Tuesday 27 October 2015

In which I have a "noir" nightmare



Last night I had a nightmare.

Well, to be truthful, it was both a dream and a nightmare. Part of it was pleasant -very pleasant. Part of of it was uncomfortable and embarrassing. And when I awoke, I felt the whole thing unpleasant.

I dreamt I had come back to Paris and was back at my School. I was without the Little Family. Free, carefree again. A girl with a life of her own ahead of her, happy, full of projects and ambitions, learning to get her diplomas, "agrégation", then thesis and "doctorat". I covered a whole span of life in this dream. I saw myself getting older. I became a young woman, sure of herself, not only having ambitions but being ambitious, and ready to grasp every wisp of straw to get what she wanted.

My life was full of books, of course. And I was not looking for the straightforward diplomatic career that had been my aim before, or any career where I would be trying either to teach and help young people learn to learn or do some useful job in the administration - not very well paid but serving the State and the people. No: I was looking for fame and money and trying to get both by any means. I was imbued with Machiavelli's "The Prince", its tactics, strategies, ploys and contrivances.

Nicolo Machiavelli

I discovered very soon that I would have to gather material and read, read, and read, while working ahead about my future career. I had to be pleasant, to forge networks, to ingratiate myself near the high and mighty in my field, and to work at the same time. Being charming takes time. Anticipating the future is time-consuming. All this did not leave me much time to devote to my scholarly work. I needed primary sources read and checked and I had no time left for this. But I knew I was a past master in synthesis. Therefore I had to think.

That was quite easy: I created another network ... on the internet.

I started by coming into reading groups online. What was read was moderately interesting in itself but the readers were analysing with more or less success books that I just had to read along with them. One or two clever comments showing the way I wanted to be followed, compliments bordering on flattery, and I was well launched in multiple reading groups, well chosen for their obscure topic, and, of course, devoid of other scholars.

Then I decided to blog. I read other obscure books that I called "neglected" - unjustly neglected - in the footpath of scholars who had recently cleared the way and given me the idea of my thesis. And I wrote reviews with double meaning: one of them was very simple to be understood by all and sundry, the other went deeper and was dedicated to these said scholars who had written before me: I wanted to be recognised as their peer and at the same time did not wish to be cut from my working ants.

When this was well established, I created my own reading group online. Nonetheless, I did not do it alone. I had understood by now that I should move maked, behind a motherly figure that would reassure, scourge, banish, encourage, and do the administatrative job required. 

These three activities worked together perfectly. 

So I started courting publishing little, starting, obscure, unknown publishing houses, as well as some families of "unduly neglected" authors who had disappeared less than a century before. I had access to attics and uninteresting first drafts, papers of all kind from laundry bills to diaries. Soon I was sent books to review from the publishing houses - obscure or well-known alike -, only too gratified to be recognised, and was almost ready to write biographical elements about my "neglected" writers with the blessing of the families who could see their property rights increasing. I generously gave the name of my reading group buddies who were blogging as well by now, and they equally received their share of the booty from the publishing houses; some of them made friends with the most enterprising members of families also keen on recognition and dividends.

After three or fours years of efforts (time is blurred in dreams), I was ready to write a synthesis of all these elements and therefore ready to write my thesis. By that time, I had become the pet of some elderly ladies, a source of income for publishing houses, and a hope for the families of forgotten authors who had become the precious milestones of social history and interdisciplinary theories.

In my dream, I was crowned with laurels in La Sorbonne, "summum cum laudaed", congratulated, celebrated.

Grand amphithéâtre de la Sorbonne

I was on my way to success and to be the new Jean Paulhan at Gallimard NRF, the big and renowned Paris publishing house. There was a vacant job to which I applied. And my dream became nightmare: I was not accepted. I had forgotten there was a world between the internet and the blogosphere, and the publishing industry when it comes to old and successful houses.

What could I do? Licking my hurt pride, I came back to the internet and decided that it was one of the only means of communication for the future. And after a while, with my most clever and most devoted followers I created a magazine online. And planned a come back to the real industry.

Jean Paulhan

Rue Sébastien Bottin

I needed more material, more intellectual skills and results to display. This is why I multiplied my creativity and ingenious ideas. Reading groups were not enough.

I created readalongs, readathons, events, podcasts, and slaved and pandered and  flattered. I knew that one day I would occupy one of these grand offices of the rue Sébastien Bottin or another such or I would create something different but as well known. I would be in the limelight as I was in the limelight of the blogosphere where I was thanked by groupies who were discovering ... evident books they could have discovered by themselves with a little ingenuity and curiosity.

My dream had become so vehement, passionate and intense that I awoke with a jerk. I had a sour taste in my mouth, a feeling of being someone else. Had I escaped this swirl of "arrivisme" by accepting to tend to the needs of the Little Family and by living in the country without the temptations of great Schools and "élitisme"?

Julien Sorel et Madame de Rênal

Fabrice Del Dongo

Of course not. What I had dreamt was a "noir nightmare" but could never happen in real life. I had read too much Balzac and had come to sleep the night before while listening to a conference about the heroes of Stendhal: Julien Sorel, Lucien Leuwen, and Fabrice Del Dongo. All these restless young men were mourning the upstart generals of the Revolution and Bonaparte himself. They were searching for glory and laurels. Who would do that today for money and acknowlegement? And moreover through the internet and blogs? Who could be so Machiavellian and so naive at the same time? Not I and no one else surely. 

And yet... To end the dream with a proper ending, I sat down in bed and, opening my computer, I shouted with Rastignac at the end of "Father Goriot", defying Paris - and with even more ambition: "A nous deux, le monde!"

Eugène de Rastignac: "A nous deux, le monde!"

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