EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the March 14, 2005, issue of National Review.
Groupe Psychiatrique 12, rue Jacob
22 February 2005
Le patient arrives several minutes late, in an agitated state. Quite tense, displaying a great deal of self-directed anger, and, later, doctor-directed impatience when reminded that his session is almost over. (Le patient expresses some mild irritation that the professional hour, once 55 minutes, has been reduced by law to 35 minutes. When it is explained to him that a shorter professional hour means that more psychiatrists will be able to work, he snorts in derision.)
After a glass of wine, le patient calms down a bit.
Le patient explains that in his capacity as Le Président de la République, he must occasionally eat what he refers to as le sandwich de merde. This he has done, he claims, by dining in Brussels with President Bush of the United States. It went well, of course, but le patient cannot help but reflect on the absurdity of the situation, the sadness of life itself, and the bitter hypocrisy of making pleasant conversation with a man he despises and scorns, just because, in the words of le patient, “la situation en Irak n’est pas une grande tragédie, comme on veut.”
I ask le patient to clarify his statement: He indicated that he would have preferred a messy outcome in Iraq, a botched election, a tenfold increase in casualties? Is this a correct interpretation of his wishes? Le patient shrugs and lights a cigarette. It is important, he reminds me, to understand that the texte of his remarks can also be understood to have a texte secondaire, in which it is not that he wishes for violence and heavy casualties and humiliation for the Americans, but, rather, “violence,” and “heavy casualties,” and “humiliation” for them, as concepts–as metaphor, one might say. I nod and compliment le patient on his subtle and sophisticated reasoning.
At the same time, le patient is depressed. He feels that the newspaper and television images of the dinner with le président Bush seem to display a fawning, almost subservient posture for Le Président de la République de France, somewhat ill-suited to the leader of a great and (semiotically) powerful nation. This stature débâcle makes him melancholy, and it seems to pierce his healthy French amour-propre. How can a man of such subtle intellect and acuity of perception, such historical understanding and practical intelligence, be–or, worse, appear to be–a simpering, apologizing, braying cretin next to . . . to . . . that man? It is worse than ironic. It is worse than illogical. It is an almost unbearable injustice….
YOU CAN READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE IN THE CURRENT ISSUE OF THE DIGITAL VERSION OF NATIONAL REVIEW. IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A SUBSCRIPTION TO NR DIGITAL OR NATIONAL REVIEW, YOU CAN SIGN UP FOR A SUBSCRIPTION TO NATIONAL REVIEW here OR NATIONAL REVIEW DIGITAL here (a subscription to NR includes Digital access).