But between those two experiences, skewering them, dividing them with a line, was the war. In the deepest parts of his psyche, he had felt the loss of France not just as a loss of battle but also as a loss of meaning. The desert of the strange defeat was more bewildering than the desert of Libya had been; nothing any longer made sense. And, after the bitter defeat, he fled Europe like so many other patriotic Frenchmen, travelling through Portugal and arriving in New York on the last day of But, as anyone who lived through it knew, what made the loss so traumatic was the sense that the entire underpinning of French civilization, not merely its armies, had come, so to speak, under the scrutiny of the gods and, with remarkable speed, collapsed.
Searching for the causes of that collapse, the most honest honorable minds—Marc Bloch and Camus among them—thought that the real fault lay in the French habit of abstraction. The French tradition that moved, and still moves, pragmatic questions about specific instances into a parallel paper universe in which the general theoretical question—the model—is what matters most had failed its makers. Certainly, one way of responding to the disaster was to search out some new set of abstractions, of overarching categories to replace those lost.
But a more humane response was to engage in a ceaseless battle against all those abstractions that keep us from life as it is.
Called Again: A Story of Love and Triumph
No one put this better than the heroic Bloch himself:. The first task of my trade i. Those who teach history should be continually concerned with the task of seeking the solid and concrete behind the empty and abstract. In other words, it is on men rather than functions that they should concentrate all their attention.
Lost in the Stacks: Called Again: A Story of Love and Triumph
This might seem like a very odd moral to take from the experience of something as devastating as the war. At a purely tactical, military level, the urge to abstraction had meant the urge to fetishize fixed, systematic solutions at the expense of tactical fluidity and resourcefulness. The Maginot line was an abstract idea that had been allowed to replace flexible strategy and common sense.
You can only love a rose. To be responsible for his rose, the Prince learns, is to see it as it really is, in all its fragility and vanity—indeed, in all its utter commonness! The persistent triumph of specific experience can be found in something as idiosyncratic and bizarre as the opening image of a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant, which, the narrator tells us, the grownups can only see as a generic object.
This is where Saint-Ex and the Surrealists who admired him—a tracing of his hand appears in one of the issues of the Surrealist journal Minotaur —touch. Roald Dahl. Julia Donaldson.
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