Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Existential Gore

From the Nuremberg Rally that they call the Cannes Film Festival, Ariana Huffington provides more priceless Gore trivia:
"This is my second visit to Cannes," he said. "The first was when I was fifteen years old and came here for the summer to study the existentialists -- Sartre, Camus... We were not allowed to speak anything but French!" Which may explain his pitch-perfect French accent.
This was too much for Jonah Goldberg, who kvetched:
… young Al got C's in French at his tony Washington high school, St. Alban's. That's some school if a kid who can intelligently discuss Sartre's "La Nausée" and Camus' "Betwixt and Between" in apparently pitch-perfect French still can't earn a B in French class. Mon dieu!
This, in turn, was too much for the left-head blogs to sit still for, being as they are very defensive about Mr. Gore’s alleged intellectual payload. The Anonymous Liberal shot back:
Of course, Jonah didn't bother to do any real research on this point. If he had, he'd have discovered that Debra Saunders' attack biography--The World According To Gore--corroborates Gore's claim. And if Jonah had bothered to contact Gore's spokesman for clarification, as Greg Sargent did, he'd have learned the same thing that Greg did: Al Gore worked on his family farm and studied in Cannes that particular summer.
The Anonymous Liberal went on to hedge his bets, suggesting that possibly Gore misspoke, or Huffington misheard him. (You’d think that would have been cleared up by Gore’s spokesman, if somebody had bothered to ask him.) This is standard Gore-groupie apologism: Anything Gore says is absolutely true, unless it isn’t, in which case he never really said it.

Me, I’m ready to believe it. This is too cool not to be true. Let us retrace young Gore’s steps as he embarks on his intellectual adventures among those for whom “existence precedes essence”.

First of all, we must acknowledge that going to France to study existentialism when you’re fifteen years old is a trifle on the nerdish side. I would have loved to go to France and read existentialist philosophers when I was nineteen years old. But when I was fifteen, I wouldn’t have crossed the street to look at one of those guys unless he was wearing a cheerleader uniform. There’s a huge difference between fifteen and nineteen – I mean, huge.

For mere Republican mortals like myself, that is. In fact, I spent my fifteenth summer working on a farm, without a single French intellectual in sight. I wouldn’t have known Sartre from a tree stump. I didn’t even know who Bruce Springsteen was. So I dare not compare myself to Al Gore, who is clearly my social superior.

So Gore went to Cannes and read existentialist philosophers, Sartre and Camus – but whoa up there a minute. Sartre and Camus are often mentioned in the same breath, being as they were friends and occasional antagonists, but the fact is that Camus was not an existentialist. Camus was not even a member of the existentialist extended family (which includes Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard).

If Gore went to France to study existentialism, he should have studied Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, not Sartre and Camus. “Sartre and Camus” is an entirely different story. It might seem like a trivial point, but if you’re going all the way to Frogville to study existentialists, it’s the kind of thing you ought to know.

In fact, for existentialist purists, it would be Merleau-Ponty alone, as he is the premier example of the French breed. Sartre had largely repudiated existentialism by 1962, giving it up for Marxism (his Critique of Dialectical Reason was published in 1960).

So Gore, the son of a US Senator, went to France to study a notorious Marxist. What the hell is up with that, I wonder? A notorious Marxist who, at the time, had become a major apologist for Third World terrorism, having written only the year before:
In Algeria and Angola, Europeans are massacred at sight. It is the moment of the boomerang; it is the third phase of violence; it comes back on us, it strikes us, and we do not realize any more than we did the other times that it’s we that have launched it.
That sounds familiar, but all this stuff about shooting Europeans is kind of rough stuff for a fifteen year-old kid to be reading. Are we still sure that’s what Gore was doing in Cannes?

Anyone who has studied Sartre would know these things about Sartre. Unless you’re just dropping names (“Sartre, Camus”) in which case, you’re a poser.

I think this one is going to have to be classified as one of those things Gore never said. Like that internet thing, this is just not panning out.