Cultures of Resistance [IV]

A few weeks ago, I shared some thoughts about differences between and commonalities among Chinese and French postwar depictions of wartime resistance under Axis occupation. The vehicle for this discussion was Sartre’s L’Mort dans l’Ame [Death through the Soul, literally, although the translation published is, oddly, under Troubled Sleep]. Sartre’s text is the third in his trilogy of Chemins de Liberte, or Roads of Liberty, a grand depiction of France on the eve of war, and the catastrophe of defeat.

I had questioned this books’ availablility to Chinese scholars, thinking that such a pessimistic text might be anathema to PRC readers or censors, but in fact the text is indeed available in Chinese, if not widely available or prominent, in the PRC, and has been so since 1990, when it was published by Wenxue Press in Hong Kong. But has it been reprinted on the mainland since, or is it available as part of a collected works?

In spite of my diligence in attempting to find (trouve/) this text on the internet, it is a testament to libraries and the power of physical books that I discovered it elsewhere: the Alliance Francaise in Pekin, tucked away into a clean glass library on just another Chaoyang corner where foreigners run amok, or, in this case, wander around in French-Chinese stacks. Something so beautiful about the place, like most good things you find by mistake.

(An aside on the same topic: One of my happiest moments in Berlin came when, having been ejected from the Bundesarchiv on a 4 p.m. with promises of documents on a Monday during which I would be floating 30,000 feet over Pakistan, an S-Bahn voyage to Alexanderplatz turned into something quite unexpected; I found the Center for Berlin Research library and, thanks to a little old lady who insisted I could work there without registration, passed a wonderful hour doing Word work absent any internet connection. God bless all the librarians in Europe [especially at Biblioteque nationale France, National Library of Luxembourg, and those in Berlin)! There is hope for humanity yet…)

And so Sartre: A few terms in Sartre’s work are worth examining a bit further, conceptually, because they may be worth attacking at a later date, particularly in reference to the Chinese situation under Japanese occupation.

Le mort de Mathieu [I]

So much of Sartre’s Le Mort dans l’Âme is pessimistic, full of spite for the French army and regime, the very opposite of United Front literature in wartime China.  Yet, at the conclusion of part two of the book, the hero of the entire triology, Mathieu, the socialist professor, gets himself a gun.

The resistance thus takes shape, assumes reality: the intellectual has taken up arms.

The apogee, in a tower, firing away at the faceless invaders, he meets his death.  In a book full of drnken, careless capitulation, Mathieu salvages the nation and consecrates memory through his violence:

Il s’approacha du papapet et se mit a tirer debout.  C’etait une énorme revanche; chaque coup de feu le vengeait d’un ancien scruple.  Un coup sur Lola que je n’ai pas osé voler, un coup sur Marcelle que j’aurais dû plaquer, un coup sur Odette que je n’ai pas voulu baiser.  Celui-ci pour les livres que je n’ai pas osé écrire, celui-là pour les voyages que je me suis refusés, et autre sur tous les types, en bloc; que j’avais envie de détester et que j’ai essayé de comprendre.


Sartre / Cultures of Defeat [III]

In the concluding volume of his trilogy, Chemins de la Liberte, Sartre notes the futility of ascribing war to individuals as if it were some sort of moral choice. In a conversation with his comrade Pinette, the protagonist Mathieu thinks to himself: Everything is asking us for our opinion. Everything! We are encircled by questions: the whole thing’s a farce. Questions are asked of us as though we were men, as though somebody wanted to make us believe we are still men.”

Mathieu’s attitude of moral agency, even if ambivalent, grates upon his companion. Pinette, with whom the professor will later be killed, retorts: “What’s the use of having an opinion? You’re not going to decide.” And here Sartre, via his protagonist, ignites a trail around the idea of defeat.

“He [Mathieu] stopped talking. He thought suddenly: life has got to go on. Day after day we have got to gather in the rotten fruit of defeat, to work out in a world that has gone to pieces that total choice I have just refused to make. But, good God! I didn’t choose this war, nor this defeat; by what phony trick must I assume responsibility for them?

“He was conscious within himself of the panic fury of the trapped beast, and, looking up, saw the same fury in the eyes of his comrades. Let them clamor to the skies: ‘We have nothing to do with this mess! We are guiltless!’ His passion ebbed; oh yes, to be sure, innocence was in the morning sunlight, you could touch it on the blades of grass, an almost tangible presence. But it was a lying presence: what was true was the indefinable fault that they had all committed, our fault. A phantom war, a phantom defeat, a phantom guilt.” It is only after following Mathieu through this furious line of thought that one realizes he never responds directly to Pinette; there is, ultimately, no use in having an opinion. [pp. 59-60].

Now, to contrast this with Chinese resistance literature! Village in August is a classic specimen, and also served a function in China’s international propaganda during World War II via its translation into English in 1942. (And it is one hell of a translation, to my recollection.) In Village, a certain futile strain exists, but it has to do with the impacts of attacking the Japanese locally, not the savage absurdity of the war itself.

Along the further lines of comparison:

Lao She’s resistance dramas are now available in French….

Lao She’s series of novels, “Four Generations Under One Roof /四世同堂” (about a family living under Japanese occupation) is now being made into a mini-series in China; it has also been the subject of an academic conference.

The fantastic-mind-of-our-time Friedrich Spotts (author of Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics) has a new book, commented on here by poet Ron Slate, on French artists under Nazi occupation.

Sartre / Cultures of Defeat [II]

Before diving back into La Mort dans l’Âme / Troubled Sleep, a couple of observations about Chinese attitudes toward Sartre:

1. La Mort dans l’Âme , to my knowledge, has yet to be translated into Chinese.  (Anhui Wenyi Chubanshe, just maybe, has done so, but it appears that this welcome publication [via Douban] is just a collection of short stories rather than an immense trilogy or a portion thereof.)  Certainly it would make a stunning companion to much of the World War II-era literature in Chinese, buttressing satirical treatments of the War of Resistance such as Fortress Besieged.  It might also act as a type of stringent, or open a passageway, for further publication and discussion of Chinese literature dealing with collaboration and defeat.  The translation of the title, in any case, is 《自由之路》第三部《心灵之死》.  Any additional leads on the existence (or non-existence, or incipient existence) of this book in Chinese would be most welcome!

2. In June 2005, in the orgiastic build-up to the 60th anniversary commemorations of the “victory” in World War II/the War of Resistance, the Central Academy of Drama staged a production of Sartre’s 1946 drama, Morts sans sépulchre (Death Without Burial). (Basic info on the school is available here, and a previous performance of a different Sartre drama for their 2004 graduation is discussed here.)  Interestingly enough, this play does depict French resistance guerrillas locked in more orthodox types of conflict, and certainly more in accordance with the Chinese mythology of the 抗战.  A couple of sources on Chinese reception of the performance are available here and here.

3. In searching for Chinese discussion of La Mort dans l’Âme , I ran across this completely fascinating discussion of the past, present, and future of Chinese literature with the brilliant mind of Hu Fayun (胡发云) and interviewer Li Jing(李静).  Wow!  (Here Sartre’s subtitle for Vol. III gets borrowed by a Chinese writer in a whole new context, for a completely different purpose.)  Here’s a little sample:

◎胡:文学是一种关涉人类心灵的活动,当越来越多的人们只生活在表面,只生活在今天,只生活在与心灵无关的信息之海和欲望之海中,文学的处境是可以想 见的。但是这已经不是文学的悲哀。19世纪末,有人说:上帝死了。20世纪末,有人说:革命死了。在一个漫长的物质主义时代开始之际,是不是会有人说:心 灵死了?

and a bit more, with some frank talk on Cultural Revolution thrown in for good measure…

◎ 李:您怎样获得把握现实的这种广度和深度?这种中国当代作家中少见的“外向性”和精神现实的指向性?
◎胡:我的这些小说都是写当 下的,不知怎么,写著写著,就写到过去了。很长一段时间以来,读小说、看影视,我常常会有一些古怪的念头跳出来:这个人(如果他有相应的年龄)十多年前是 什么样的?“文革”的时候他在干什么?在一些重大的社会变动时刻,他是一种怎样的状态?三年饥荒时期他能吃饱还是挨饿?可惜的是,常常不得而知。没有由来 的人物是可疑的,与历史隔绝的现实是虚假的。

Apologies for the inconsiderate lack of translation!  I will do what I can to ameliorate…

4. Simone de Beauvoir’s 1955 trip to China (which lasted about 45 days) is analyzed within the context of an overall illustrated biography by this Chinese author on   Perhaps there is some great treasure trove of sources in the 外交部档案馆 or elsewhere that gives some insights as to how she was steered within China?  And has her memoir from the experience, prodigious and occasionally irksome, but always proud, been made available in Chinese?

Questions, questions, questions.

5. Andrew N. Leak’s brief biography of Sartre, which has been my favorite re- introduction to the philosopher so far, has some illuminating discussion of the protagonist of Troubled Sleep on page 40.

Racy!  Action!  Double biography!

Racy! Action! Double biography!

6. And, although I love Berghahn Press to death, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out a couple of egregious Chinese/pinyin errors in the October 2004 issue of “Sartre Studies.”   The text, published in Qingdao in 2003, is entitled<第三性:萨特与波伏瓦> or Di san xing: Sate yu Bofuwa [The Third Sex: Sartre and de Beauvoir]. Unfortunately, the journal editors thought that Di San Xing was the name of the author and that Qingdao, that sparkling Germanesque port on the north China coast, is spelled Quigdgo.  Would Sartre approve?  But a bad citation is better than no citation, I suppose.

Back to Japanese war crimes…

Sartre / Cultures of Defeat

One of the issues with which I am grappling as a scholar concerns the idea of a defeated country in war, and the tenacity of psychologies of resistance and defeat (the myth, perhaps, of the first, and the deniability of the second).

For instance, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) today promotes an interpretation of the War of Resistance (1937-1945), essentially the Chinese theater of the Second World War, as an unequivocal victory. But evidence from the early postwar period cries out for a different interpretation, quite naturally.

On the other side of myths of resistance are realities of collaboration. Among the most stunning examples in Europe was recently called forth by the bilingual wordsmith Jonathan Littell’s adroit, virtuosic, and altogether disturbing analysis of Léon Degrelle, the Belgian Rexist-turned-SS officer-invader-of-Russia, Le Sec et l’Humide)….

Léon Degrelle avec ses enfants, sur un blindé, à Bruxelles en 1944

Léon Degrelle avec ses enfants, sur un blindé, à Bruxelles en 1944

I anticipate having some more updates to the Degrelle thread via posts in the coming months, because it is a worthy subject for aspiring comparativists of collaboration such as myself.

Somewhere in between these poles lies the experiences of millions and the key to understanding psychologies of victory and defeat, if they can be understood at all.

This morning, dry and sparse, I finished reading the final installment in Sartre’s trilogy, Le Chemins de la Liberté III: La Mort dans l’Âme [Ways of Freedom III: Death through the Heart ].

Original cover, 1949 Gallimard version

Original cover, 1949 Gallimard version

Fortunately for the curious, a great deal of internet-based analysis of this trilogy and its characters and ideology already exists. Isabelle Grell’s work analyzes Sartre’s construction of women in the trilogy, a task, she adds, which is significant because Sartre “carried around these characters for fourteen years.” (Grell’s monograph on the trilogy appears to be rich and authoritative; she also appears to have a German Facebook page whereby one can chat with her about it.) Benedicte O’Donohoe reminds us that Sartre, while writing the work and being associated with free-wheeling avant-gardism, was in fact living with his mother and being heavily influenced by the creative advice of Simone de Beauvoir.

Sartre and de Beauvoir in 1946

Sartre and de Beauvoir in 1946

Sartre in 1946; courtesy Time Magazine

Sartre in 1946; courtesy Time Magazine

From this point in the post forward, I think I will just attempt to blast through my various thoughts regarding the text, hoping that at a later date I might order things up better or, more to the point, incorporate more of the French original prose. (Somehow I neglected to even conceive of this notion — that in reading English, one was reading through a screen — when I first read La Nausee in my nineteenth year of life in the still-formidable Philosophy Department at St. Olaf College.) But no matter, advance!

After an opening chapter set in a bar in New York City, where the forthcoming German occupation of France is being lamented, Sartre places the reader on Sunday, June 16 in the French countryside. Immediately the notion of personal responsibility for the impending French defeat is raised as a leitmotif:

“Where are we? Lying in the grass. Eight city slickers in the country, eight civilians in uniform, rolled up in pairs in army blankets, lying on a spread of canvas in the middle of a vegetable garden. We’ve lost the war; they gave it to us to do something with it and we’ve lost it. It had slipped through their fingers and got itself lost somewhere up north with a great crash.” [p. 42]

Like Chinese intellectuals in the 1930s, it seems that someone else will be doing the fighting; that all the patriotic slogans and impassioned essays, and yes, even the donning of a uniform does not lead one to actually fight. For the battles are elsewhere in the lost and immense north.

Mathieu, the primary protagonist, opens his eyes with revelations that are both liberatingly optimistic and crushingly mordant:

“Another morning was slowly gathering like a drop of light, which would fall on the earth and drench it with gold. The Germans are in Paris and we have lost the war. Another morning, another beginning. The world’s first morning, like every other morning; everything waiting to be done, all the future in the sky. He freed on hand from the blankets and scratched his ear: the future didn’t concern him, that was for others to bother about.” [p. 43]

Mathieu notes that he has no future, but then turns to the realization that time was still passing, and that he had no purpose more specifically: “Years and years still to be lived; years to be killed.” Killing time, truly! [p. 43]

Sartre writes persuasively and persistently about war’s effect on otherwise unnoticed societal concepts such as time and work, the sinews of daily life. When one is turned away from one’s work, when one is simply waiting for the Germans to arrive so that the trains will run again, foreign rule is not seen as an imposition only. The bureaucratic needs of a society, of individuals, will brook only so much by way of delay. Though he does not note such explicitly, this state of affairs clearly favors the occupiers.

“They had lost the war much as a man loses an hour — without noticing it.” [p. 44]

Mathieu, smarting at the pain of shaving with an old blade, imagines the glorious beard he will grow once he becomes a prisoner [p. 49], and he then again recognizes the beauty of nature: “His heart was in leage with the dawn, the dew, the shadows. Deep within him was a feeling as of a feast day…a table spread on the lawn, the warm droning of sugar-drunk wasps.” [pp. 49-50]

Hostility toward regular soldiers of any nationality comes up several times in the text. The first appears to be from the mouth of an old man, who states “Funny sort of war…It’s the civilians who get killed, and the soldiers who get off free.” [p. 50]. What an anthem! The old man turns out to be an Alsatian (Sartre’s live-in maid at the time was also from Alsace, recall), and he becomes a bit indignant when the younger French imply that Germans, given their common humanity, would certainly not “chopping off the hands of kids.” “He’s filling us up with propaganda from the other war!” chortles Schwartz in response. [p. 51] This is a sentence that I particularly enjoy; it reveals the desire of the relatively young to break from the old wars and imagine that things will be different, while the repetition of propaganda themes from previous conflicts comes all too easily back among others.

“It’s damn funny,” thought Mathieu…He gazed into nothingness and thought: “I’m a Frenchman,” and he found that damn funny, for the first time in his life. “It’s damn funny. We have never really seen France; we have only been in it. France was the air we breathed, the lure of the earth, elbow room, seeing the kind of things we see, feeling so certain that the world was created fro man; it was always so natural to be French, it was the simplest, most economical way in the world to feel oneself universal. No explanations were required; it was for the others, the Germans, the English, the Belgians, to explain by what misfortune or fault none of them was quite human.

And now France is lying on her back, and we can take a good look at her, we can see her like a large broken-down piece of machinery, and we think: That is it — it was an accident of geography, an accident of history. We are still French, but it no longer seems natural. It needed no more than an accident to make us realize that we were merely accidental.

Schwartz thinks that he is accidental, he no longer understands himself, he finds himself embarrassing. He thinks: ‘How can a man be French?’ He thinks: ‘With a little luck I might have been born a German.’ And then his face takes on a hard look and he sits listening to the onward surge of his adoptive country; he is waiting for the glittering armies that will celebrate his change of heart; he sits waiting for the moment when he may trade our defeat for their victory, when it will seem natural to him to be victorious and German.” [pp. 53-54; bold fonts and paragraph breaks inserted by A.C.]