Category Archives: Jacques Attali

Food and Social Life

Short blog entry by Jacques Attali on statistics about shared meals in “Western Civilizations.”

Conversation avec Jacques Attali: Dînons ensemble

The main claim is that France is still at the top of the list of places where people do enjoy shared meals. Still, Attali does mention some of the realities hidden by those statistics.

Interestingly enough, several of the comments on this entry are about other parts of the world where food consumption is an important social activity, including parts of Asia and Africa.

To me, a basic part of ethnography has to do with groups formed at meals. In some cases, it might be a group of relatives considered as a “household” or “family unit.” In other contexts, meal sharers might consider themselves to be part of the same social group, as when all members of the same age-set eat together.

There’s also the shared consumption of non-nutritional items like tea and alcohol. Perhaps because of my passion for both coffee and beer, I find the process of having coffee or beer with someone else one of the most pleasurable experiences one can have. The complex aromas of those drinks do enhance the experience and the fact that their nutritional value isn’t the main point of their consumption makes the event less utilitarian than socially consequent.

No idea if there are statistics on shared consumption of drinks but they clearly represent an important domain for the study of social life.


Goût de café: Jacques Attali

Depuis ma lecture de son Bruits, Jacques Attali est entré dans la longue liste des gens avec qui j’aimerais prendre un café.

C’est pas tant que je sois d’accord avec ses idées ou même avec son approche. Il me sert pas non plus de modèle. Mais je trouve certaines de ses analyses très compatibles avec ma propre approche et j’aimerais bien pouvoir discuter avec lui, quelques minutes. D’autant plus qu’il me semble assez facile d’approche.

C’est sans doute trompeur, mais son attitude générale me semble rendre possible des contacts informels, au-delà des statuts. Cette attitude est, d’après moi, trop rare parmi certaines catégories d’intellectuels. Pourtant, la vie de l’esprit n’est pas vraiment une quête du prestige.


French «Intellectuels» (draft)

[Old draft of a post that I never finished writing… Started it in late February.]

Been thinking about intellectuals, especially French ones. It might have been a long-standing issue for me. To this French-speaking North American academic, the theme is obvious.

More specifically, though.

Was listening to a podcast with French journalist Daniel Schneidermann who, among other things, is a blogger. During the podcast, Schneidermann made a simple yet interesting comment about validation by readers. As a journalist, he has an obligationto adopt strict standards, verify sources, etc. As a blogger, he knows that if something that he says is inaccurate, blog readers will quickly point out the mistake. Again, dead simple. One of the basic things people have understood about online communication since at least 1994. But some journalists have typically been slow to understand the implications, perhaps because it causes a sea change in their practise. So Scheidermann’s comment was relatively “refreshing” in such a context.

Wanted to blog on that issue. Went to Scheidermann’s blog and read a few things. Noticed one about a Wikipedia entry on Schneidermann. While the blogger understands the value of reader validation, he seems to be uneasy with the fact that his Wikipedia entry was, when he first read it, disproportionally devoted to some specific issues in his life. Which leads me to the intellectuel thing.

A little over ten years ago, Pierre Bourdieu was on Schneidermann’s television set for a show about television. Bourdieu had been thinking and writing about television’s social impact. The context in which Schneidermann invited Bourdieu was a series of political and social events centering on an important strike with which Bourdieu had been associated. By participating in the show, Bourdieu had the (secret) intention of demonstrating television’s incapacity at taking distance from itself. Bourdieu had participated in another television show a few years prior and apparently saw his presence on a television set as an occasion to experiment with some important issues having to do with the media’s channeling of dialogue. Didn’t see the show but had heard about the events that followed without following it. A brief summary, from very limited evidence.After appearing on the show, Bourdieu published a short piece in Le Monde diplomatique (Schneidermann was a journalist at Le Monde). That piece was strongly-worded but can be seen as a fairly typical media analysis by a social scientist or other scholar. Not Bourdieu’s most memorable work, maybe, but clear and simple, if a bit watered down at times. In fact, the analysis looked more Barthes-type semiotics than Bourdieu’s more, erm, “socially confrontational” work.

Schneidermann’s response to Bourdieu’s analysis looks more like a knee-jerk reaction to what was perceived as personal attacks. Kind of sad, really. In fact, the introduction to that response points out the relevance of Bourdieu’s interrogations.

At any rate, one aspect of Schneidermann’s response which is pretty telling in context is the repeated use of the term intellectuel at key points in that text. It’s not so much about the term itself, although it does easily become a loaded term. An intellectual could simply be…

[Google: define intellectual…]:

a person who uses his or her intellect to study, reflect, or speculate on a variety of different ideas

[ Thank you, Wikipedia! 😉 ]

But, in context, repeated use of the term, along with repeated mentions of Collège de France (a prestigious yet unusual academic institution) may give the impression that Schneidermann was reacting less to Bourdieu as former guest than to the actions of an intellectuel. Obligatory Prévert citation:

Il ne faut pas laisser les intellectuels jouer avec les allumettes.

(Intellectuals shouldn’t be allowed to play with matches.)

Now, second stream of thought on intellectuels. Was teaching an ethnomusicology course at an anthropology department. A frequent reaction by students was that we were intellectualizing music too much. Understandable reaction. Music isn’t just an intellectual object. But, after all, isn’t the role of academia to understand life intellectually?

Those comments tended to come in reaction to some of the more difficult readings. To be fair, other reactions included students who point out that an author’s analysis isn’t going beyond some of the more obvious statements and yet others are cherishing the intellectual dimensions of our perspective on music. Altogether the class went extremely well, but the intellectual character of some of the content was clearly surprising to some.

The third strand or stream of thought on intellectuels came on February 27 in a television show with Jacques Attali. His was a typical attitude of confidence in being a “jack of all trades” who didn’t hesitate to take part in politics, public service, and commercial initiatives. I personally have been influenced by some of Jacques Attali’s work and, though I may disagree with several of his ideas, I have nothing but respect for his carreer. His is a refreshingly unapologetic form of intellectualism. Not exclusion of non-intellectuals. Just an attempt at living peacefully with everyone while thinking about as many issues as possible. He isn’t my hero but he deserves my respect, along with people like Yoro Sidibe, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Louis Armstrong, Boris Vian, Jan Garbarek, Georges Brassens, Steven Feld, Roland Barthes, James Brown, and Serge Gainsbourg.

A fourth thread came in a departmental conference at Université de Montréal’s Department of Anthropology. Much discussion of the involvement of anthropologists in social life. And the visit of two public intellectuals who happen to be anthropological provocateurs, here in Quebec: Serge Bouchard and Bernard Arcand.. . .

Never finished this draft.

Should really follow on these threads. They have been haunting me for almost a year. And connect with multiple issues that I tend to think about.

My attitude now is that through blogs, mailing-lists, online forums, classes, lectures, conferences, informal and formal discussions, I’m able to help people think about a large set of different issues, whether or not they agree with me on any single point. Not because I’m somehow better than others: I’m clearly not. Not because my ideas are better than those cherished by others: they clearly aren’t. Possibly because I’m extremely talkative. And enthusiastic about talking to just about anyone. There’s even a slight chance that I may have understood something important about my “role in life,” my “calling.” If so, great. If not, I’m having fun anyway and I don’t mind being (called) an intellectual. 😉


Nicholas Cook on Music

Haven't read his Music: A Very Short Introduction yet but Nicholas Cook's perspective on music in general sounds quite insightful. A broad definition of music in the context of recent history. Jacques Attali's Noise has some of the same impact on me.
Here's a reading of the French version of the first chapter to Cook's very short introduction. 

Anybody read the whole book?


Edgar Bronfman Jr. and the Music Industry

The New York Times > Business > Your Money > Wipe Egg Off Face. Try Again. Voilà:

‘Flows poison like ivy, oh they grimy/Already offers on my sixth album from labels trying to sign me.’

Fairly elaborate piece about the Seagram heir involved in the music industry. What’s interesting here for someone who tends to think of music as expression and creation through sound is to get a peep in other perspectives on music. Sure, the first step to achieve their perspective is to see music as a commodity, which seems rather awkward for a musician But there are more steps involved if one wants to get insight into “corporate culture” of The Biz. It’s not just money. It’s also this notion that “artists” (musicians, mostly singers, with record contracts) create hits or non-hits. Members of that culture seem to think that “hitness” is an intrinsic quality of an artist’s output. Of course, they’re acutely aware that the way people listen to music is influenced by their own processes. But the point is, the comments of analysts and “insiders” still point, when they talk about “the music,” toward music as production.
It’s good to keep in mind that the model is quite recent. Attali’s Noise (read the first edition of the French original Bruits only last year or the year before) describes many steps in the construction of this model…


Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on File-Sharing

ZeD – Content Piece – Wilco Interview
Some key issues and concepts. I share his perspective, both as a music fan and as a musician.
It might be important to expand upon the very notion of copyright as applied to music. Jacques Attali’s Bruits discusses this creation and how it was never meant to protect the actual artists.