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Flying the flag

November 29, 2010

From The Economist:

“DURING the occupation”, declared Jean-Paul Sartre, “we had two choices: collaborate or resist.” But France’s iconic intellectual, speaking some three decades after Hitler’s tanks rolled into Paris, was rewriting history. As Alan Riding points out, in this meticulously researched history of French culture during the second world war, there was another option—attentisme, or wait and see—and the divisions between them were easily blurred. Sartre himself was certainly never a collaborator, but his image as arésistant was burnished rather late in the day. Mr Riding notes that “although his involvement in the intellectual resistance had been minimal, after the liberation he had suddenly appeared as the chronicler of France’s calvary.”

Much of this book, notably the flight to America of artists such as Marc Chagall and Marcel Duchamp, or the collaboration of the narcissistic Jean Cocteau, will be familiar to those who have read Frederic Spotts’s 2008 book, “The Shameful Peace”. Mr Riding used to write about European culture for the New York Times and was based in Paris. Where he adds value is in his analysis of the subtle challenges of the Nazi occupation for the various sectors of the arts. If escape and exile were not the chosen option, actors needed to tread the boards, singers needed the music halls, musicians needed the concert hall. How could they avoid giving succour to the enemy, given the many Germans in the audience? [More]

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