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Friday, January 20, 2012

Lamartines (from an old post)

Last night, I went to a lecture about the supposed father of Amer-Indian studies in France. The woman who gave the lecture made one point clear in her first five minutes: Hamy was not and could never be called one of the founders of 'Americaniste" studies in France. It was all a hoax. Not an intended hoax, but one of those hoaxes that arise in the collective unconscious of an institution - in this case, the institutions of anthropology that dominated in fin de siecle France.
In my terminology, she had found a Lamartine.

Lamartines

Alphone de Lamartine, who knew Joseph de Maistre, described him, after he was dead, as being “large [d’une grande taille,], handsome and male of form and face.” Madame Swetchine, who also knew de Maistre, was taken aback by those lines: “M. de Lamartine says that he saw a lot of M. de Maistre. The number of those meetings makes it all the more surprising that his description of the man was misleading to such a degree. Not one touch was precise or faithful to the original. Count de Maistre was of middling size, and his features were irregular. There was nothing incisive in his eye, to which his short sightedness lent something lost in his gaze. This irregular, and not very brilliant face nevertheless had a majestic radiance.”

The witnesses summoned by the historians are all fed their lines by someone, usually the insatiable self, the vulgarian whose dirty fingers are even in our hot tears. Leaving fingerprints. Lamartine is the biggest goose of French literature, with his tedious lyrics and his lukewarm liberal politics. He is the very type of the sots from whom Baudelaire, later, begged in vain for a break to keep him from slipping into the abyss of want and madness. Madame Swetchine, bless her soul, did not reckon that there was a stye in Lamartine’s eye – his ego. The problem with history is that it is packed with Lamartines. The process is fucked, the jury is packed, the judge is limited by his caseload, his languages, his headache, his faulty hardons.

Any good carpenter knows a rotten two by four. Anyone with a nose for it knows a rotten fact. But we have to build with available materials.

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