The French and Wine; The Muslims and Bread
September 17, 2006 § 1 Comment
Roland Barthes, a literary critic and author has written some of my favorite little essays. One of my favorites is called, “Wine and Milk”. The funny thing about this essay is that the title seems metaphorical, however it has a very literal correspondence to the content of the essay. In fact, the essay talks about the importance of wine to the French. Barthe discusses the symbolic and mythological significance of wine as it relates to the French. Barthe says that the significance of wine for the French is loaded with positive psychological reinforcement for the people of the country. Barthe clarifies this point when he writes,
“For the worker, wine means enabling him to do his task with demiurgic ease (‘heart for the work’). For the intellectual, wine has the reverse function: the local white wine or the Beaujolais of the writer is mean to cut him off from the all to expected environment of cocktails and expensive drinks (the only ones which snobbishness leads one to offer him). Wine will deliver him from myths, will remove some of his intellectualism, will make him the equal of the proletarian; through wine, the intellectual comes nearer to a natural virility, and believes he can thus escape the curse that a century and a half of Romanticism still brings to bear on the purely cerebral (it is well known that one of the myths peculiar to the modern intellectual is the obsession to ‘have it where it matters’).” (R. Barthe)
Yet there is an underlying stench buried deep within the realities of this relationship, the relationship of the French and wine. That reality is that although it is a reinforcement of everything pure and patriotic, it is also a major part of the financial interest, and a source of despair for many people. Barthe lays it on the line in one of my favorite quotes of all time, as he writes,
“For it is true that wine is a good and fine substance, but it is no less true that its production is deeply involved in French capitalism, whether it is that of the private distillers or that of the big settlers in Algeria who impose on the Muslims, on the very land of which they have been dispossessed, a crop of which they have no need, while they lack even bread.” (R. Barthe)
Barthe concludes that ‘there are thus very engaging myths which are however, not innocent.’ Likewise Americans and Europeans cannot go on condemning Muslims and attacking their way of life, developing new myths and resurrecting old ones to suit their sociopolitical interests without remembering that much of the complaint of Muslims by the West is a product of Western expropriation.