840-talet, knappast på 1920-talet.

All these people—tens of thousands of them—were geniunely indignant over a piece of injustice, and thought it quite natural to lose a day’s wages in order to say so. [I England har mentaliteten utvecklats så att] “any public protest seems an indecency”.

Kommer Frankrike behålla sin särprägel? Curtius tror det men Orwell invänder:

On the other hand, if it is economic life that decides the colour of men’s thoughts, then the French mind is bound to change, and that rapidly. Since the war France has definitely become an industrial country, and the process that we connect with industrialism—for instance, the desertion of the land by the younger peasants and the destruction of the small trader—have at least begun. Given a continuence of this, what seem to be the most deeply-rooted French characteristics may vanish. Herr Curtius notices, for instance, the French lack of colour-prejudice, and sets this down to some special racial quality which is lacking in Englishmen and Germans. Yet the Englishman of the eighteenth century seems to have had very little colour-prejudice; therefore the growth of this nasty emotion is in some way connected with our recent history, and for all we know the French will soon possess it to the full Kipling-power.

Projekt: The Complete Works of George Orwell

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