- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2005

French affair

“[Jean Paul] Sartre and [Simon de] Beauvoir had met in Paris in 1929, when he was 24, she was 21. … Beauvoir was a handsome and stylish woman. … But she fell in love with Sartre, once she got over the physical impression he made. Sartre was about 5 feet tall, and he had lost almost all the sight in his right eye when he was 3; he dressed in oversized clothes, with no sense of fashion; his skin and teeth suggested an indifference to hygiene. …

“Sartre proposed a ‘pact’: they could have affairs, but they were required to tell each other everything. As he put it to Beauvoir: ‘What we have is an essential love; but it is a good idea for us also to experience contingent love affairs.’

“Beauvoir’s whole life to that point had been an effort to escape from the culture of her family. Her mother had been educated in a convent; her father was a conservative Paris lawyer. … So she was excited by the affront to conventional standards of domesticity that Sartre’s arrangement posed.

“She also had a high opinion of Sartre’s brilliance as a philosopher. An argument based on terms like ‘essence’ and ‘contingency’ worked as well on her as a diamond ring.”

— Louis Menand, writing on “Stand By Your Man,” in the Sept. 26 issue of the New Yorker

Paris sans culottes

“How about that cover of Paris Hilton on Vanity Fair? Yes, it is Vanity Fair’s current issue, though you might have thought it was Maxim’s when you passed your local newsstand. It displays a raccoon-eyed Paris, looking sulky, without anything on top except a glittery diamond necklace. Maybe editor Graydon Carter didn’t think anyone would recognize her with her clothes on and without her characteristic sneer.

“Remember years back when editor Tina Brown put a naked Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair? She gave some excuse about it being a salute to pregnancy because having babies was once again so in — or some such palaver. But, obviously, Carter doesn’t have to try to justify putting an almost-naked airhead, famous only for being famous, on his cover. It is so sign-of-the-times-ish, it speaks for itself.”

— Myrna Blyth, writing on “Don’t Fit Me In,” Monday in National Review Online

England’s decline

“There’ll always be an England, the casual visitor may comfortingly remind himself. Outward signs seem to affirm it. …

“But what lies behind the trappings? … Over the last 50 or 60 years, decline and change in a sometimes indistinguishable combination have shredded its tradition and its spirit, even its identity. The revolution has been accomplished by peaceful and often imperceptible degrees, but it is a revolution all the same. …

“The behavior of some members of the royal family, and those who married into it like the late Princess Diana, has called into question … the important ‘dignified’ aspect of the monarchy. … In a manner which would once have exposed them to Swiftian satire, factions within the Church of England dispute savagely about women bishops and whether a gay clergyman can live openly with a male lover if he promises to abstain from sex. More Muslims attend worship than Christians do. …

“Movements … dedicated to Islamist imperialism through violence and consequently mostly banned in the Muslim world, operate and publish and recruit with impunity in what has been well-described as Londonistan.”

— David Pryce-Jones, writing on “Potemkin Vistas,” in the September issue of the New Criterion

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