In “L’Académie et Dany Laferrière” (La Presse) Pierre Foglia delivers a very funny (and circuitous) congratulatory letter to Dany Laferrière, who was recently elected to the prestigious Académie Française. It took me a while to determine whether he was really congratulating the Haitian-Canadian author while poking fun at the more conservative and biased opinions that abound these days in the Francophone world, or not; I concluded that he was (kind of) but that he was mostly taking advantage of occasion moment to comment on the Academy’s members. What I did discover right away is why Foglia’s style has been described as “incisive, even vicious;” I’ve translated a few excerpts here, but I invite you to read the full “article,” if you enjoy fierce humor.
You know me, always the glass half empty; you say French Academy and I immediately point out that Baudelaire has never been part of it, neither has Flaubert nor Stendhal, nor Dumas (the real one, the father), nor Proust, nor Maupassant, nor Balzac, nor Kundera, nor Modiano, nor Leys, nor Echenoz …
But Hugo, yes. And now Dany Laferrière.
First, I thought it was a joke. Dany Laferrière at the Academy? This bunch of old crusts? Those old fogeys?
Having said old crusts and old fogeys, if you had asked me at that time to name one, I would have been incapable of doing so. So why [did I say] old crusts and old fogeys if I don’t even know them? Because that’s what they say. This is called prejudice.
So I decided to see the list of Dany’s new friends. Heavens—prejudice is stupid, how very stupid. I almost fell off my chair, or, to speak like the Academy’s dictionary: my eyes were suddenly unsealed. René Girard the philosopher, an old crust? Danielle Sallenave, Dominique Fernandez, Angelo Rinaldi, Maalouf, Simone Veil, Fumaroli? If those are old crusts, then what would we call Daniel Pennac?
[The author proceeds to list an array of messages that he would like Laferrière to deliver to some of the Academicians, his “new friends,” extolling their virtues (or not) in quite an amusing tone. He includes Danielle Sallenave, Dominique Fernandez, François Weyergans, Angelo Rinaldi, Marc Fumaroli, and Amin Maalouf.]
[. . .] Tell me about the philosopher René Girard, Simone Veil, Frederic Vitoux (I see he loves cats), all the others I do not know. You know what would be really nice, Dany? It would be nice if you wrote a portrait of the Academicians as Barbey d’Aurevilly did in his days, at a time when there were people like Hugo, Mérimée, Lamartine, Sainte-Beuve, and Vigny sitting at the Academy… It is a little nothing of a book called L’Académie, and it was published by Pauvert 50 years ago; it’s incredibly wicked. I’ll leave it for you at Françoise’s, if you want …
In short, you write 39 portraits, and I’ll do yours.
I forgot to congratulate you. I confess that, at the time, I did not quite understand why your friends included Victor-Lévy Beaulieu? Or Michel Tremblay? Or, if you want to get into a very literary mode, how about Marie-Claire Blais? Afterwards, they explained—Haiti, Quebec, and all that—OK, fine. I send you a hug.
[Many thanks to Ernest Pépin for bringing this item to our attention.]
For full article (in French), see http://www.lapresse.ca/debats/chroniques/pierre-foglia/201312/19/01-4722379-lacademie-et-dany-laferriere.php