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into the seine with all of us, malcolm gladwell first

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From Anne Applebaum’s review of Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic by Michael Scammell in the NYRB. In this passage, she’s coming to the end of a redescription of a rather riotous evening that Koestler, his girlfriend, Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, and Camus’ wife spent together in Paris:

Scammell, whose fine-tuned sense of irony serves him well here, describes that evening’s conclusion:

“They broke up at dawn. Alone with Sartre, Beauvoir sobbed “over the tragedy of the human condition,” then leaned on the parapet of a bridge over the Seine and said: “I don’t see why we don’t throw ourselves in the river.” “All right,” agreed Sartre, “let’s throw ourselves in,” and began to cry himself. In another part of the city, Koestler too burst into tears as he stared into the Seine. Then he disappeared into a pissoir and shouted to Mamaine, “Don’t leave me, I love you, I’ll always love you.” They got home at about eight o’clock and slept all day, except for Sartre, who stuffed himself with pep pills and dragged himself off to the Sorbonne to give his lecture. It wasn’t possible even for an existentialist to address the students “sans moi.””

Leaving aside its entertainment value, that particular passage raises some interesting questions. We are not so many years removed from 1946, in the grand scheme of things. Yet much has changed since then, starting with the rules of acceptable public behavior. It is simply not possible to imagine any three prominent contemporary American public intellectuals—say, Malcolm Gladwell, Niall Ferguson, and David Brooks—indulging in a night on the town such as that one, let alone weeping over the human condition and threatening to throw themselves into the Seine at the end of it. Hollywood starlets and pseudo-celebrities behave that way in our culture, not serious people.

Oooof. Now I’m weeping and thinking about throwing myself into the East River, next time I’m there. If that’s a representative roster of NYC intellectuals aujourd’hui, and christ maybe it is, then yes, the human condition is truly fucking not well.

There’s something else that’s funny to say about this, but I’m not going to say it. Perhaps I just came to the party late. Right! Back to work then!

Written by adswithoutproducts

February 18, 2010 at 10:32 am

Posted in collapse

7 Responses

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  1. Lady S: ‘Koestler really was a SHIT!’ But she cant’ stop reading Scammell’s new book…

    And apparently, Scammell is rather put-out, feels his thunder has been stolen a bit, coz in ’98, David Cesarani already published ‘The Homeless Mind’…Apprently Cesarani had asked for access to the Koestler papers, claiming he wanted to write a book on ‘Jewishness and Koestler’…But what actually appeared was an unauthorised biography.
    But Lady S adds: ‘ Mike Scammell needn’t bother about feeling this way anymore, because his book is marvellous’…


    February 18, 2010 at 1:44 pm

  2. Just because nobody invites Anne Applebaum to tag along doesn’t mean nobody’s having a good time.


    February 18, 2010 at 4:46 pm

  3. C’mon, what’s the other funny thing? C’mon!


    February 18, 2010 at 5:37 pm

  4. Don’t throw yourself in the river! That would be a loss — as opposed to Gladwell et al., who would be doing a service to humanity if they popped themselves over the side.

    Instead of “serious people,” that should read “shills for the corporate establishment elites,” which would make it much clearer _why_ they’re not going to throw themselves overboard when everything is flowing along quite well, thank you.


    February 18, 2010 at 6:12 pm

  5. Brooks actually wrote a pretty good Bourdieu-referencing analysis of why/how the ‘Paris Review’ type intellectual has disappeared in America.


    February 19, 2010 at 9:33 am

  6. Here’s David Brooks lamenting his failure to lead a more hedonistic and experimental life:

    The sentence that stands out, actually, in this 2005 column is: “But at least we have New Orleans.”


    February 19, 2010 at 10:32 pm

  7. niall ferguson is filling his boots with ayaan hirsi ali, i’d say the right is flying the flag for bon vivant intellectual life.

    karen eliot

    February 20, 2010 at 10:04 pm

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