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Stéphane Hessel at a pro-Palestinian rally. His hat is an homage to the French Revolution.(Charles Platiau/Reuters/NYT)

French Resistance hero Stéphane Hessel’s pamphlet Indignez-Vous!, which despite its brevity and questionable literary merit has sold more than three million (!) copies in Europe since October, will be published in America in September as Time for Outrage. The book has been criticized for its treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with some accusing Hessel of anti-Semitism. The 93-year-old denies it; additionally, like practically every other French intellectual, he is of Jewish descent (albeit only on his father’s side—in fact, his parents and a French man formed the love triangle that inspired the Truffaut film Jules and Jim).

The pamphlet argues that today’s French should cast off their indifference and “get angry!” in the manner of résistants such as himself, a comrade of De Gaulle’s in London who parachuted into France and was captured and sent to Buchenwald. “When something outrages you, as Nazism did me, that is when you become a militant, strong and engaged,” the roughly 4,000-word pamphlet proclaims. “You join the movement of history, and the great current of history continues to flow only thanks to each and every one of us.” And what is Hessel most angry about? “Today, my primary indignation concerns Palestine, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank.”

In The New Republic, Tablet Magazine books critic Adam Kirsch questioned the utility of Resistance-era anger in a time of (mostly) functional politics. Unquestionably a hero and doubtfully intending any harm, Hessel strikes me as a French version of Howard Beale, the Network anchor who instructs us to shout, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!” Of course, Beale is a crank, a madman suffering a nervous breakdown. The parody in Paddy Chayefsky’s script isn’t found in the fact that Beale is right, but rather in the fact that somebody so profoundly wrong, albeit in a harmless way, is received as being right because he satisfies certain emotional needs; the film’s malicious villains have use for the anger he inspires because it distracts people from real problems. Beale, and Beale-like anger, is the tool of the true bad guys.

In the spring, in France, another Hessel pamphlet was released, this a collection of interviews titled Engagez-Vous!—“get involved!” That sounds more like it, anyway.

Book by French Resistance Here to Be Published in U.S. [Arts Beat]
A Resistance Hero Fires Up the French [NYT]
Related: The Trouble With Anger [TNR]
Earlier: So, You’re a ‘French Intellectual,’ Eh?





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