70 years of Le Monde

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The discussion between journalist-author Florence Noiville and writer Rana Dasgupta at the Oxford Bookstore CP, New Delhi, co-organized by the Book office of the Institut français en Inde, celebrated 70 years of existence of France’s most circulated daily Le Monde.
An entrepreneur, an owner of the chain of Oxford Bookstores, a francophile and a dedicated book lover, Ms. Priti Paul welcomed the guests. Her welcome address emphasized that France and India shared a great deal in common with one another and that there have been concerted and continued efforts to discover the whole artistic and literary dimension of the two countries, their cultural similarities and differences through initiatives such as ‘Bonjour India’ and the ‘Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival‘ as well as numerous other initiatives in the past including events such as these.

Flourence Noiville with Rana Dasgupta and Priti Paul
Florence Noiville with Rana Dasgupta and Priti Paul

She also stated that this collaboration that the Oxford Bookstore enjoyed with the French Embassy is “our sure way of encouraging an abiding engagement with ideas through events in the genres of visual arts, films, theater, music, literature and music.”
Le Monde’s South Asia Correspondent based in Delhi, Frédéric Bobin then introduced the speakers while congratulating the audience for their stubborn persistence in having reached CP for participating in the dialogue, on a day of fervent political activity a few kilometers away. He presented Rana Dasgupta as a writer who wrote eloquently, making allusion to his book on Delhi, while he also broached upon the reaction to the other book “Capital ”, which is making waves in the UK and in the US. He also introduced Florence Noiville, writer and literary critic for the newspaper ‘Le Monde‘ where she is the Foreign fiction Editor at the book section, ‘Le Monde des Livres‘. She received a Biography Award in 2004 for her biography on the Nobel Prize-winning American author Isaac Bashevis Singer. Her first novel ‘La Donation‘ was published in 2007 by Stock (and in English by Northwestern University Press under the title ‘The Gift’) and her second novel L’Attachement (Stock) came out in 2012, which will be published in English in 2015 by Seagull Books. Mr. Bobin then spoke about the journal and its founding in 1944 as a model of independent, free from commercial pressure sort of publication and that to keep it that way, it had been an arduous battle and an exciting challenge.
Rana Dasgupta initiated the conversation with the trajectory of thought that essentially sought to explore what the elapsed 70 years meant from the perspective of writers and writing, pointing to the path of tracing the history of the press, to chronologically chart that time. He made reference to an oeuvre by Benedict Anderson “Imagined communities”, which talks about the creation of nations where in France is the central example. Rana used the example to illustrate how a minority of French-speaking people helped shape the cultural identity of France since 1789 and that the mechanism through which this identity was reinforced, was the printed word and hence the press. He went on to say that the year 1944, the founding year of ‘Le Monde‘ was in a way, representative of a classical era and this opened up thoughts on the relationship of the press with the state, to the citizen, which led him to ask Florence of her views on what she believed was central to the ensuing changes in those 70 years.

The gathering at Oxford Bookstore

The gathering at Oxford Bookstore

While Ms. Noiville replied without wanting to sound pretentious, simply stating that no single movement or word would adequately describe this time span of evolution but there were indeed certain striking things in her mind. She stated that writers such as Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Sartre and to an extent even Marguerite Duras lived in times where the power of the written word and literature was used to fight and defend ideological battles that ranged from the condition of women, to human rights, to interpretation of life after decolonization. She said that today the writers no longer envision their role this way and that there is a shift towards more personalization and a more intimate sort of engagement with oneself that can be stretched and extrapolated.
A select audience of about 70 people listened the the authors with rapt attention and came up with a plethora of opinions and questions towards the end of the 90 minute session, discussing the role of the press that went from remarks about the recent elections in India as also the vote for Europe and France’s standpoint. A participant talked of the ‘death of utopia’ while someone even remarked that the relationship they have with their father or mother is also, to an extent, a political construct leading an onlooker to opine “this is too dialectic”. The evening came to a close with Mr. Max Claudet, director of Institut français en Inde and Cultural Couselor of the French Eùbassy, thanking all the participants and inviting them to continue the discussion over cocktails.

Florence Noiville in conversation with Rana Gupta at Oxford Bookstore

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Directeur de publication : Délégation Générale de la Fondation Alliance Française en Inde et au Népal

Rédacteur en chef : Laurent Elisio Bordier

Rédacteur/Coordinateur national : Siddharth Bhatt

Rédacteurs, contributeurs : Guillaume, Abhirami, Alexandre, Chintan, Cléa, David, Eleonore, Elie, Kanika, Karine, Nita, Thomas, Malvika, Marie-Joëlle, Meera, Mayuri, Mitushi, Alice, Prutha, Romain, Ritika, Manas, Supriya ...