BY jeremy jennings
When France’s socialist-led government under President François Mitterrand ran into severe economic and political difficulties in the summer of 1983, an article appeared in Le Monde penned by the left-wing writer and commentator Max Gallo. Where, Gallo asked, were the intellectuals when a government of the Left needed them? Where were the equivalents to Gide, Malraux and Alain, those who had rallied to the defence of the Popular Front governments of the 1930s? The answer, in brief, was that they were nowhere to be seen.
Counterpoints Au revoir les clercs
Since that summer there has been much debate about whether the French intellectual—born with the Dreyfus Affair—is dead, dying or in need of resuscitation. This year’s presidential election campaign provides the answer. The French intellectual looks well and truly dead. Scan the pages of the French press. Listen to the radio or watch the television. There’s not an intellectual in sight.
Why? First, the intellectual—a left-wing creature by disposition and training—finds nothing to admire in the bland socialist candidate François Hollande. No one believes that he will break with capitalism or has any intention of doing so. The choice before France, trapped in the eurozone, is one form or other of austerity. Second, who in any case would listen to the pleas of the intellectual? The young of France no longer walk around with copies of Foucault and Lacan in their pockets. And why should the intellectuals be taken seriously? They got it wrong on all the big issues of the 20th century—Marxism in particular—and no one now imagines that the intellectual speaks out in the name of universal truths.
Lost and found: Marg Moll’s damaged “Dancer”
K L E U K E R
BE R L I N/AC H
M U S E U M S
,N AT ION A L
I S T ORY
HE A R LY
A N D
I S T ORY
P R E H
©M U S E U M
For intellectuals, read university professors, state employees who are best at defending their own pensions and privileges as fonctionnaires. And were they to speak out, what would be their chosen issues? If there is a big question in French society today it concerns the place of the economically and socially marginalised Muslim population. Yet, secularists to a man and woman, ardent republicans to their fingertips, intellectuals cannot take up the cause of a religious minority which refuses to embrace the core republican doctrine of laicity. Multiculturalism and the French intellectual do not go together.
So, the French intellectual has nowhere to go and no audience. And no future. When all is said and done, this is probably no great loss, either for the French or for us. So, please, no more hunting for this near-extinct species. In any case, like the snark, the French intellectual was always something of a mythical beast. Where were Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir as the strikes of the Popular Front brought France to a standstill in 1936? On a cycling holiday in the south of France.
BY karen horn
They dreamed of medieval settlements but woke up in Nazi Germany. In the historic centre of Berlin, archaeologists have been excavating the ground in front of the “Rotes Rathaus” since October 2009, taking advantage of the planned extension of an underground line. In a war-destroyed city like Berlin, full of rubble, a power shovel is unavoidable for accessing the lower layers, which might tell stories of the 13th century. Imagine the surprise of the workers when, one day in January 2010, off the bulky shovel fell a delicate bronze head—an Expressionist sculpture, a work of a much more recent past, transformed by damage, covered in grey and green patina, blind with corrosion, vulnerable and ever more moving. It wasn’t a unique event. Seven months later, a whole set of sculptures turned up in one corner of what must have been the cellar of the former Königstrasse 50. After another two months, four other works were unearthed in a different corner.
All 16 sculptures have now been identified. The first object found proved to be Edwin Scharff’s bust of the actress Anni Mewes (1921), which careful renovation has restored almost to its original beauty. There is also a fragment of Emy Roeder’s Pregnant Woman (1918)—the conic terracotta body is lost, but the intensity of the earnest face, peaceful and mourning at once, with traces of soot on the cheeks, seems even more disturbing. There are the unrestored remains of Otto Freundlich’s bronze Head (1925), a painful symbol of the artist’s cruel end in the Majdanek concentration camp. There is Karl Knappe’s Hagar (1923), covered with blisters, clinging on to her child; Marg Moll’s Dancer (1930), lacking her evocative hoop and apparently seeking protection; Naum Slutzky’s ultramodern female bronze bust (before 1931); and less than half of Karel Niesrath’s terracotta Simpletons: the poor man lost both his female companion and his head.
The general public hardly remembers those names. But they once were famous, so much so that the Nazis judged all their sculptures “degenerate art”. Together with some 20,000 other objects, they were confiscated from public museums from all over the Reich. The plan was to sell as much as possible abroad and to destroy the rest. Whether the demand was weak, or whether e
May 2012 Frank Auerbach (2011), photographed by Robin Friend in front of Camden’s Koko nightclub, is one of more than 100 artists interviewed and pictured in Sanctuary: Britain’s Artists and their Studios (Thames & Hudson, £48). Unlike the book’s other subjects, Auerbach does not welcome visitors to the studio where he has worked since 1956. “The idea of anything going on except painting makes me feel really, really uncomfortable,” he says.