New Face of French Intellectualism

At least according to the Independent: 

Everyone knows what a world-renowned, French intellectual looks like. There is the older sort, now rare, who has a squint and smokes cigarettes and haunts the cafés of the Paris Left Bank. There is the newer kind, who has flowing hair and an open-necked shirt and haunts television studios.


Wrong and wrong again. The new face of the world-leading French intellectual is a brisk 36-year-old woman with the pleasant but no-nonsense look of a primary school teacher, who climbs mountains in her spare time.

She is Esther Duflo and was recently named one of the 100 most influential thinkers in the world (she came 91st). She begins a season of lectures this week at the Collège de France, the Everest of French intellectual life: a kind of PhD-level OU with no students and free lectures for all.

Mme Duflo is the youngest woman ever to be asked to lecture at this prestigious, 500-year-old institution at the heart of the Left Bank. Her introductory talk was the hottest (free) ticket in town. Several hundred people, including the former prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, arrived too late and were locked out.

Read the rest.

4 thoughts on “New Face of French Intellectualism

  1. The article’s pretty boring, except for the really irritating axe-grinding: “Take that, abstract theorists! Take that, striped-shirt existentialist stereotypes! I’ve never been to a Left Bank café in my life, but I sure know it’s full of nicotine-stained ne’er-do-wells!” (hint: Left Bank cafés are full of tourists. The ne’er-do-wells died off years ago.)

    But I do like the idea of some certificatory body, along the lines of the Académie, that would have the authority to give this or that person the official imprimatur of Trendy French Intellectual. These things are so hard to figure out nowadays.

  2. I thought it was sort of funny how this whole “French Intellectualism” is defined, I suppose I should have given more context vis-a-vis I found this worth mentioning…

    How do you envision the competition for the prestigious “new face of French intellectualism” position would proceed? Maybe an obstacle course? I’d like to see that…

  3. You’re right–the assumption that an academic in one field can be held up as a counterexample to an academic in another field is very weird. I mean, I’m sure the Bourbaki mathematicians would be very surprised to find themselves lumped in with Sartre and Blanchot.

    The selection process, I think, would be very simple (although an obstacle course is a compelling idea). A panel composed of Harold Bloom, John Searle, and Alan Sokal is hooked up to a blood-pressure meter, and the principal work* of each candidate read aloud; whoever achieves the highest reading is the winner.

    *The definition of “principal work” is “any book of 500 or more pages whose title includes the word “Being” or any three philosophical nouns separated by commas, a la Contingency, Irony, Solidarity.”

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