Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Its kind of fitting that anomie should be a French word. According to this article by openDemocracy, thats exactly what the French youth were feeling when protesting against De Villepins CPE contract, which would have made it possible to fire a worker on the spot between the ages of 20-26 with no explanation. Much has been made of the fact that while the sioxante-huitards of 68 (depicted recently in Bertollucis film The Dreamers) took to the streets in idealized hopes of change, with a desire to be different than their parents generation, yet against a relatively prosperous backdrop, the current protestors have took to the streets in order to stop change, and against a backdrop where Frances unemployment has risen to the worst for years. The protests have taken place out of fear for a less than secure future, and consequently have had a different, dulled hue to their parents idealism. Whats remained less commented on is that Chirac and De Vellepin may have backed down because of the knowledge that if the law had been put permanently in place, there could have been a huge exodus of young French graduates to elsewhere in the world one that could even have been dehabilitating to the French economy. After all, if serious about a career in a certain field, why would you do it with the knowledge that you can be sacked at any time within the next two years in a job related to that field, for no reason at all, whereas in other countries you cant? Despite the fact that the left-wing French intelligentsia has often painted the Anglo-Saxon economy as the ruthless bogeyman, there are actually rights that protect workers in their first two years in a full-time, permanent job here in the UK.In any case, the knives have come out in articles such as this one from the Economist, who claim that France is struggling in a globalized market. Yet its too easy to slate France for its economic protectionism. You have to hand it to a country that has managed to have the sixth biggest economy in the world (that is if you include China in third place these days above Germany and the UK no prizes for guessing the two above China), yet which has managed to protect the 35-hour working week. As the recent takeover of The Body Shop by LOreal has showed, Frances companies are competing well on the world stage far more than the English-speaking press might acknowledge.Nonetheless, while the protestors may hail their victory particularly as de Vellepin lurches from one crisis to the next - the article suggests that there may be a deeper underlying anomie effecting France, one that can be encapsulated to some extent in Michel Houllebecqs writings, and its certainly true that his books capture the alienation of the French individual as the country goes through one of its periodic existential thoughtful moods. His books capture a France that still remains a huge power in the world, yet which is fighting a losing battle to the English language and American culture (and, increasingly, perhaps Cantonese/Mandarin and Spanish). While a lot of the cynicism and anomie expressed by his characters may seem quintessentially French, whats interesting is that a lot of it seems to me pretty blatantly ripped off from some of Brett Eastons Elliss works, particularly in the bored, flat descriptions of the more graphic elements to both novelists works - read the emotionally flat, almost uninterested descriptions of group sex and graphic murder next to similar scenes described in cold, neutral style in American Psycho and youll see what I mean. This technique used by both writers is deliberate, of course, the natural consequence of essentially jaded viewpoints of Western humanity from cynical middle-class, middle aged men and it should be pointed out here that Houllebecq is no great admirer of France either, judging from the comments in his books. From the Western sex tourist in Thailand in Platform to the pathetic sex-obsessed loser Bruno in Atomised contrasted with his cerebral, reserved half brother Michel, a molecular biologist his characters arent exactly shining heroes.The success of Houllebecq in the Anglo-Saxon world suggests that his depiction of modern Western man in a state of despair is not limited to France after all. His work resonates in Hollywood films like Fight Club, in which Brad Pitt and Edward Norton attempt to wage an anarcho-war against credit card culture. It could be that the anomie felt by France at the moment is one that could spread to much of the rest of Western Europe as it faces a new century in which the dominant emerging economies will be the China and India despite the assertion by Mark Leonard that Europe will run the 21st century.