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This report is taken from PN Review 44, Volume 11 Number 6, July - August 1985.

Letter from Paris James Woodall

The metaphor is of a winter wind blowing through the post-war era; its source, the writers, artists and intellectuals who have inflicted on culture a process of glaciation. The gentle art of pamphleteering has become, for Jean-Paul Aron, a platform for punitive, often discourteous, attack on some of the most illustrious figures in post-war French culture. Les Modernes (Gallimard), published last autumn, has angered many, confirmed the suspicions of others, and left some simply bewildered: 'Quelle méchante mouche a soudain piqué notre charmant, notre curtois, notre si sociable Jean-Paul Aron?' wrote a reviewer in La Quinzaine Littéraire. Officially described as 'a pamphlet', otherwise 'an essay', Les Modernes resembles neither, consisting rather of a series of bulletins, as if from a journal, dealing in a spirit of uncompromising antagonism with the events, books, reviews, exhibitions and most prominently of all, the people, that have impressed themselves on the world as the essence of intellectual France since 1945.

Beginning with pieces on the Institute of Philosophy at Strasbourg and the second issue of Les Temps Modernes in November 1945 and ending with the massive Manet exhibition at the Grand Palais in 1983, Aron fairly blasts his own choleric wind through a gallery of alumni: Maurice Blanchot, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Pierre Boulez, Alain Robbe-Grillet. Singled out for particularly vituperative treatment are Roland Barthes, Michel Butor, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan and the Tel Quel group. Not even Jean-Paul Sartre is spared (though Michaux and Beckett are). These, and others, are seen as ...

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