In the Times a few weeks back (April 25) an article by Edward Rothstein, "The Sorrow, the Pity, the Celebration: France Under the Nazis," reviewed an exhibition at the New York Public Library (the exhibition runs through July 25), "Between Collaboration and Resistance: French Literary Life Under Nazi Occupation," organized by Robert Paxton. It was originally shown in Caen, France, in 1980 "as a display of a growing archive of war material," presented by Olivier Corpet and Claire Paulhan, and has been "reshaped" by Paxton, "whose 1972 book, Vichy France, outlined how avidly collaborationist that regime really was."
The show sounds terrific, brimming with material, much or most of it unfamiliar. Rothstein says, "A sense of disorder is partly the welcome price of seeing so much." He tries to give some sense of the enormous amount of information in the exhibit, such as the fact that the avant-garde writer Jacques Audiberti, because of paper rationing that benefited collaborationist French writers, "wrote his novel, Monorail, on wallpaper supplied by his father, a builder." He also shows how muddled and/or self-serving the majority of French writers were in the face of German oppression. Some, like Sartre and Cocteau, "went along with the dominant power for the ride," whereas others, like Irene Nemirovsky (Suite Francaise), remained ignorant until it was too late. (Nemirovsky, a Jew, converted to Catholicism, or tried to, but was sold out by the French police.) All in all, a pretty sad tale of authorial cowardice -- no wonder we teach our students that the author does not exist anymore -- with few exceptions. Rothstein says, "... very few [writers]... like Andre Malraux joined the underground armed forces to fight the Germans."
Here is the last paragraph of Rothstein's article. "This is not ... a tale of heroism or far-ranging insight. Though Mr. Paxton shows that poets were, as a group, particularly resistant to the collaborationist lure [italics mine], for the most part, the touted visionary powers of writers left all too much in the darkness."
So my question is, how come the poets were so much less willing to go down the road that led, eventually, to Derrida and Paul de Man, and beyond?
-- Jim Cummins