Longtime readers will know of my great fondness for the writing of Adam Gopnik; as I have said, he has been the main reason I keep subscribing to The New Yorker, and his absence from its pages recently (apart from the occasional squib) is one reason I’m letting my subscription lapse. For the time being I’m still receiving issues, though, which is good, because the latest contains a new Paris Journal by Gopnik, “The End of the World” (not online). The apocalyptic title refers to the recent scandal involving Le Monde (‘The World’), the most influential newspaper in France. As Gopnik says:
It is hard to adequately explain what Le Monde means to France. People say that it is like the Times in New York, but the Times seems, in comparison, modest in its ambitions. The Times, like certain pagan gods, claims only omnipresence: it is everywhere and sees all. Le Monde, like the God of the Old Testament, claims omnipresence and omniscience: it sees all, knows everything, and is always right.
I won’t go into the newspaper’s troubles, but I will pay homage to Gopnik’s inimitable way with English prose.
Gopnik begins by explaining that Le Monde appears in the early afternoon of the day before its cover date; thus when you read the paper on Monday, you are being spoken to with the voice of Tuesday:
Even news that has not yet taken place is thus imbued with a note of calming retrospective hindsight. The postdating of actuality is typical of Le Monde‘s loft and what was, for a long time, its serenity.
The unexpected word loft startled me; then I envisioned a golf ball (closely covered with type) soaring, hanging, taking in an overview of the surroundings while lesser orbs hurtled in their nervous eagerness directly at me, finally descending magisterially onto my coffee table, ready to give me its considered view. “Loft”: le mot juste.
In the course of describing the paper’s areas of coverage, he says: “On Fridays (that is, Thursdays), the paper does what is, by New York standards, a fairly cursory job of covering food and restaurants, perhaps for the same reason that the Times does a fairly cursory job of covering pigeons: they are just too familiar to notice much.” A strained analogy? Perhaps, but I don’t care; the brio wins me over.
And this analysis of why the top men at the paper were so stung by the accusations includes a great example of an “English idiom” invented by Frenchmen:
Yet the irritant for the subjects of the assault lay in details of supposed bullying and alleged meanness. Indictments accuse, but it is details that vilify. Plenel [the executive editor] was shown harassing small, independent journalists who he thought might beat him to the Jospin-outing punch… Minc [the board chairman], Péan and Cohen suggested, had been comically out of his depth in a business venture in Belgium. (He was, they write, in what they imagine is an English idiom, “too clever by oath.”)
If I notice Gopnik’s byline with any frequency in future issues, I suppose I’ll have to send them my money after all.