Intellectuals and the social medias in France.
Young author Edouard Louis has come to the fore of public debate as a left wing author and intellectual using his position in modern day media to ‘remedy the perpetual cycle of poverty and failing education’ (Chadderton, 2018). Class oppression and rifts between socio economic groups is nothing new but Louis has taken to social media in order to connect with his audience directly and avoid the adaptation of mainstream media.
So how does the modern-day intellectual go about broadcasting their ideas through modern day media and how is this different from their intellectual predecessors? The answer for Edouard Louis, lies in social media, specifically twitter.
Inspirations behind an intellectual tweet.
In a chat show between Edouard Louis and Ken Loach, the idea that art and media should be something that makes people so unbearably uncomfortable that they are forced into action is discussed as an inspiration for their work. Louis has strived to move away from previous intellectuals and become more accessible through his involvement on social media, for example his writing on the Gilet Jaunes movement in France. His phenomenological style of writing on violence, through the use of his personal experiences (Mueller, 2020), features prominently in the interview. This writing from personal experiences, makes his work so personal to its readers (Rossi, 2015) and therefore increases the accessibility for a section of society perhaps less targeted by intellectuals previously. From Emile Zola and early French intellectuals, to Simone de Beauvoir more recently, it has been suggested that intellectuals work has not been broadly intelligible for the less educated, ergo also to the poorer in French society (Chaplin, 2008). To this end, Edouard Louis has endeavoured to become more digestible for those who come from the poorest segments of society. This is reflected in the interview, with Loach and Louis, that it is not enough to be progressive and liberal with arts but it is essential to truly engage with their audiences (Al Jazeera English, 2019). This fuels the concept that an intellectual’s knowledge should be accessible for all, both intellectually and in a pecuniary sense. Chadderton discusses how this is a primary aim of Louis’ writing in her review of his recent work. She states the rehabilitation of the working classes through the ‘renewed visibility of working-class people in literature’ is his primary aim (2018). Louis uses his position as a successful novelist to discuss controversial topics and to communicate and connect with the public from a perspective rarely seen before (Schwartz, 2018), for which he receives a lot of criticism in French mass media.
The Tweet in Practice.
‘I’m more comfortable with confronting people and making them feel bad in the place of empathy. I want art to make people feel bad and say… what do I do? what is my role in this violence and if I do nothing, I should feel bad about it.’ (Al Jazeera English, 2019).
In the tweet, in order to engage the attention of the working classes Louis describes the mocking and condemning of the Gilet Jaunes in mass media. This is an issue highlighted in the interview with Loach, ‘I wrote on twitter because I thought it was the only place I can say what I have to say and social media and new technologies are an answer to that’ (Al Jazeera English, 2019). By writing on a platform such as Twitter, he can ensure as a modern day intellectual that he can communicate directly with his audience; the uneducated and poor, who as Loach says are likely to feel disassociated with panellists and experts who are becoming more and more right wing (Al Jazeera English, 2019). The way in which he writes to appeal to the working class is extremely thought provoking and poignant whilst remaining accessible and simple. ‘Des corps souffrants, ravagés par le travail, par la fatigue, par la faim, par l’humiliation permanente des dominants envers les dominés, par l’exclusion sociale et géographique, je voyais des corps fatigués, des mains fatiguées, des dos broyés, des regards épuisés’ (Louis, 2018). The position of this quote at the start of the piece highlights that Louis hopes to draw the attention of this subsection of readers quickly. When put into the broader context of the post, this short extract from the tweet is integral to the formation of metaleptic transgression, as defined by Gérard Genette (1980: 236), which has a profound effect on the reader. Whilst there is not the same reversal or downward movement which is seen in Histoire de la Violence (Mueller, 2020), the effect of this literary technique, subtly persuades the reader into thinking of the Gilet Jaunes in a different light. As has been mentioned, the first section of the piece is aimed at the uneducated and poor; those from Louis’ background. The first person is used predominantly in the initial part of the tweet and the metaleptic transgression becomes apparent later on. This infers the ‘insistent hypothesis that the extradiegetic is perhaps always the diegetic and that the narrator and his narratees (in this case, Louis and the working class) belong to some form of narrative’ (Genette, 1980). This technique is, as Genette says, unsettling (1980:236). Overall, the initial motive discussed by Louis and Loach in the interview; ‘because you find something unbearable, you will be in the position where you have to find inspiration to make the situation more bearable’ (Al Jazeera English, 2019) is clearly demonstrated in the initial part of the tweet.
Edouard Louis on the dominant class view of the Gilet Jaunes – ‘They couldn’t bear it, they look at them and think they are dirty, they are ridiculous, they are fat, they are stupid and at that time in the mainstream media it was very difficult to talk about what was going on. Social media was a place that you could address this.’ (Al Jazeera English, 2019).
It should be noted however that Edouard Louis does not only try to inform the classes populaires on the Gilet Jaunes but also the middle classes and the bourgeoisie, albeit from a different perspective. Due to his success with his phenomenological style of writing in En Finir Avec Eddy Bellegueule, and the personal attachment to Louis story that anyone who has read the novel will have formed (Rossi, 2015), he already has a fertile ground to which he can appeal and influence. Louis forms a link between the Gilet Jaunes and personalities from his novel that people will be familiar with. ‘Les photos ressemblaient au corps de mon père, de mon frère, de ma tante Ils ressemblaient aux corps de ma famille… ces gens à la santé dévastée par la misère et la pauvreté’ (Louis, 2018). Employing a mélange of phenomenology and metalepsis, Louis is able to distance the dominant class from the issue in the same way he is able to draw in the ‘uneducated’ at the start of the post. He does not distance them however in the same way that mass media does, which disassociates the dominant class from the issues facing the French working class (Al Jazeera English, 2019). Instead he evokes, in anyone who has read his work and remained passive in the protests of the Gilet Jaunes, an unbearable feeling which will, he hopes, inspire them. This is the technique that Loach and Louis discuss and inspires a sense of anger which as Loach says, ‘If you don’t have you might as well stay at home’ (Al Jazeera English, 2019). The ability to use the same technique to convey two complete separate emotions in diametrically opposed groups yet have the same end goal is becoming of Edouard Louis’ role as a modern day intellectual.
In his interview with Loach, both intellectuals agree that ‘public discourse doesn’t reflect the struggles that people have, it’s a propaganda machine’ (Al Jazeera English, 2019). It is for this reason that Edouard Louis has taken to social media to ‘use power against power’ (Al Jazeera English, 2019) and use social media as a platform to address issues faced by today’s society. Louis has had great success in his three novels to date, in which he engages his audience by using a range of subtle techniques including a phenomenological approach to violence and metalepsis (Mueller, 2020). It is these same techniques which he employs in his tweets to engage such profound feelings and increase his social media presence. In the same way that Simone de Beauvoir, one of Louis inspirations, was a pioneer of intellectuals on television (Chaplin, 2008), the young author has succeeded in making the modern-day intellectual’s work even more accessible to the general public via social media.
Al Jazeera English. (2019). Studio B, Unscripted: With Ken Loach and Edouard Louis. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J89RTrx1_eM (Accessed: 2November 2020).
Louis, E. (2018) 4 December. Available at https://twitter.com/edouard_louis/status/1069956833287245824 (Accessed: 28 October 2020).
Al Jazeera English. (2019). Studio B, Unscripted: With Ken Loach and Edouard Louis. Available at: https://youtu.be/J89RTrx1_eM?t=1005
Edouard Louis, 2018. Available at https://twitter.com/edouard_louis/status/1069956836953128960
Source: Divergence, 26 May 2018, photo by © Alain Guilhot.
Chadderton, H., 2018. ‘Am I not an Author?’ Social class and the contemporary French novel. Modern & Contemporary France, 27(3), pp.281-294.
Chaplin, T., 2008. Turning On The Mind. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
Genette, Gérard (1980). Narrative Discourse, An Essay in Method , trans. Jane Lewin (Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press).
Mueller, M., 2020. Violence and narrative: structural and interpersonal violence in contemporary French literature. Journal of the British Academy, 8s3, pp.155-169.
Rossi, R. (2016) “Telling a Minor Subjectivity : the Case of Edouard Louis”, Between, 5(10). doi: 10.13125/2039-6597/1700.
Schwartz, A., 2018. To Exist In The Eyes Of Others: An Interview With The Novelist Édouard Louis On The Gilets Jaunes Movement. [online] The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/to-exist-in-the-eyes-of-others-an-interview-with-the-novelist-edouard-louis-on-the-gilets-jaunes-movement (Accessed: 2 November 2020).
Eribon, D. (2015) Retour à reims. Paris: Flammarion.
Louis, É. (2015) En finir avec eddy bellegueule : roman. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.
Philosophy Overdose (2020). Simone de Beauvoir (1959) – Full Interview (English & French). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6k9O_XTZnE
Sorry we missed you. (2019). [DVD]. Directed by Ken Loach. England: Sixteen films. Available from Amazon Prime.