Understanding the affects that dominate our political moment, through two books

Shame is a revolutionary feeling

by Frédéric Gros

Albin Michel, 234 p., € 18

The trials of life. Understanding the French differently

by Pierre Rosanvallon

Threshold, 224 p., € 19

A boat, at night, hits a wreck. The captain and two acolytes leave the boat which is already nosing, leaving hundreds of sleeping passengers on board. The young second jumps to their side. Long hours later, the fugitives learn that the sinking did not take place. No death, no guilt for Conrad’s hero Lord Jim, the only one with the courage to face the trial. Only shame remains. Pure, in a way.

The story is told by the philosopher Frédéric Gros at the start of the essay, which attempts to get as close as possible to this deep experience, wider, more complex even than guilt. More ethical than it seems, calling for restraint and withdrawal, at the basis of many virtues. More contemporary too. Shame is the major affect of our time, the signifier of new struggles. We no longer cry out for injustice, arbitrariness, inequality. We scream in shame. Let shame change sides.

An experience fueled by the imagination

Mixture of sadness and rage, further details Frédéric Gros, this experience is not limited to an intimate feeling. It feeds on the imagination – it takes some to be ashamed of the world -, it falls on you like a block. Do not leave you, at best is transformed. It is this which unites, slices the author, much more than a legendary social contract concluded between rational citizens. And sometimes turns into a revolutionary spark. Social shame is raging. Frédéric Gros drew two destinies for him: one, dark, of solitary resignation; the other, luminous, collective anger.

→ TRIBUNE. First political assessment in yellow: omnipresent emotions

This is one of the major interests of the book. Dig under contemporary anger until the experience that gives rise to it, find shame there, and unveil the nuances of this ordeal which is at the same time a way of apprehending the world, of founding a moral, of sealing a group. Show the invisible force that it imprints, the metamorphoses it allows. And think again about the mobilizations that are shaking up our old categories, starting with that of yellow vests, but also those of #MeToo or Black Lives Matter.

“Understanding the French differently”, it is also the objective of the historian Pierre Rosanvallon in his last work. Here again, it is the foundations of the social upheaval that interest the thinker of democracy. Those “Trials of life” at the source of the emotions which henceforth unite more than the ideals of justice or the concrete conditions of life. Experiences, of course, of suffering, of a confrontation with an obstacle which shakes you. But also, “Way of apprehending the world, of understanding it, and of criticizing it in a directly sensitive way, and of reacting accordingly.

The historian distinguishes three types, tests of personal integrity, such as sexual violence, harassment, control. The trials of the social bond, those of contempt, injustice and discrimination. Trials of uncertainty, such as worry about the future. We can overcome, he writes, or at least tame, a specific fear because it is likely to be reasoned as we have already underlined, but one remains more easily prisoner of an atmosphere of anxiety which constitutes the air which one breathes; because it is as ubiquitous as it is elusive.

The political potential of emotions

Emotions have a history, researchers have been teaching us over the past ten years. Praise or mistrust of their political potential too. Pierre Rosanvallon’s work is different, attentive to the contemporary genesis of the emotions which today orient political behavior beyond ideological or sociological cleavages. Like resentment, the son of contempt and humiliation.

→ READ. Emmanuel Macron and the legitimacy of popular emotions

To feel resentment is to consider oneself as belittled, inferior or despised by others without being able to lucidly analyze this situation and find the means to reverse the domination that one is subjected to. The individual in this position thus finds himself a prisoner of his misfortune, caught in the snares of his anger.. An impotence to which only the populists have so far responded according to the author, committing the presidential candidates to resonate with the emotional landscape of the country which draws its new horizon of expectation ”.


The words of the campaign

Every Friday, the program “Le temps du debate”, at 6:20 pm on France Culture, addresses one of the words that prevail in the campaign. These are the “terms of the debate”. Since the start of the school year, the series has already shed light on the words Debate, Terrorism and Security.

Once a month, The cross joins this initiative. Two speakers answer questions from Emmanuel Laurentin, from France Culture, and from Béatrice Bouniol, from The cross. First meeting on September 24.


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