As we start the new year, here's an ardent wish: that you will offer us as often as possible a present as big as this magnificent cover of TIME, with its title for a first-class burial: "The Death of French Culture." "Death," you said, not even "decline," a word with which we are quite familiar. "Death" is a strong word.
It is true that, over the past few years, for those who do not speak our language, it has been the silent artists of French culture who have hit the headlines: the mime artist Marcel Marceau, Jacques Cousteau, our choreographers, our circus acts. They represent our quiet resistance to the hubbub of the world. But we would still like to impress you, modestly, in the French style; to make ourselves heard, shout a bit, throw a few tantrums. This isn't easy when, with your powerful American cultural industries, your worldwide machinery for projecting image, sound, software, desires, you have been, if not loved, at least respected almost everywhere in the world for the last five or six decades.
You had the idea a bit cruel since you already have so many monopolies and such a vast empire of headlining the death of French culture. Of course it's an exaggeration, as you know. Imagine if a French weekly had marked the death of the great writer Norman Mailer with a cover story entitled "The Death of American Culture"!
Some mischievous souls in France would say that the difference between our two countries is that nine out of 10 French know who Marceau was, while only one in 10 Americans has heard of Mailer. And others, more mischievous still, would assert that Mailer was better known in Europe than in the U.S. Indeed, Woody Allen, William Klein, Philip Roth, Paul Auster and so many other American creative spirits are bigger draws in this country, with its supposedly moribund culture, than they are in the U.S. No doubt, you will say, this is because our French artists are not up to scratch, and our public turns to talents from elsewhere.
We wanted to react to the announcement of French culture's extinction, rather than simply revel in the silence of the tomb into which you had hurled us. For the whole month of December, outrage poured out everywhere: in the papers, on the radio, on television and at dinner tables. A few amiable traitors confirmed your hypothesis, and accused the French state and its "official culture" of having encouraged this death. They did so out of pique, or and in this they were not wrong out of admiration for American creativity. For a few weeks, every argument was thrown into the debating ring. So assuming that you believe there is still something to talk about, here are some examples of the points that people have made:
-- Culture and balance of trade cannot be confused. Art is not the same as the art market, nor can the quality of a work of art be judged by its selling price. There are countless examples of artists who have become renowned only over time. A true work of art is one that lasts; recognition often only comes after death.
-- Culture is not simply reflected in the nationality of its creative spirits, but also in the capacity of a country to welcome other cultures. France has a considerable lead here, having opened its arms to so many such creative spirits from all over the world. Many of Pedro Almodóvar's and Emir Kusturica's films, as well as those by African filmmakers, are jointly produced by our country.
-- As a consequence, French culture is a real melting pot: from Manu Chao to Youssou N'Dour, artists who are famous all over the world have strong links with our country, even if they don't necessarily sing in French. In editorial terms, too, France is a land of discovery: each year, almost half of the novels published in France are translations.
-- France, and Europe in general, represent an extraordinary breeding ground for culture and probably contain the greatest density of creators and thinkers in the world. Michel Serres, René Girard, Julia Kristeva and others are accepted as authorities in many American universities.
-- France is also in the forefront of the struggle for cultural diversity, which was the subject of a UNESCO agreement signed in Paris in 2005 by more than 140 countries from all over the world. That is one way in which we can justify the strong, protective measures we have taken for the past 20 years, such as quotas for air-time for French songs on the radio, or advances against box-office receipts for movie producers. Such measures have enabled us to maintain a good share of our own domestic market.
-- Part of culture is the ability to develop new artistic forms. In this respect, France is responsible for having considerably revived the worlds of contemporary dance, circus arts and street theater. Our artists in these fields are in demand all over the world and meet with resounding success: recently in Santiago, the theater group Royal de Luxe got 1 million people out in the street.