Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context.
6 January 2013
“I can sympathize with the French sense of loss at the defeat of the language of Voltaire by the world triumph of the language of Benjamin Franklin. It is not only a linguistic but a cultural transformation, for it marks the end of the minority cultures in which only the elites needed international communication, and it hardly mattered that the idiom in which it took place was not widely spoken on the globe, or even – as in the classical dead languages – that it was not spoken at all. I can understand the retreat of a once hegemonic French culture into an hexagonal ghetto….It is not that this is what Paris wants, but simply that it cannot get used to a state of affairs in which the rest of the world no longer looks to Paris and follows its lead. It is a hard fate to go from global hegemony to regionalism in two generations. It is hardest of all to discover that for most of the world none of this matters. But it matters for my generation of Europeans, Latin Americans and Middle Easterners. And it should matter to younger generations. The stubborn rearguard action by France in defence of the global role of her language and culture may be doomed, but it is also a necessary defence, by no means predestined to failure, of every language, and national and cultural specificity against the homogenization of an essentially plural humanity by the processes of globalization.”
This is a passage from “Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life” (page 336), the autobiography, published in 2002, of the late polyglot polymath Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012), who was born in Alexandria and educated in Vienna, Berlin, London and Cambridge.
Antigone1984: To pick out just one example of what Hobsbawm is driving at, you have only to read the novel “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) to understand the integral place of the French language in the culture and intercourse of the Russian elite in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.