The French were never freer than during the Nazis occupation, you said; or so you said this hypothesis had been presented by Jean Paul Sartre in his short essay, “The Republic of Silence,”which you read, you said, when you were taking a seminar in existentialism, I think it was, I think I remember, and it was in this, you said, that the French Heideggerean existentialist philosopher–and I recall having asked you if anyone says Heideggerean any longer, even among philosophy students? You did not answer me. I did not press the question.
I know we still read Heidegger, if only because we are sure it will help us to understand Derrida, who we read through our misunderstanding and dis-understanding because we are sure he will help us understand Nietzsche who we never understood in the first place, and have become certain we should have. Detours around Deconstruction and Nietzschean-bred critiques notwithstanding, I think I remember you saying that Sartre’s notion of freedom is explored in the essay, “The Republic of Silence,” as the most crucial and vibrant of humanity’s highest ideals–is that what you said? I wonder. I do not and did not ask you if it was what you said, what I have here said you said.
Yes, I recollect you saying once in the English Majors lounge that the French were never in their history freer than they were during the occupation and oppression by the brutal Nazis regime. What it means for every human to be free, you insisted, is presented in this very short essay [my words] as it discusses how a person living in France under the Nazis repression faces, yes, all the horrors we have come to know from history and understand through stereotype, but also confronts the limits of his liberty as never before or since. My words. He is, as the Existentialists would say, you said, engaged.
This Frenchman’s ability to move about freely, talk freely, express himself freely–and by freely we mean openly and without censor–is foreshortened, I think it was that you said in other words. Fear and oppression and a personally complicit repression of all persons and institutions conspired to cut at the root of this freeliness, was what you meant by what it was that you said, perhaps in diction similar to this, my words rooted in what I think I remember of yours.
The simple separate Frenchman looks over his shoulder, everywhere around him wherever he goes, you said. He must suspect in part everyone, you said. The Nazis always created conditions for the occupied to mistrust each other. He cannot be certain who might betray him, you said; even if he is careful not to be a traitor to the Third Reich, you said. He walks on the same eggshells as everyone else, you said; he walks a tightrope to and from wherever he goes, you said. Yet he is engaged in the making of his liberty by living, by going on, by thinking in-loud to himself, all of it anyway, you said–this Frenchman was as the many Jewish women in the Warsaw ghetto, I said after you, after what you said, what I heard, what I understood, what I remembered some later time with others who knew you and who did not know you. Yes, those Jewish women in the ghetto, right up to the time they were taken away to the camps that extinguished them, had babies, I said almost with pride–why not pride–do I need to be Jewish to have pride in what Jews did in the ghetto before they were extinguished?
A Jew in the ghettos engaged day in and day out in the making of his or her freedom. You will not wipe us out, must have been the cry of every Jewish woman who gave birth. Every birth was Judaism’s rebirth; every child’s initial cry was as the shofar at Rosh Hashanah, the I of the former narrative said. These Jewish women, as others in the many ghettos of the world, of history, of time, as our engaged Frenchman, proclaimed, you must choose to be free, this narrative I adds to what he has said.
To be engaged in the consciousness of being free is what it means to be free, I said. It is persistence, you said; it is tenacity, you added; it is vigilance, I said. There is no other way, we agreed. Free speech can never be protected by silence, you and I reiterated one another in these and other words we said and said again, restating our points only minimally distinct. Freedom must have its voices raised to be insured, of course, you agreed with me when I said this.
Our Frenchman’s freedom begins and ends with him, and in this it can only ever be a lower case reference, you said. You paused. There were always pauses. Do not be fooled by the mention here of a pause where elsewhere there is no mention of any pauses.
Uppercase Freedom is something else, I added. This Frenchman’s freedom exists through the kinds of choices he makes toward “winning” his freedom, I said to you in an attempt to show that I understood what you were saying Sartre had said. I said it in a way and with an inflection that begged affirmation. I was looking for you to say that I was right.
The freedom he wins can only be for him, others would say, have said, will say, as you will and I will too. This freedom he wins can only be personal–freedom qua freedom is too big, is longer than the longest, or other than, if you will, I recall having written? Do I? This uppercase Freedom is eternal, no? I do not ask this way, only here put in the “no?” for you, the reader, not you the friend I am speaking to.
And yes, freedom is always won or lost, I said. But the playing field or battleground is the inscape of the Self, I said. Yet, Freedom in the upper case is what exists whether everyone’s freedom is respected or not–understand? I recall having asked. It is a transcendent idea, an energy that is indestructible.
The ancient Greeks had to words for life, one was Zoe, or life indestructible and Bios, life in manifest form. The former could not be killed, could not die; the latter could be destroyed. An individual’s freedom, his personal liberty can be destroyed, but Freedom can never be extinguished, which is why it persists and can be reanimated, re-manifested, you reminded me that said to you.
The kind of freedom we speak of here for the French, just as we could for any other people, is only valid in the individual example, the individual expression of what it means to be free. What is most important, and I borrow from Sartre again, is the “obstacle to surmount, the resistance to overcome.” However, there is another kind of freedom developing here under these conditions where one must watch what he says, where he says it, how he says it, and to whom he says it. In such a society, meetings become subversive, every confidence of his opinion–every secretly expressed judgement about anything that would otherwise be censored, or instinctively curbed in open society; each is a declaration of freedom. To whisper to a close friend your opinion of the Nazis is to shout to humanity in favor of humanity all for humanity because humanity can only ever triumph by the individual, for the individual, with the individual, I recollect you having said, having recorded you and me together speaking in your kitchen over a bottle of Gigondas.
And so I say now aloud that it is for this reason above that I easily accept the hypothesis that each individual human life is macrocosmic to all or any institution, nation, or religion, including laws and constitutions; to all or any politics; to history; to all things and all places and all people. What more should I say thatI have said, that I have thought, that I remember or that I have remembered . . . more questions I could ask, more questions I could answer for you.
We are, firstly, lastly and mostly, because I am, I say have said, yes, easily enough recollected. In the respect and defense of the perpetual and pervasive I am, we are. No?