French Language Blog

Window-shopping with Voltaire: A Dangerous Addiction Posted by on Apr 7, 2011 in Culture, Vocabulary

“Tous les jours, je lave mon cerveau avec la pub” (“Everyday I wash my brain with advertisings”)
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While it is not as widely renowned as “Candide“, the novel “Zadig ou la Destinée” (“Zadig, or The Book of Fate”) stands today as one of the major works of Voltaire, although, we are told, the French philosopher may have opportunistically discarded its value and significance vers la fin de sa vie (towards the end of his life)—“Age of the Enligntenment” oblige!
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The namesake of the novel, “Zadig, presented as Babylonian by the author who otherwise makes no pretense to historical insight, means in Arabic “véridique” (“truthful”), as in the name of the faithful companion in Islam, Abu Bakr “Es-Siddiq“, and, quite similarly, means “le juste” (the just) in Hebrew, as in “Tsadik“, the religious title related to the Hassidic tradtion.
In fact, and it is a rather curious fact that only a few “critiques littérairesseem to have noticed that before, the tale of Voltaire’s hero makes several thinly-veiled allusions to the well-known story of Moïse (Moses) and El-Khidr, mentioned in le Coran, the Holy Book of Islam.

True to his name, Zadig is truthful, brave, compassionate, and stands for justice whatever contrées lointaines (far-off lands) his destin (destiny, or fate) leads him to—In short, a diametric opposite of a “Zadig-stic” (read “sadistic”) behavior, you may say.But, if that is the case, what justifies le jeu de mot (the pun) in the title of today’s post?

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A simple look around the world we live in today, ceaselessly “bombarded” by des pubs (ads) that “urge” our brave citizenry to buy such and such glorified produit (product), could serve to remind us of what the authoritative Edward Bernays -considered the “forefather” of the field of les relations publiques, (PR),and accessorily neveu (nephew) of Dr. Sigmund Freud–  wrote in his “seminal work”, “Propaganda“, several years before the emergence of la télévision and l’Internet:
"[Our] minds are molded, our tastes formed,
our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. 
This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic 
society is organized."      
In these conditions, there is little wonder that some of us, more “sensible” (“sensitive”), and perhaps more “obedient” by nature, to this type of psychological treatment or “conditioning” of the masses, would tend to confuse, say, faire du shopping (doing shopping) with… la philosophie (philosophy)!
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Take the fine, nearly Pavlovian, example offered to us by Frédéric Lefebvre, a French politician associated with the ruling party, l’UMP.

Asked a few days ago about the book which had left the most powerful impact upon him, Monsieur Lefebvre, who, understandably, was then busy promoting his own new book, answered: “Sans doute, “Zadig et Voltaire”(“Undoubtedly, ‘Zadig and Voltaire'”),and even enfonce le clou (drives the point home) by saying: “Je m’y replonge d’ailleurs assez souvent“, meaning that he goes back to reading it quite often…

The only trouble is, while Voltaire has indeed written a novel called “Zadig ou la Destinée” (“Zadig, or The Book of Fate”), as we have seen above—“Zadig et Voltaire” happens to be the name of a French prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) manufacturer.
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A “Zadig & Voltaire” commercial: After the clothes, enters the “Zadig & Voltaire Music”—Talk about a spin!
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In a sudden fit of what ought to be described as frantic “cyber sadism“, “E-sadism” (or plain “Zadig-stic” behavior, in this specific case), French and Francophone Internautes (Internet surfers) at large have since then seized on the unfortunate lapsus freudien (“Freudian slip”) of Monsieur Lefebvre to build (construire) an entire “bibliothèque Lefebvre“, composed of books of the same “shopping-meets-literature-and-philosophygenre (which by the way you can follow here:
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From “Les misérables” by “Victor Hugo Boss”, to the even more Orwellian-sounding  “1664” (instead of “1984“), you’ll find out more of such exquisitely “telling” titles in an upcoming post.
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Le Figaro wants to figure out “ce que lisent les politiques” (“What politicians read”)—Besides Monsieur Lefebvre, of course
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