Thursday, January 04, 2007

Frederic Martel on American Culture

I was interested to read Alan Riding's interview with Frederic Martel, a French intellectual with a new book explaining American culture, De la culture en Amerique. Here's an excerpt from the article that sparked my interest:
What France's cultural elites have rarely done, however, is examine how both serious and pop culture actually work in the United States.

Rather, in the view of Frédéric Martel, a Frenchman and author of a recently released book on the topic, they have preferred to hide behind "a certain ideological anti-Americanism."

Now Martel, 39, a former French cultural attaché in Boston, has set out to change this. In "Culture in America," a 622-page tome weighty with information, he challenges the conventional view in Paris that (French) culture financed and organized by the government is entirely good and that (American) culture shaped by market forces is necessarily bad.

"My first idea was to compare France and the United States," he recalled, "but when I arrived in America, I realized things were much more complicated. The United States is a continent, and you can't compare a continent with a small country or a decentralized country with one that is highly centralized."
Sounds a little bit Michel Schneider, whose La Comedie de la culture critiqued the French Ministry of Culture; or Marc Fumaroli, author of L'Etat Culturel, whom I interviewed in 2000 while he visited Washington. Unfortunately, the book hasn't been translated into English yet, but as soon as it is, I'll get my copy. Meanwhile, for those who read French, here's a link to his website...

UPDATE: Frederic Martel writes:
Dear Laurence Jarvik,

Thanks a lot for your email and for the nice comment on my book. I think you are right on your comments. I just think you miss one important point when comparing my work with Michel Schneider or Marc Fumaroli (books that I know pretty well). First of all there are both very polemics (especially Schneider) and on France. I'm not talking about France at all and I'm not polemic. Second of all, I'm from the left, so it's a book by a kind of social-democrat guy not by a center right or a conservative perspective. At least, I think on my project this way. Just for your information and as a friendly reader on you own work.

Affectueusemet, frederic martel