For a long time, France and its culture have been one and the same.The greatness of the former added to the influence of the latter,and vice versa. French writers, artists and philosophers were atthe centre of the world s attention and enjoyed unparalleledprestige. Of this past glory, all that is left today isnavel-gazing, nostalgia, and timidity. This was the disabusedverdict reached by Donald Morrison, an American in Paris, at theconclusion his inquiry into the place of French culture in theworld. The creativity of its artists may be undeniable, but theinfluence (ghostlike) and the importance (derisory) of France incultural exchanges both go to show that French culture no longerspeaks to the world. This decline ultimately suits the Frenchnational mentality, inclined as it is to lamentation andsorrow. When Morrison originally published this piercing verdict oncontemporary French culture in Time magazine in November 2007, itcaused a sensation. Morrison was pilloried by the French press andattacked in countless newspapers, magazines and blogs.Morrison s article gave rise to an extended interrogation ofFrench culture by admirers and critics alike.
Undeterred by the controversy, Morrison has returned to hisoriginal article to see how well his central arguments hold up inthe light of the criticisms levelled at him. This new and updatedversion of his controversial text is accompanied by a thoughtfulreply by Antoine Compagnon, who highlights a certain ambivalencewithin French culture, still capable of achieving the best butseemingly paralysed by its preoccupation with its own grandeur.This important exchange between Morrison and Compagnon will be ofgreat interest to anyone concerned with French culture and itslegacy in the world today.