It is more than interesting that Mr. Sand worked, in his youth, for a radio repair factory, in Jaffa, and was bowled over by The Mandarins, or at least Ms. de Beauvoir’s depiction of the world of an ingrown coterie of writers. What contemporary public intellectual can claim such proletarian roots? I read this novel, in an English translation, and found it flat. I didn’t know this coterie well, but had read Sartre: A Life by
The Israeli historian Shlomo Sand was working in a radio repair factory during the 1960s when his humdrum life was transformed by reading Simone de Beauvoir’s novel The Mandarins. “I was bowled over by the romantic levity of the world of those who lived from writing, by the idealisation of their intellectual commitment to the service of lost causes,” writes Sand in The End of the French Intellectual.
What we in America see of ‘French Intellectuals’ is the pretentious buffoon Bernard-Henri Levy. He was once the darling of the influential editors , Arianna Huffington and Tina Brown, whose careers have faded from the American scene, for good reasons. And what we see of Houellebecq has been a small number of interviews, and some reviews of his work in the more highfalutin literary journals.
With the death of Derrida, whose literary zenith in France ebbed, as he took up residence at American Universities – his coterie of ‘Deconstructionists’ has also faded from American life. There has been no French Intellectual of comparable standing to fill the void left by Sartre’s death in 1980, for Left-wing Intellectuals like Sand. Derrida represented a literary inheritor of the mantle of Sartre. While Houellebecq plays the literary part of a dissolute drunken xenophobe, who wont shut up, while parading his nihilism as a badge.
As an intellectual on The Left, Mr. Sand, anathema to The Financial Times readership, can’t seem to let go of his nostalgia for what was lost: a French Left-wing intellectual vanguard.