Sunday, June 24, 2012

Le Monde (a rant)

There are many reasons to detest "Le Monde" -- its bizarre publication schedule, the smug gallocentrism, its pervasive lack of genuine substance, its failure to engage in any kind of true investigative journalism that might rock the boat of France's self-perpetuating political elite. But the main reason to hate it, IMO, is the appalling quality of the writing. It manages to be dull and impenetrable to an extent one would have thought possible only in a totalitarian regime where mind-numbing opacity was the goal for all written communication.

To see what I mean, one has to look no further than today's editorial, right there on the front page. Where by "today", of course I mean "tomorrow", because this is a newspaper where they are incapable of getting the date correct, where the Friday edition is available from noon on Thursday, and where they sometimes don't even bother to try to get it right, just slapping two dates on it. Which might or might not be consecutive.

Anyway, the editorial in question meanders on interminably about the difficulties in building a democracy in the wake of the "Arab spring". In a vaguely intelligible fashion, but then suddenly you hit the phrase "tentations thermidoriennes". Thermidorean temptations?? You think, WTF? How did lobsters suddenly get into this editorial? But then you think, no - wait - wasn't "Thermidor" one of the proposed month names in the French revolutionary calendar? So you look it up on Wikipedia. Bingo! "Thermidor was the second month of the summer quarter (mois d'été). It started July 19 or 20. It ended August 17 or 18. It follows the Messidor and precedes the Fructidor. During Year 2, it was sometimes called Fervidor."

So maybe "Thermidorean" just means "summer-related"? Not likely, because for that they have the delightful word "estival". Finally you read on in Wikipedia:

The Thermidorian Reaction, Revolution of Thermidor, or simply Thermidor refers to the coup of 9 Thermidor (27 July 1794) in which the Committee of Public Safety led by Maximilien Robespierre was sidelined and its leaders arrested and guillotined, resulting in the end of the Reign of Terror. The new regime, known as The Directory, introduced more conservative policies aimed at stabilizing the revolutionary government.
Consequently, for historians of revolutionary movements, the term Thermidor has come to mean the phase in some revolutions when the political pendulum swings back towards something resembling a pre-revolutionary state, and power slips from the hands of the original revolutionary leadership. Leon Trotsky, in his book The Revolution Betrayed, refers to the rise of Joseph Stalin and the accompanying post-revolutionary bureaucracy as the "Soviet Thermidor".
So, by the time I come to the end of this rant, initially designed to chastise Le Monde for using an unnecessarily opaque word, I find that I grudgingly have to admit that they were using the exactly appropriate word, one with a highly specific meaning that would not be matched by anything else.

And we have all learned something along the way. Though I still kind of despise Le Monde.

Orange you glad you asked?

No lobsters were harmed in the preparation of this rant. Except possibly the guy in the picture above. But you can blame The Food Channel for that. I had nothing to do with it. I am allergic to lobsters, and all other crustaceans.

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