Transcript: Robert Adams on The Elegance of the Hedgehog | Feb 26, 2011

Robert Adams stands behind a wooden lectern on a stage, in a dimly lit auditorium, and addresses an unseen audience.
He’s in his sixties, balding, with a white goatee. He’s wearing rounded glasses, a gray suit, dark gray shirt, and red tie.

He says TONIGHT, I AM REVIEWING
THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG
BY MURIEL BARBERY.
IT WAS FIRST PUBLISHED
IN FRANCE IN 2006, AS
L'ELEGANCE DU HERRISON.
IT WON FOUR MAJOR
FRENCH LITERARY PRIZES.
IT WAS TRANSLATED
INTO 12 LANGUAGES.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Robert Adams. Author, a love of reading. The elegance of the hedgehog. Hart House Theatre, Toronto. October 5, 2010."

Robert continues IT HAS SO FAR, IN FRANCE,
SOLD 2 MILLION COPIES.
IN ITALY, ALONE, IT HAS
SOLD HALF A MILLION COPIES.
AND WHAT IS REMARKABLE
ABOUT THIS NOVEL,
L'ELEGANCE DU HERRISON,
IS THAT IT HAS TWO VERY
UNLIKELY MAIN CHARACTERS.
ONE IS A DUMPY, CHUBBY,
FROUSY, UGLY CONCIERGE.
THAT IS HER OWN
DESCRIPTION OF HERSELF.
AND THE OTHER MAIN CHARACTER
IS A 12-YEAR-OLD GIRL.
AND WHAT IS EVEN MORE
REMARKABLE ABOUT THE NOVEL
IS THAT THE BULK OF
THE NOVEL IS ABOUT
PHILOSOPHICAL SPECULATION.
THERE IS NO SEX, NO
VIOLENCE, BUT A LOT OF HUMOUR.
THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION,
THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG
CAME OUT IN 2008.
IT IS, IN FACT, MURIEL
BARBERY'S SECOND NOVEL.
SHE HAD WRITTEN ONE EARLIER
IN THE YEAR 2000, CALLED IN
FRENCH,
LA GOURMANDISE.
PUBLISHED IN ENGLISH ONLY
RECENTLY BECAUSE OF THE
SUCCESS OF HER SECOND NOVEL.
THE FIRST NOVEL WAS ONLY
RECENTLY TRANSLATED,
LA GOURMANDISE.
IT CAME OUT IN ENGLISH AS
THE GOURMET RHAPSODY.
AND THAT FIRST NOVEL,
GOURMET RHAPSODY,
IS VERY
RELEVANT TO
TONIGHT'S NOVEL.
IT IS SET, LIKE TONIGHT'S
NOVEL, IN A LUXURY,
EIGHT CONDOMINIUM
APARTMENT IN PARIS.
AND THE CENTRAL CHARACTER OF
THAT FIRST NOVEL WAS FRANCE'S
NUMBER ONE FOOD CRITIC, A
MAN CALLED PIERRE ARTHENS.
AND PIERRE ARTHENS, IN THAT
FIRST NOVEL, IS RETRACING,
IN HIS MIND, HIS LIFELONG
SEARCH FOR THE PERFECT TASTE.
THE FLAVOUR PAR EXCELLENCE.
THE NOVEL IS ABOUT HIM.
AND HE HAS A BRIEF
APPEARANCE IN THE FIRST
PAGES OF THIS,
THE SECOND NOVEL.
BUT THERE IS IN THAT FIRST
NOVEL A BRIEF MONOLOGUE BY
THE CONCIERGE OF HIS
APARTMENT BUILDING, A MADAM
RENEE MICHEL, ABOUT
THE NARCISSISM, THE
SELF-ABSORPTION OF THE
EIGHT FAMILIES WHO LIVE
ABOVE HER IN THE BUILDING.
HOW THEY EXPECT HER TO TAKE
IN THEIR PARCELS, ACCEPT
THEIR DELIVERIES, WATER
THEIR PLANTS, LOOK AFTER
THE GARDEN, WHILE BARELY
ACKNOWLEDGING HER
EXISTENCE OR THE HUMANITY
THEY SHARE WITH HER.
AND THAT CONCIERGE WHO
SPEAKS BRIEFLY IN THE FIRST
NOVEL, BECOMES ONE OF THE
TWO CHIEF CHARACTERS
IN TONIGHT'S NOVEL.
INDEED, IT IS RENEE MICHEL,
THE CONCIERGE OF NUMBER
SEVEN, RUE DU GRENELLE IN
PARIS, WHO IS THE HEDGEHOG
OF THE TITLE.
HOW SHE IS A HEDGEHOG I WILL
REFER TO A LITTLE LATER.
A BRIEF WORD ABOUT OUR
AUTHOR, MURIEL BARBERY.
SHE WAS BORN IN CASABLANCA
BUT CAME TO LIVE IN FRANCE.
SHE STUDIED PHILOSOPHY
AT THE SORBONNE.
AND THEN LATER BECAME A
PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY AT
THE UNIVERSITE DE
SAINT-LO, IN NORMANDY.
SHE HAS A GREAT LOVE OF
PHILOSOPHY, OF COURSE,
OF ART, AND OF ALL
THINGS JAPANESE.
SHE RECENTLY COMPLETED A
TWO, TWO AND A HALF YEAR
SABBATICAL IN JAPAN, IN
KYOTO, WHERE SHE SPENT HER
TIME WITH HER HUSBAND,
STEFAN BARBERY, A PROFESSOR
OF PSYCHOLOGY.
I SAID THAT MURIEL BARBERY IS
A PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY.
AND THERE ARE MANY
REFERENCES TO PHILOSOPHY
IN OUR NOVEL.
INDEED, THAT MAY IN PART
ACCOUNT FOR THE POPULARITY
OF THIS NOVEL IN FRANCE.
AS I SAID, IT HAS
SOLD 2 MILLION COPIES.
IT HAS BEEN FOR THREE,
FOUR YEARS ON THE FRENCH
BEST SELLER LIST.
AND THE REASON IS PARTLY, I
THINK, BECAUSE PHILOSOPHY IS
STILL A COMPULSORY SUBJECT
AT FRENCH HIGH SCHOOLS.
EVERY FRENCH TEENAGER,
HOWEVER STUPID...

[laughter]

Robert continues I SHOULD PUT IT DIFFERENTLY.
EVERY FRENCH TEENAGER,
EVEN THE LEAST GIFTED...

[laughter]

Robert continues WILL HAVE HEARD, FOR EXAMPLE,
THE NAME RENE DESCARTES.
AND HE OR SHE WILL HAVE
SOME VAGUE IDEA OF WHAT
DESCARTES THOUGHT.
ONE MAY THINK THAT IT'S A
PITY THAT OUR CHILDREN IN
NORTH AMERICA AND THE U.K. DO
NOT HAVE THE SAME EXPOSURE
TO PHILOSOPHY, BUT
THAT IS HOW IT IS.
ONE WORD ABOUT FRENCH
PHILOSOPHY BEFORE I START.
JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU'S
THEORY OF MAN, THAT MAN HAS
A NATURAL NOBILITY, THE
NOBLE SAVAGE, INSPIRED THE
FRENCH REVOLUTION OF 1789.
BUT IT IS THE EARLIER
PHILOSOPHER, RENE DESCARTES,
WHO DIED IN 1650, WHO
REALLY, IN MY OPINION, IN
MURIEL BARBERY'S OPINION,
HAS MOST INFLUENCED THE
FRENCH INTELLECTUAL
TRADITION.
RIGHT UP TO THE PRESENT
TIME, DESCARTES,
A 17th CENTURY FRENCH
PHILOSOPHER, IS OFTEN REFERRED
TO AS THE FATHER OF
MODERN PHILOSOPHY.
IT WAS DESCARTES WHO
SAID,
COGITO ERGO SUM.
I THINK, THEREFORE I AM.
AND IN HIS DISCOURSE
ON METHOD, IN 1637,
HE ENUNCIATED THE PRINCIPLES
OF WHAT WE STILL CALL THE
CARTESIAN APPROACH.
IT'S VERY IMPORTANT TO
UNDERSTANDING TONIGHT'S
NOVEL TO HAVE SOME SMALL
IDEA OF WHAT THE CARTESIAN
APPROACH MEANS
IN PHILOSOPHY.
YOU HAVE TO REMEMBER THAT
ONE OF OUR TWO CENTRAL
CHARACTERS IN TONIGHT'S
NOVEL IS A 12-YEAR-OLD GIRL.
AND HER MAIN CRITICISM OF
HER PARENTS IS THAT THEY
ARE CARTESIAN.
I HAVE NEVER MET A
12-YEAR-OLD CANADIAN
OR AMERICAN CHILD WHO
LOOKED AT HER PARENTS
REPROACHFULLY, AS THEY
ALWAYS DO, AND SAID,
YOU ARE CARTESIAN.

[laughter]

Robert continues DESCARTES, RENE DESCARTES,
AND I KNOW I AM OVERSIMPLIFYING
A LITTLE, BUT NOT TOO
MUCH, BELIEVED THAT THE
HUMAN MIND IS INDUBITABLE,
UNKNOWABLE, A GIVEN.
AND THAT ANY PHILOSOPHIC
INVESTIGATION OF THE HUMAN
MIND, THE PROCESSES OF HUMAN
THOUGHT, WOULD BE FRUITLESS.
WHAT HE DID BELIEVE WAS
BECAUSE WE THINK, WE CAN
EXAMINE EVERYTHING
OUTSIDE OURSELVES.
WE CAN EXAMINE EVERYTHING
EXTERNAL AND ANALYZE IT
ACCORDING TO CLEAR, MATHEMATICAL
AND SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLES.
WE CAN CLASSIFY, ORDER,
ESTABLISH HIERARCHIES.
WE CAN EXAMINE ANY PROBLEM,
AND COME TO A FIRM CONCLUSION,
WHICH WE CAN THEN
APPLY UNIVERSALLY.
WE CAN ARRANGE ALL THINGS INTO
THEIR ORDERS OF IMPORTANCE.
THERE IS A CERTAIN RIGIDITY
IN THE CARTESIAN APPROACH.
AN EMPHASIS ON ANALYSIS,
ORDER, HIERARCHY.
THE BEST ILLUSTRATION I CAN
GIVE OF THE INFLUENCE OF
CARTESIAN THOUGHT IS
THE FRENCH GARDEN.
THINK OF THE TRADITIONAL
ENGLISH GARDEN.
IT HAS A BEAUTIFUL CHAOS
THAT SEEMS TO WORK
IN A PRAGMATIC WAY.
IF YOU LOOK AT A FRENCH
GARDEN, IT IS ORDERED,
HIERARCHICAL,
MATHEMATICAL, SCIENTIFIC.
I AM NOT SUGGESTING THAT ONE
IS BETTER THAN THE OTHER,
BUT THE DIFFERENCE
IS CLEAR.
I CAN REMEMBER, AS A
CHILD IN WALES, ONE OF MY
TEACHERS TELLING US, AND I
HAVE SEEN IT SINCE, THAT AT
A CERTAIN MOMENT, A FRENCH
MINISTER OF EDUCATION SAID,
LOOKING AT HIS WATCH,
AT THIS MOMENT, EVERY
12-YEAR-OLD CHILD IN
FRANCE IS READING PAGE 193
OF THE GIVEN TEXT.
THAT IS CARTESIAN.
ORDERED, SYMMETRICAL,
HIERARCHICAL.
AND ANY CONCLUSIONS
APPLIED UNIVERSALLY.
OF COURSE, SINCE DESCARTES
AND THE 17th CENTURY, THERE
HAVE BEEN OTHER FRENCH
PHILOSOPHERS, AND MANY OF
THEM HAVE TURNED THEIR
ATTENTION TO THE PROCESSES
OF HUMAN THOUGHT.
BUT THE CARTESIAN LEGACY IS
STILL VERY IMPORTANT IN THE
FRENCH INTELLECTUAL
TRADITION.
IN A CARTESIAN SOCIETY,
EVERYTHING IS ORDERED
ACCORDING TO CLEAR, PRECISE,
MATHEMATICAL, SCIENTIFIC
PRINCIPLES, AND EVERYTHING
IS IN HIERARCHY.
NOW, IN SPITE OF THE LATER
PHILOSOPHER ROUSSEAU AND
HIS CALL TO DEMOCRACY,
LIBERTE, FRATERNITE,
EGALITE, CARTESIAN THINKING
HAS BEEN VERY EVIDENT IN
THE ORDERING OF
FRENCH SOCIETY.
MURIEL BARBERY CLEARLY SEES
IT, AND I'M SURE SHE'S
RIGHT, AS A SURPRISINGLY
RIGID SOCIAL STRUCTURE.
AT THE TOP, YOU HAVE THE OLD
ARISTOCRACY DATING FROM THE
OLD BOURBON MONARCHY,
MONARCHY, OR THE OLD
NAPOLEONIC PERIOD.
UNDER THE ARISTOCRACY, YOU
HAVE THE UPPER MIDDLE CLASS,
THE HAUTE BOURGEOISIE, THE
CEOs OF GREAT COMPANIES,
DIPLOMATS, MINISTERS,
IMPORTANT PEOPLE.
THE KIND OF PEOPLE WHO OWN
THE APARTMENTS ABOVE THE
CONCIERGE RENEE MICHEL.
AND THEN, ARISTOCRACY, HAUTE
BOURGEOISIE, THE UPPER
MIDDLE CLASS, YOU HAVE THE
PETITE BOURGEOISIE, THE
LOWER MIDDLE CLASS,
THE PEASANTS...
SORRY, THE TEACHERS.

[laughter]

Robert continues YEAH, YEAH, YEAH, YEAH.

[laughter]

Robert continues THE TEACHERS, THE SHOPKEEPERS,
THE OFFICE WORKERS.
AND AT THE VERY BOTTOM, YOU
HAVE THE PEASANTS, AND THE
INDUSTRIAL WORKERS.
A NICE ORDERED HIERARCHICAL
CARTESIAN SOCIETY.
OF COURSE, THERE IS
INCREASING SOCIAL MOBILITY
BUT, IN GENERAL, A
SURPRISING NUMBER OF PEOPLE
KNOW THEIR PLACE AND ARE
HAPPY IN THEIR PLACE.
NO NORTH AMERICA I HAVE EVER
MET, CANADIAN OR FROM THE
STATES, WOULD EVER DESCRIBE
HIMSELF AS A PEASANT, BUT
THE FACT IS THAT A SMALL
FRENCH FARMER WOULD HAVE
NO DIFFICULTY DESCRIBING
HIMSELF AS A PEASANT.
JUST AS A SHOPKEEPER WOULD
BE PERFECTLY HAPPY TO SEE
HIMSELF AS A MEMBER OF
THE PETITE BOURGEOISIE.
FRENCH SOCIETY, ACCORDING TO
MURIEL BARBERY, AND I THINK
SHE IS RIGHT, IS AS
SYMMETRICAL AS A FRENCH GARDEN.
AND IT ALL COMES FROM
DESCARTES AND THE
CARTESIAN TRADITION.
NOW BECAUSE A PARISIAN
CONCIERGE PLAYS SUCH AN
IMPORTANT ROLE IN THE NOVEL,
WE SHOULD, PERHAPS, REMIND
OURSELVES OF WHAT A PARISIAN
CONCIERGE IS SEEN TO BE
BY PARISIAN SOCIETY.
NOW, THE CONCIERGE IN THIS
NOVEL IS NOT WHAT MOST OF US
NORTH AMERICANS ARE USED TO,
THE VERY HELPFUL PERSON AT
THE FRONT DESK
OF A GOOD HOTEL.
RENEE MICHEL AND THE OTHER
CONCIERGE COME FROM A
DIFFERENT TRADITION.
PARIS IS, OR
WAS, FULL OF
SMALL APARTMENT BUILDINGS
WHERE THE OCCUPANTS
OWN THEIR APARTMENTS.
THE FRENCH CALL
THEM HOTEL PARTICULIERS.
THERE IS ALWAYS, OR THERE
WAS
ALWAYS, JUST INSIDE THE
FRONT DOOR, A SMALL
APARTMENT FOR THE CONCIERGE
WITH A LARGE WINDOW THROUGH
WHICH YOU CAN SEE THE
CONCIERGE'S LIVING ROOM,
AND THROUGH WHICH, THE
OTHER WAY, THE CONCIERGE
CAN MONITOR THE COMINGS AND
GOINGS OF ANYONE COMING
OR LEAVING THE BUILDING.
THE CONCIERGE IS RESPONSIBLE
FOR RECEIVING PARCELS, THE
MAIL, RESPONSIBLE FOR THE
PUBLIC AREAS, RESPONSIBLE
FOR A GARDEN,
IF THERE IS ONE.
BUT EACH OWNER OF AN
APARTMENT IS RESPONSIBLE
FOR HIS OR HER
OWN MAINTENANCE.
PEARL AND I USED TO
VISIT PARIS VERY OFTEN.
WE ALWAYS STAYED IN SMALL
HOTELS IN PARIS, AND I USED
TO LIKE TO GET UP VERY
EARLY, BEFORE 7 O'CLOCK,
AND WATCH THE SQUARE OUTSIDE.
AND AT 7 O'CLOCK IN THE
MORNING, IT WAS LIKE...
IT WAS A ROUTINE.
AT 7 O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING,
EVERY DOOR WOULD OPEN,
AND OUT WOULD COME
A LITTLE LADY.
SHE WOULD ALWAYS BE
WEARING A CARDIGAN.
SHE WOULD ALWAYS STOOP.
SHE WOULD ALWAYS BE
WEARING SLIPPERS.
SHE WOULD TAKE THE SHUTTERS
OFF THE BUILDING, AND THEN
SHE WOULD PAD IN.
AND THOSE WERE THE
CONCIERGE OF PARIS.
A DYING BREED,
I AM TOLD.
THE INHABITANTS OF THE
BUILDING WOULD HAVE A NARROW
VISION OF WHAT A
CONCIERGE SHOULD BE.
THE CONCIERGE SHOULD BE
OF THE PEASANT CLASS.
HONEST, BUT WITH LITTLE
OR NO FORMAL EDUCATION.
THEIR TASTES,
IN ALL THINGS,
SHOULD BE UNSOPHISTICATED,
UNREFINED.
THE SIMPLE TASTES OF
THEIR PEASANT CLASS.
ANYTHING ELSE WOULD DISTURB
THE CARTESIAN ORDER OF SOCIETY.
AS RENEE MICHEL, OUR
CONCIERGE, REMARKS LATE
IN THE NOVEL, QUOTE,
NOBODY LIKES A CONCIERGE
WHO PUTS ON AIRS.
AND NOW, PERHAPS, WE SHOULD
MEET THIS PARTICULAR
CONCIERGE, RENEE MICHEL.
THE CONCIERGE AT NUMBER
SEVEN RUE DE GRENELLE, WHO
WATCHES OVER THE EIGHT
FAMILIES WHO LIVE ABOVE HER.
ALL OF THEM MEMBERS
OF THE HAUTE BOURGEOISIE,
THE UPPER MIDDLE CLASS.
SHE INTRODUCES HERSELF.
MY NAME IS RENEE.
I AM 54 YEARS OLD.
FOR 27 YEARS, I HAVE BEEN THE
CONCIERGE AT RUE DE GRENELLE.
NUMBER SEVEN.
I AM A WIDOW.
I AM SHORT, UGLY, AND PLUMP.
I DID NOT GO TO COLLEGE.
I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN POOR,
DISCREET, AND INSIGNIFICANT.
I CORRESPOND VERY WELL TO
WHAT SOCIAL PREJUDICE HAS
COLLECTIVELY CONSTRUED TO BE
A TYPICAL FRENCH CONCIERGE.
AND THEN, AT THE
SAME TIME, SHE MAKES
A STARTLING ANNOUNCEMENT.
HER BELIEF THAT
LIFE HAS NO MEANING,
THAT EXISTENCE IS POINTLESS.
AND THAT ANNOUNCEMENT IS
EVEN MORE STARTLING BECAUSE
IT IS COUCHED IN THE
MOST REFINED, POLISHED,
EXQUISITE LANGUAGE THAT I HAVE
SEEN IN RECENT LITERATURE.
AND WHAT WE SOON LEARN IS
THAT MADAM RENEE MICHEL
HAS BEEN, SINCE HER CHILDHOOD,
A PASSIONATE AUTODIDACT.
SOMEONE WHO SEEKS, BY
HERSELF, TO LEARN AND
TO STUDY, AND TO
UNDERSTAND ALL THINGS.
IN RENEE MICHEL'S CASE,
IT HAS REALLY BEEN A LONG
JOURNEY TO PROVE
HERSELF WRONG.
TO FIND A REASON
FOR LIVING,
TO FIND A PURPOSE
FOR EXISTENCE.
WE LEARN LATE IN THE NOVEL
THAT RENEE MICHEL WAS BORN
TO A PEASANT FAMILY.
I QUOTE HER, WE LIVED AS
PEOPLE DID DURING FEUDAL
TIMES, WITHOUT
AMENITIES OR HOPE.
SO ENTRENCHED WAS OUR BELIEF
THAT WE WOULD ALWAYS BE
BACKWARD PEASANTS.
SHE REALIZED, AS A CHILD, IN
A FAMILY WHO RARELY SPOKE,
THAT SHE WAS
EXCEPTIONALLY INTELLIGENT,
EXCEPTIONALLY GIFTED.
BUT SHE REALIZED ALSO THAT
SHE WAS DOOMED IF SHE EVER
SOUGHT TO MAKE SOMETHING OF
HERSELF, TO MAKE GOOD USE
OF HER MIND IN
DEFIANCE OF HER CLASS.
NO ONE WOULD ACCEPT HER.
I QUOTE HER, AS I COULD
NOT CEASE TO BE WHO I WAS,
IT BECAME CLEAR TO ME THAT MY
PATH WOULD BE ONE OF SECRECY.
I HAD TO KEEP SILENT
ABOUT WHO I WAS.
AND FROM BEING SILENT, I
THEN BECAME CLANDESTINE.
TO BE CLANDESTINE MEANT
TO HIDE FROM THE WORLD.
TO HIDE FROM THE WORLD HER
FEVERISH SEARCH FOR MEANING,
HER NEED TO READ, TO LISTEN
TO MUSIC, TO LOOK AT
PAINTINGS, TO STUDY
PHILOSOPHY, IN SHORT, TO
STUDY EVERY ASPECT OF
HUMANKIND'S CREATIVE ABILITY.
TO TRY TO FIND SOME
UNDERLYING MEANING, SOME
UNIFYING MEANING, THAT
WOULD POINT TO A REASON
FOR EXISTENCE.
AS SHE SAYS, RENEE, THERE
WAS ONLY ONE THING I WANTED
TO BE LEFT ALONE WITHOUT TOO
MANY DEMANDS UPON MY PERSON.
SO THAT FOR A FEW MINUTES
EACH DAY, I MIGHT BE
ALLOWED TO
ASSUAGE MY HUNGER.
A HUNGER FOR BOOKS,
FOR ART, FOR MUSIC,
FOR SPECULATIVE THOUGHT.
SHE LEFT SCHOOL AT 12
IN THE FAMILY TRADITION.
AT SCHOOL, SHE WAS FAR
AHEAD OF HER PEERS.
SHE WAS DEVOURING BOOKS
WHILE HER CLASSMATES WERE
STRUGGLING WITH
THE ALPHABET.
BUT SHE TOOK GREAT
PAINS TO CONCEAL HER
REMARKABLE INTELLECT.
SHE WANTED, EVEN AT THAT
YOUNG AGE, NOT TO BE NOTICED.
IN ONE THING
SHE WAS LUCKY.
SHE HAD RESIGNED HERSELF
TO A LIFE OF CELIBACY,
TO A LIFE OF LONELINESS.
BUT WHEN SHE WAS 20, A YOUNG
MAN WHO WORKED WITH HER
BROTHERS IN A FACTORY
CAME AND PROPOSED TO HER.
AND I FIND HIS
PROPOSAL VERY CHARMING.
IT CERTAINLY SURPRISED
RENEE MICHEL.
HE SAID, QUOTE, RENEE, I
DON'T WANT MY WIFE TO BE
ONE OF THOSE GIDDY YOUNG
THINGS WHO RUN WILD AND
HAVE NO MORE BRAIN
THAN A SPARROW.
I WANT A WOMAN WHO IS LOYAL,
A GOOD WIFE, GOOD MOTHER,
GOOD HOUSEKEEPER.
I WANT A CALM AND STEADY
COMPANION WHO WILL STAY BY
MY SIDE AND SUPPORT ME.
AND IN EXCHANGE, YOU CAN
EXPECT ME TO BE A SERIOUS
WORKER, A CALM MAN AT HOME,
AND A TENDER HUSBAND
AT THE RIGHT MOMENT.
I'M NOT A BAD SORT.
AND I'LL DO MY BEST.
AND HE DID.
RENEE CONTINUES, I CAN
FAIRLY ASSERT THAT OUR
MARRIAGE WAS A SUCCESS.
WITH MY HUSBAND,
I WAS MYSELF.
I CAN THINK BACK TO OUR
LITTLE SUNDAY MORNINGS
WITH NOSTALGIA.
MORNINGS BLESSED WITH
RESTFULNESS, WHEREIN THE
SILENT KITCHEN HE WOULD
DRINK HIS COFFEE,
AND I WOULD READ.
AND THEN LUCIEN AND RENEE
CAME TO PARIS, WHERE THEY
BECAME THE CONCIERGES
AT NUMBER SEVEN RUE DE
GRENELLE, IN THE CHIC
SEVENTH ARRONDISSEMENT,
THERE IS, BY THE WAY, I
CHECKED, NUMBER SEVEN RUE
DE GRENELLE IN PARIS.
IT'S A PRADA STORE.

[laughter]

Robert continues HA!
AFTER TEN YEARS, LUCIEN
DIES, AND RENEE IS STILL
BITTER WHEN WE MEET HER
17 YEARS LATER AT THE
INDIFFERENCE OF THE HAUTE
BOURGEOISIE ON THE UPPER
FLOORS TO LUCIEN'S
ILLNESS AND HIS DEATH.
I QUOTE HER, FOR THE
APARTMENT OWNERS, LUCIEN
WAS A NON-ENTITY, WHO WAS
MERELY RETURNING TO A
NOTHINGNESS FROM WHICH HE
HAD NEVER FULLY EMERGED.
AND THE DEATH OF HER HUSBAND
SERVED ONLY TO INTENSIFY
RENEE MICHEL'S WITHDRAWAL
INTO HERSELF BEHIND THE
FACADE OF THE PERSONA
SHE HAD CREATED.
SHE HAS GONE TO GREAT PAINS
TO INVENT THE FACADE OF
PEASANT STUPIDITY
BEHIND WHICH SHE HIDES.
SHE WEARS SLIPPERS.
SHE CALLS THEM
HER CAMOUFLAGE.
SHE DOES NOTHING
FOR HER APPEARANCE.
SHE INTENSIFIES HER
NATURAL SLIGHT STOOP.
WHEN SHE GOES OUT ON HER
SURREPTITIOUS VISITS TO THE
MUSEUMS, THE ART GALLERIES,
THE OPERA, THE CONCERTS,
THE LIBRARIES, THE
BOOKSTORES, SHE ALWAYS
RETURNS WITH SHOPPING BAGS
FULL OF TURNIPS, AND THICK
SLICES OF HAM.
TYPICAL PEASANT FARE.
SHE CALLS THEM HER
'PAUPER VICTUALS'.
BUT BENEATH THE PEASANT
FOOD LIE JAPANESE TEAS,
EXQUISITE PASTRIES, RARE
SPICES AND, ABOVE ALL, BOOKS.
THE HAM SHE
GIVES TO HER CAT.
EVERY CONCIERGE HAS A CAT.
SHE CALLS HER CAT LEO.
THAT'S AFTER LEO TOLSTOY.
THE DELICACIES SHE BRINGS
IN AT THE BOTTOM OF HER
SHOPPING BAGS, SHE SHARES
IN THE BACK ROOM OF HER
LODGE WITH HER FRIEND,
MANUELA, A PORTUGUESE CLEANING
LADY WHO CLEANS FOR SOME OF
THE EIGHT FAMILIES UPSTAIRS.
IN MANUELA, RENEE MICHEL
HAS FOUND A KINDRED SPIRIT.
MANUELA, ONE OF 14 CHILDREN,
HAS NO FORMAL EDUCATION.
SHE DOES NOT READ LIKE
RENEE, BUT SHE HAS AN
INNATE GOOD TASTE THAT
ENDEARS HER TO THE CONCIERGE.
RENEE IS NO SNOB.
RENEE CALLS HER FRIEND
A NATURAL ARISTOCRAT.
AND TOGETHER, OVER THE
JAPANESE TEAS AND THE
DELICATE PASTRIES, THEY POKE
FUN AT THE VULGARITY OF
THE HAUTE BOURGEOISIE
WHO LIVE ABOVE THEM.
WHO NEVER SAY THANK YOU
FOR SERVICES RENDERED.
WHO WOULD NOT RECOGNIZE
EITHER OF THEM IF THEY MET
THEM ON THE STREET
OUTSIDE THEIR CONTEXT.
RENEE DESCRIBES HER FRIEND
MANUELA AS, QUOTE, A WOMAN
WHO IS NEVER SULLIED BY
VULGARITY, ALTHOUGH SHE
MAY BE SURROUNDED BY IT.
I FOUND MANUELA A
FASCINATING, COMPLETELY
REALIZED SECONDARY
CHARACTER.
SHE LOVES TO TAKE REFUGE IN
RENEE'S BACK LIVING ROOM,
WHERE, AS RENEE SAYS, I
QUOTE, SHE CAN ESCAPE HER
VULGAR EMPLOYERS AND
HER VULGAR IN-LAWS.
WHO, WITH THEIR LOUD
LAUGHTER, MUFFLE THE PAIN
OF BEING BORN
WITHOUT PROSPECTS.
I THOUGHT THAT INSIGHT
OF RENEE'S REMARKABLE.
QUITE BRILLIANT.
IT EXPLAINED TO ME SOMETHING
THAT HAD ALWAYS PUZZLED ME.
WHY POOR PEOPLE ALWAYS
LAUGH VERY LOUDLY.
HAVE YOU NOTICED?
THEY ALWAYS LAUGH
VERY LOUDLY.
I LOVED THE PITHINESS
OF RENEE'S COMMENT.
IT IS TO MUFFLE THE PAIN
OF BEING POOR AND WEAK.
THAT LIVING ROOM OF RENEE
MICHEL'S, BEHIND THE FRONT
ROOM INTO WHICH EVERYONE CAN
SEE, IS A PLACE OF WONDER.
IN THAT BACK ROOM, THAT
SECRET ROOM, RENEE CAN
PRACTICE, FOR EXAMPLE, THE
JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY.
SHE HAS STUDIED IT, AS SHE HAS
STUDIED ALL THINGS JAPANESE.
SHE QUOTES TO HERSELF FROM
KAKURO'S BOOK OF TEA.
I QUOTE, WHEN TEA BECOMES
RITUAL, IT TAKES ITS PLACE
IN OUR ABILITY TO SEE
GREATNESS IN SMALL THINGS.
IN HER FRONT ROOM, WITH THE
BIG OPEN WINDOW, RENEE HAS
A TV PERMANENTLY TUNED
INTO DAYTIME SOAP OPERAS.
YOU KNOW THE KIND.
AS THE STOMACH TURNS...

[laughter]

Robert continues THE YOUNG AND THE STUPID.
SOAP OPERAS AND THE LIKE,
PROGRAMS THAT HER PASSERSBY
WOULD EXPECT A
CONCIERGE TO WATCH.
BUT IN THAT MAGIC BACK
LIVING ROOM, SHE HAS
DIFFERENT MACHINES.
SHE CAN LISTEN TO OPERA.
SHE CAN LISTEN TO MAHLER.
SHE CAN WATCH ON HER VCR
HER BELOVED JAPANESE FILMS.
SHE IS PARTICULARLY FOND OF
THE FILMS OF YASUJIRO OZU,
PARTICULARLY THAT FILM, I
KNOW IT,
THE MUNEKATA SISTERS.
THERE IS ONE SCENE, I QUOTE,
THE CAMELLIA, AGAINST THE
MOSS OF THE TEMPLE, THE
VIOLET HUES OF THE KYOTO
MOUNTAINS, A BLUE
PORCELAIN CUP.
THE CONTEMPLATION OF
ETERNITY WITHIN THE VERY
MOVEMENT OF LIFE.
BUT SHE IS NO
INTELLECTUAL SNOB.
SHE ADORES SEAN CONNERY.
SHE WONDERS WHY AT THE
UNIVERSITIES THE PROFESSORS
TEACH NARRATIVE FROM
PRETENTIOUS, INTELLECTUALLY
SNOBBISH TEXTS, WHEN, AS SHE
SAYS, I QUOTE HER, ALL YOU
NEED TO TEACH PREMISE, PLOT,
QUEST, HERO, IS SEAN CONNERY.

[laughter]

Robert continues AND A FEW WELL-PLACED
AIRCRAFT CARRIERS.
SHE IS THINKING OF
RED
OCTOBER,
WHICH SHE FINDS
ONE OF THE GREATEST
NARRATIVES IN THE WORLD.
I WOULD AGREE.
SHE READS PHILOSOPHY AS PART
OF HER SEARCH FOR A MEANING
TO EXISTENCE.
SHE HAS MASTERED RENE
DESCARTES AND THE 17th CENTURY.
BUT SHE CANNOT ACCEPT
DESCARTES' PURELY ANALYTICAL
HIERARCHICAL APPROACH.
SHE HAS MASTERED
IMMANUEL KANT.
A FEAT AT WHICH I
GASP IN ADMIRATION.
TWICE IN MY LIFE I HAVE
TRIED TO COME TO TERMS WITH
HIS 1781
CRITIQUE OF PURE
REASON, AND ALL I COULD
COME OUT WITH IS HE IS
DIFFERENT FROM DESCARTES.

[laughter]

Robert continues IT SEEMS TO ME, AND TO
MURIEL BARBERY, THAT WHAT
KANT ARGUES IN HIS
CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON,
IS THAT SINCE OUR MIND
PERCEIVES AN OBJECT,
ALL WE CAN REALLY KNOW
IS THE RELATIONSHIP
BETWEEN OUR MIND
AND THE OBJECT.
AND THAT'S ALL
WE CAN KNOW.
SHE SPENDS A MONTH ON A
MODERN, NEO KANTIAN,
EDMUND HUSSERL, BUT SHE
FINALLY REJECTS HUSSERL
AS A NEO KANTIAN.
SHE SAYS, IF NOTHING EXISTS
EXCEPT OUR PERCEPTION OF IT,
AS KANT ARGUED IN
CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON,
AND HUSSERL ARGUED IN THE
20th CENTURY, THEN RENEE
ARGUES, I THINK RIGHTLY,
THAT WHAT WE ARE LEFT WITH IS
A SOLITARY ENDLESS
MONOLOGUE OF CONSCIOUSNESS.
I'M LOOKING AT THE OBJECT,
I'M SEEING THE OBJECT.
I'M LOOKING AT THE OBJECT,
I'M SEEING THE OBJECT.
IT'S AN ENDLESS
MONOLOGUE OF CONSCIOUSNESS
WHICH LEADS NOWHERE.
SHE CALLS KANT AND
ALL HIS LATER FOLLOWERS,
HARDCORE AUTISM.
AND THAT SOUNDS TO ME VERY
MUCH LIKE THE OPINION
OF MURIEL BARBERY.
FINALLY, FINALLY, IN HER
PHILOSOPHICAL SPECULATION,
SHE'S TORN BETWEEN
TWO PHILOSOPHIES.
THE FIRST I'VE ALWAYS
FOUND ATTRACTIVE IS THAT OF
WILLIAM OF OCKHAM, THE
14th CENTURY BRITISH
ENGLISH FRANCISCAN MONK.
HIS WAS ESSENTIALLY A
PRAGMATIC APPROACH.
WILLIAM OF OCKHAM ARGUED
THAT WHEN WE CONSIDER A
PROBLEM, AN OBJECT, WHEN
WE CONSIDER ANYTHING,
WE SHOULD FIRST STRIP AWAY
ALL THE INESSENTIALS.
WE SHOULD TRY TO GET TO
THE HEART OF THE MATTER.
WE SHOULD NOT WASTE TIME
ANALYZING THAT WHICH
IS IRRELEVANT.
THAT PRINCIPLE OF ANALYSIS
WE CALL OCKHAM'S RAZOR.
GET RID OF ALL THE
SUPERFICIALITY.
GET TO THE HEART
OF THE MATTER.
HE BELIEVED THAT THE
SIMPLEST EXPLANATION OF
ANYTHING IS PROBABLY
THE CORRECT ONE.
HE ALSO BELIEVED IN
SINGULARITY, OR NOMINALISM.
THAT IS THAT EACH
OBJECT IS UNIQUE.
THAT IF I LOOK AT A TABLE,
IF I LOOK AT A TABLE,
THIS TABLE IS UNIQUE.
IT HAS NO RELATIONSHIP TO
ANY OTHER TABLE EXCEPT
THEY MIGHT LOOK SIMILAR.
IT'S CALLED SINGULARITY.
AND THAT PUTS WILLIAM OF
OCKHAM IN OPPOSITION TO THE
2,000-YEAR EARLIER
PHILOSOPHER PLATO, WHO
BELIEVED THAT EACH TABLE IS
AN IMPERFECT REALIZATION OF
SOME IDEAL TABLE IN
ANOTHER DIMENSION.
AND THAT ALL TABLES
ARE CONNECTED.
THAT THERE IS AN UNDERLYING
UNIVERSALITY WHICH WE CAN
ONLY DIMLY PERCEIVE LIKE
SHADOWS ON THE WALL OF A CAVE.
IT'S A FASCINATING DEBATE.
AND ANYBODY WHO HAS TAKEN
PHILOSOPHY 101 AT UNIVERSITY
HAS GONE THROUGH IT.
BUT... BUT ALTHOUGH RENEE IS
INCLINED TO PLATO'S VIEW
THAT THERE IS IN EVERY
OBJECT AN ESSENCE WHICH
RELATES IT TO OTHER
OBJECTS, ALTHOUGH SHE SAYS WE CANNOT PERCEIVE THIS
UNIVERSALITY DIRECTLY,
IT DOESN'T REALLY GET HER
ANY CLOSER TO A MEANING FOR
EXISTENCE, A REASON
TO GO ON LIVING.
IT'S AN INTERESTING
PHILOSOPHIC DEBATE,
SINGULARITY, WILLIAM OF
OCKHAM, UNIVERSALITY, PLATO.
BUT IT DOESN'T
GET US ANYWHERE.
MEANWHILE, THIS WOMAN AND
HER INCREDIBLE SELF-TAUGHT
SCHOLARSHIP MUST
REMAIN HIDDEN.
BUT THERE ARE PITFALLS.
IT ISN'T ALWAYS
EASY TO HIDE.
SOMETIMES SHE IS PROVOKED.
THERE IS ONE TENANT, ONE OF
THE EIGHT FAMILIES LIVING
ABOVE HER, SABINE PALLIERES,
WHO SENDS A NOTE DOWN TO HER.
AND THE NOTE HAS A
PUNCTUATION MISTAKE.
AND RENEE MICHEL
GOES BALLISTIC.
THE NOTE READS, I QUOTE THE
NOTE, MADAM MICHEL, WOULD
YOU BE SO KIND AS, COMMA,
TO SIGN FOR THE PACKAGES
FROM THE DRY CLEANERS
THIS AFTERNOON.
AND THAT MISPLACED COMMA,
RENEE FINDS UNFORGIVABLE.
IF SABINE PALLIERES WERE POOR,
AN IMMIGRANT FROM ANOTHER
COUNTRY, ANOTHER CULTURE,
THEN RENEE COULD FORGIVE.
BUT, AND I QUOTE RENEE,
SABINE PALLIERES IS THE
WIFE OF A BIG WIG IN
THE ARMS INDUSTRY.
SABINE PALLIERES IS THE
MOTHER OF A CRETIN, WHO
ONCE HE HAS OBTAINED HIS
POLITICAL SCIENCE DEGREE,
WILL GO ON TO DISSEMINATE
THE MEDIOCRITY OF HIS
PALTRY IDEAS IN A
RIGHT WING CABINET.
AND MOREOVER, SABINE
PALLIERES IS THE DAUGHTER
OF A WOMAN IN A FUR COAT,
WHO IS ALWAYS SO OVERLOADED
WITH JEWELS THAT I FEAR SHE
WILL COLLAPSE FROM THE WEIGHT.
WHAT A LOVELY
PIECE OF INVECTIVE.
LOVELY, LOVELY, LOVELY.
AND, OF COURSE,
SHE IS RIGHT.
AS SHE ARGUES, AS RENEE
ARGUES, THOSE WHO ARE BORN
TO HIGH PRIVILEGE HAVE A
DUTY TO RESPECT THE BEAUTY
OF LANGUAGE.
FATE HAS SPARED THEM FROM
THE SERVITUDE OF THE POOR.
I QUOTE RENEE, FOR THOSE
WHO HAVE BEEN FAVOURED BY
LIFE'S INDULGENCE, RIGOROUS
RESPECT IN MATTERS OF
BEAUTY IS A
NON-NEGOTIABLE REQUIREMENT.
WHEN SABINE PALLIERES, SHE
OF THE MISPLACED COMMA,
WHEN HER SON CONDESCENDS,
FOR A MOMENT, TO THE DUMPY
LITTLE CONCIERGE, THIS
LITTLE UNIVERSITY CRETIN
SPEAKS TO HER, AND HE SAYS,
OH, MADAM, MADAM, I'VE JUST
READ MARX'S
DAS KAPITAL.
AND IT HAS CHANGED FOREVER
THE WAY I SEE THE WORLD.
AND MADAM MICHEL SAYS,
REALLY, THEN OF COURSE
YOU WILL HAVE TO READ
THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY.
AND YOU MUSTN'T FORGET HIS
11th THESIS ON FEUERBACH.
AND THE LITTLE
KID GOES BUG-EYED.
MARX'S GERMAN IDEOLOGY
IS OF COURSE AN ALMOST
BUDDHIST-LIKE TRACT IN
WHICH MARX SAID THAT WE MUST
TRY TO CREATE A WORLD IN
WHICH DESIRE IS SUPPRESSED,
AND WE METE GENUINE NEED.
SHE SAYS ALL THIS TO THE KID
KNOWING THAT HE IS TOO STUPID
TO UNDERSTAND HER, SO HE
IS INCAPABLE OF REPEATING
WHAT SHE SAID.
NOW, THAT'S A LITTLE GAME.
BUT WITH BRIGHTER PEOPLE,
SHE CAN'T PLAY THOSE GAMES.
SHE ALMOST MAKES A SERIOUS
MISTAKE WHEN PIERRE ARTHENS,
THE FOOD CRITIC'S DOCTOR
COMES TO TELL HER THAT THE
FOOD CRITIC HAS DIED.
SHE CAN'T RESIST SAYING
EVERYTHING COMES AT ITS
APPOINTED TIME.
NOW, THAT'S A QUOTATION
FROM
WAR AND PEACE.
IT'S WHAT MARSHAL KUTUZOV
SAYS TO PRINCE ANDRE.
AND IT STRIKES A CHORD WITH
THE DOCTOR WHO LOOKS AT HER
VERY FUNNY.
BUT THEN SHE DUMBS DOWN
IMMEDIATELY, AND THE MOMENT
PASSES, AND SHE IS SAFE.
HER SECRET SUPREMELY
INTELLIGENT AND WELL-READ
SELF, WILL HOWEVER BE
DISCOVERED, AND THAT
DISCOVERY WILL BE MADE
BY A 12-YEAR-OLD CHILD.
AND THAT 12-YEAR-OLD CHILD IS
A LITTLE GIRL, PALOMA JOSSE,
WHO LIVES ON THE FIFTH
FLOOR WITH HER FAMILY,
INCLUDING HER OLDER
SISTER, COLOMBE.
FOR THE 12 YEARS OF PALOMA'S
LIFE, THE CONCIERGE HAS
ONLY BEEN VAGUELY AWARE OF
HER PASSING IN FRONT OF THE
BIG WINDOW, THE FRONT DOOR.
IF RENEE THINKS OF THE
CHILD AT ALL, IT WOULD BE,
I QUOTE RENEE, OF A CHILD
DISCREET AND DIAPHANOUS.
HARDLY THERE AT ALL.
AND IN THAT SELF-EFFACEMENT
BECAUSE THE 12-YEAR-OLD IS
DISCREET, THERE IS A
BEAUTIFUL PARALLEL BETWEEN
HER AND RENEE MICHEL,
BETWEEN THE 12-YEAR-OLD
AND THE 54-YEAR-OLD.
BUT WE, THE READERS, ALREADY
KNOW A GREAT DEAL ABOUT
PALOMA JOSSE.
FROM THE VERY BEGINNING OF
THE NOVEL SHE HAS HAD HER
OWN CHAPTERS ALTERNATING
WITH THOSE OF THE CONCIERGE.
WE KNOW THAT PALOMA IS 12
YEARS OLD AND HAS DECIDED
TO COMMIT SUICIDE ON
HER 13th BIRTHDAY.
SHE'S BEEN STEALING THE
NECESSARY SLEEPING PILLS
FROM HER MOTHER.
SHE HAS ALSO DECIDED THAT
JUST BEFORE HER SUICIDE,
SHE WILL BURN DOWN THE
APARTMENT BUILDING.
WHY?
AND THAT'S A VERY
GOOD QUESTION.
PALOMA LIVES WITH HER
FATHER, HER MOTHER, AND
OLDER SISTER, UNIVERSITY
SISTER, COLOMBE, AND TWO CATS.
AND SHE SCRUTINIZES ALL OF
THEM WITH THE INTENSITY OF
AN INCREDIBLY INTELLIGENT
PRE-PUBERTY 12-YEAR-OLD.
HER MOTHER, SABINE
PALLIERES, WHO CAN'T
PUNCTUATE, IS A
PROZAC-POPPING, PhD IN
LITERATURE, BORED, SPENDS
MOST OF HER TIME WATERING
EXPENSIVE HOUSEPLANTS, AND
QUOTING STANDAL AND FLAUBERT.
INTELLECTUALLY, SHE IS
SOCIALIST, LIKE HER HUSBAND,
MEMBER OF THE FRENCH
PARLIAMENT, A FORMER MINISTER.
BUT HER SOCIALISM IS OF
THE THEORETICAL VARIETY.
SHE WOULDN'T DREAM, FOR
EXAMPLE, OF HAVING A
CONVERSATION WITH HER
CONCIERGE OR HER CLEANING LADY.
NOR WOULD PALOMA'S MOTHER
DREAM OF TAKING TEA AND
PASTRY AT ANYWHERE
EXCEPT ANGELINA'S.
ANGELINA'S IS A REAL
PARISIAN LANDMARK ON THE
RUE DU RIVOLI.
PALOMA, I THINK,
GETS IT RIGHT.
PALOMA DESCRIBING HER MOTHER
AND THE OTHER PATRONS OF
ANGELINA, QUOTE, IT'S
SYMBOLIC, WHEN YOU GO TO
HAVE TEA AND OVERPRICED
PATISSERIE, CHEZ ANGELINA,
YOU ARE IN FRANCE.
IN A WORLD THAT IS WEALTHY,
HIERARCHICAL, RATIONAL,
AND CARTESIAN.
THE LITTLE GIRL, PALOMA,
DOES AN EQUALLY LOVELY, AND
I THINK ACCURATE JOB
ON NOUVELLE CUISINE.
SHE DESCRIBES IT AS, I
QUOTE, THREE STYLIZED
RADISHES, AND TWO SCALLOPS
IN SEAWEED, SERVED ON
PSEUDO ZEN PLATES BY
WAITERS WHO LOOK AS JOYFUL
AS UNDERTAKERS.

[laughter]

Robert continues SHE LISTENS TO GUESTS AT
HER PARENTS' DINNER TABLE
LAMENT THE LOSS OF THE
DREAMS OF THEIR YOUTH.
BUT THEY DO NOTHING ABOUT
IT EXCEPT REVEL IN THEIR
FASHIONABLE CYNICISM.
SHE FINDS THEM PRETENTIOUS,
TRYING TO HIDE THE FACT
THAT THERE IS NO
MEANING IN THEIR LIVES.
SOMETIMES, THEIR PRETENSIONS
ARE TOO MUCH FOR HER.
ONE OF THE DINNER GUESTS,
A FILMMAKER, IS ABOUT TO
PRODUCE A DOCUMENTARY ON
THE JAPANESE GAME GO.
BUT PALOMA, THE 12-YEAR-OLD,
NOTICES THAT HE GETS THE
RULES WRONG.
AND THAT HE DOESN'T KNOW
THAT GO WAS INVENTED
BY THE CHINESE.
SHE POINTS OUT THE ERRORS,
AND SHE IS DISMISSED FROM
THE TABLE.
IT'S ONE OF THE FEW TIMES
SHE MAKES A MISTAKE AND
COMES OUT OF HIDING
BECAUSE HIDE SHE DOES.
SHE'S 12 YEARS OLD,
AND SHE IS BRILLIANT.
AND LIKE RENEE MICHEL, SHE
KNOWS SHE WOULD NOT EASILY
BE ACCEPTED IN THE
HIERARCHICAL WORLD IN WHICH
THEY BOTH LIVE.
SO SHE HIDES HER
EXTRAORDINARY INTELLIGENCE
BEHIND A MASK
OF MEDIOCRITY.
AS SHE SAYS, EVERY DAY I
DO SOMETHING SO THAT MY
SISTER COLOMBE WILL
THINK I'M A RETARD.
SHE DOES THE SAME
THING AT SCHOOL.
SHE IS FAR, FAR AHEAD
OF HER CLASSMATES.
EVEN WITH THE PRETENSE OF
STUPIDITY, SHE CAN'T AVOID
COMING FIRST.
BUT THE ONLY EFFORT SHE
MAKES IS TO COPY THE NOTES
OF THE GIRL WHO
USUALLY COMES SECOND.
AND THAT'S ENOUGH.
BUT SHE'S ONLY 12.
AND SHE IS NOT AS GOOD AS
HER ADULT COUNTERPART,
RENEE MICHEL, AT
HIDING HER REAL SELF.
AND SOMETIMES SHE CAN'T...
SHE CAN'T CONTROL HERSELF.
ONE EXAMPLE IS WHEN HER
TEACHER TELLS THE CLASS THAT
GRAMMAR EXISTS SO THAT
WE CAN SPEAK NICELY.
PALOMA CAN'T
RESTRAIN HERSELF.
SHE SAYS TO THE TEACHER, I
QUOTE HER, GRAMMAR IS AN END
IN ITSELF, AND NOT
SIMPLY A MEANS.
IT PROVIDES ACCESS
TO THE STRUCTURE
AND THE BEAUTY
OF LANGUAGE.
AND AFTER HER OUTBURST,
PALOMA FELT THE WORRIED
GAZE OF THE TEACHER.
JUST AS RENEE THE CONCIERGE
HAD THAT WORRIED GAZE FROM
THE DOCTOR WHEN SHE QUOTED
WAR AND PEACE, A SOCIAL
STRUCTURE BASED FIRMLY ON
CARTESIAN PRINCIPLES DOES NOT
EASILY TOLERATE 12-YEAR-OLD
CHILDREN OR CONCIERGES WHO
DO NOT CONFORM TO A
PREDETERMINED STEREOTYPE.
AS A MATTER OF FACT, SOMEONE
IN THE AUDIENCE SPOKE TO ME
ABOUT LANGUAGE BEFORE
AS WE ALL CAME IN.
HOW BEAUTIFUL WAS THE
LANGUAGE OF THE NOVEL.
AND I AGREED.
AND I THOUGHT I MIGHT INJECT
A PERSONAL WORD ON LANGUAGE.
AT MY HIGH SCHOOL, MY
GRAMMAR SCHOOL, IN SOUTH
WALES, IN MY LITTLE TOWN,
WHICH I LEFT WHEN I WAS 17
TO GO TO LONDON, I WAS
LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE AN
ENGLISH TEACHER, THE SAME
TEACHER FOR FOUR YEARS.
HIS NAME WAS BALL.
WE CALLED HIM BERTIE.
BERTIE BALL.
AND HE TAUGHT US THE
BEAUTY OF LANGUAGE.
I REMEMBER THAT EVERY MORNING
HE WOULD WRITE A SENTENCE
ON THE BOARD.
HE HAD ALREADY TAUGHT US
HOW TO PARSE, AND HOW TO
ANALYZE A SENTENCE
INTO ITS CLAUSES.
SO HE WOULD WRITE A
DIFFICULT SENTENCE.
I REMEMBER ONE.
IT WAS LADY MACBETH'S
REFLECTION, IF TO HAD DONE
WHEN 'TIS DONE, THEN TO
WELL IT WERE DONE QUICKLY.
AND AFTER WE HAD ANALYZED
IT, LITTLE WELSH BOYS, WE
MARVELED AT THE BEAUTY, THE
BEAUTY, THE PERFECTION OF
THE CONSTRUCTION.
NOW, I HAVE LOST TOUCH IN
THE LAST 50, 60 YEARS,
WITH MY SCHOOLMATES.
BUT I HAVE HEARD, I KNOW OF
AT LEAST THREE WHO BECAME
PROFESSORS OF LANGUAGE
AND-OR LITERATURE.
AND I THOUGHT THAT'S NOT
BAD FOR BOYS FROM A
LITTLE WELSH VILLAGE.
AND WE OWE IT ALL TO BERTIE
BALL WHO SHOWED US WHAT
PALOMA AND RENEE
UNDERSTAND, THAT LANGUAGE
IS BEAUTIFUL.
NOT AS A MEANS, BUT IT
IS IN ITSELF BEAUTIFUL.
AND PALOMA KNOWS IT,
AND RENEE KNOWS IT.
AT SCHOOL, PALOMA HAS ONE
GREAT FRIEND, MARGUERITE.
SHE'S A PARALLEL TO
RENEE'S FRIEND, MANUELA.
MARGUERITE IS OF FRENCH
AND NIGERIAN EXTRACTION.
AND SHE LOVES MARGUERITE
BECAUSE MARGUERITE RESPONDS
SO WITTILY TO THE RACIST
COMMENTS OF THEIR CLASSMATES.
AND BECAUSE MARGUERITE'S
FATHER, A NIGERIAN DIPLOMAT,
SEEMS TO LIKE WHAT HE DOES.
UNLIKE THE BORED,
FASHIONABLE CYNICISM OF
PALOMA'S OWN PARENTS.
I THOUGHT MURIEL BARBERY WAS
VERY WISE IN THE NOVEL TO
INTRODUCE THAT FRIENDSHIP
BETWEEN TWO LITTLE GIRLS.
BECAUSE WITH ALL OF PALOMA'S
ASTOUNDING INSIGHTS,
IT'S EASY TO FORGET SHE
IS ONLY 12 YEARS OLD.
AND MURIEL BARBERY ANCHORS
HER FIRMLY BACK IN REALITY
WHEN SHE HAS THE TWO LITTLE
GIRLS DISCUSS THE THINGS THAT
12-YEAR-OLD GIRLS DISCUSS.
THEY ARE FASCINATED IN
THE DETAILS OF THEIR
SCHOOLMATES' FAMILIES.
VERY UPPER CLASS SCHOOL.
WHO IS CHEATING ON WHO?
WHO IS ALCOHOLIC?
WHO IS IN REHAB?
WHO IS ANOREXIC?
AND ABOUT THIS GOSSIP,
PALOMA SAYS, THE MOST AWFUL
THING IS NOT THAT WE
ARE PLAYING THIS GAME,
BUT THAT IT ISN'T A GAME.
ALL SHE CAN THINK OF IS
THAT WHEN SHE WILL GROW UP,
SHE WILL HAVE NO CHANCE
BUT TO ENTER THIS VACUOUS,
HAUTE BOURGEOISIE EXISTENCE.
AND TO AVOID THAT AWFUL
FATE, SHE HAS DECIDED ON
SUICIDE, ON JUNE 16th,
THE DAY SHE WILL BE 13.
SHE HASN'T SUCCEEDED IN
FINDING A MEANING FOR
LIVING, A MEANING FOR
EXISTENCE, AND AGAIN WE
HAVE THE PARALLEL WITH THE
54-YEAR-OLD CONCIERGE.
AS AN AFTERTHOUGHT, PALOMA
DECIDES SHE WILL BURN DOWN
THE APARTMENT BUILDING TO
SHOW TO THE PEOPLE INSIDE
THE EMPTINESS OF
THEIR EXISTENCE.
THEY DON'T HAVE
REAL PROBLEMS.
THEY'RE ALL INSURED.
THEY'RE NOT STARVING
LIKE PEOPLE IN AFRICA.
IN THE MEANTIME, AS SHE
PREPARES FOR SUICIDE,
SHE KEEPS TWO
SECRET JOURNALS.
IN THE FIRST, SHE
RECORDS HER INSIGHTS.
IN THE SECOND, SHE DETAILS
AND MOCKS THE SHORTCOMINGS
OF THE SOCIETY AROUND HER.
HER PARENTS FIGURE VERY
LARGELY, AS DOES THE FOOD
SNOB, PIERRE ARTHENS, BUT HER
MAIN TARGET IN THAT SECOND
JOURNAL IS HER
SISTER, COLOMBE.
SHE SEES IN HER OLDER SISTER
A MIRROR OF THEIR PARENTS'
SHORTCOMINGS, ALSO A FORE
TASTE OF WHAT SHE MIGHT BECOME.
COLOMBE LIVES EVERY
CLICHE OF HER CLASS.
SHE AND HER UNIVERSITY
FRIENDS LIKE TO TALK AS IF
THEY WERE UNDERPRIVILEGED,
AS IF THEY WERE KIDS
FROM THE PROJECTS.
THEY WEAR TORN CLOTHES,
STAINED CLOTHES, ALTHOUGH
THOSE CLOTHES, TORN AND
STAINED, ARE BOUGHT TORN
AND STAINED FROM
EXCLUSIVE DESIGNERS.
YOU ALL KNOW
THE PHENOMENON.
RENEE IS ALSO
OFFENDED BY COLOMBE.
WHEN COLOMBE PARADES IN HER
STAINED AND TORN JEANS,
RENEE FINDS HER AFFECTATION
OF POVERTY INSULTING.
POOR PEOPLE WEAR TORN AND
STAINED CLOTHES BECAUSE
THEY HAVE NO CHOICE.
RENEE ALSO SEES, BY
ACCIDENT, PALOMA'S SISTER,
COLOMBE'S, MASTERS THESIS,
WITH HER ADVISOR'S NOTES.
IT'S DELIVERED IN AN
OPEN ENVELOPE TO THE
CONCIERGE'S LODGE.
AND SHE CAN'T
RESIST LOOKING IN.
AND WHEN SHE SEES THE TITLE,
SINGULARITY, WHICH IS
WILLIAM OF OCKHAM, OR
UNIVERSALITY, WHICH IS
PLATO, SHE REALIZES THAT
IT IS ESSENTIALLY THE SAME
WILLIAM OF OCKHAM VERSUS
PLATO DEBATE THAT HAS SO
INTERESTED HER ALL THIS
TIME, BUT A CURSORY READING
OF COLOMBE'S THESIS SHOWS
THAT THE CHILD HAS ONLY THE
MOST SUPERFICIAL GRASP
OF EITHER PHILOSOPHY.
AND SHE CONTINUES TO BE AN
OBJECT OF SCORN FOR BOTH
RENEE AND PALOMA.
NOW, PALOMA'S MOTHER SEES
HER DAUGHTER'S WITHDRAWAL,
I LOVE THIS, INTO A SECRET
WORLD AS RATHER WORRYING.
THE CHILD RARELY SPEAKS.
SO SHE SENDS PALOMA TO HER
OWN PSYCHOANALYST, FOR WHAT
IS FOR ME THE FUNNIEST
SCENE I HAVE READ
IN RECENT LITERATURE.
PALOMA'S MOTHER HAS BEEN
TEN YEARS IN ANALYSIS.
AND SELF-ABSORBED AND
NARCISSISTIC AS SHE IS,
SHE HAS REGALED THE FAMILY AT
THE DINNER TABLE WITH HER
EXPERIENCE WITH HER ANALYST.
AND PALOMA HAS A VERY FAIR
IDEA OF WHAT GOES ON.
AS PALOMA UNDERSTANDS IT,
AND AS MURIEL BARBERY
DESCRIBES IT, THE ANALYST'S
INTERVIEW GOES SOMETHING
LIKE THIS.
PALOMA'S MOTHER WOULD
SAY, I WENT TO LE NOTRE
WITH MY MOTHER.
AHA, YOUR MOTHER.
OR SHE WOULD SAY TO THE ANALYST,
I DO SO LIKE CHOCOLATE.
AHA, CHOCOLATE.
AND PALOMA'S INWARD
REFLECTION IS, I QUOTE,
IF THIS IS HOW IT IS,
I CAN SET UP SHOP
AS AN ANALYST TOMORROW.

[laughter]

Robert continues YOU MAY REMEMBER THERE WAS
A VERY SIMILAR SCENE IN
ROBERT DENIRO'S MOVIE
WITH BILLY CRYSTAL,
ANALYZE THIS.
ANYWAY, PALOMA IS
SENT TO THE ANALYST.
AND SHE PUTS IT TO
THE ANALYST DIRECTLY.
I LOVE THIS.
LISTEN CAREFULLY, SHE
SAYS TO THE ICY COLD,
PARISIAN PSYCHOLOGIST.
LISTEN CAREFULLY, Mr.
PERMAFROST PSYCHOLOGIST.
YOU AND I ARE GOING TO
STRIKE A LITTLE BARGAIN.
YOU ARE GOING TO
LEAVE ME ALONE.
AND, IN RETURN, I PROMISE NOT
TO WRECK YOUR LITTLE TRADE
IN HUMAN SUFFERING BY
SPREADING NASTY RUMOURS
ABOUT YOU AMONG THE
PARISIAN ELITE.
AND IF I AM AS INTELLIGENT
AS YOU SAY I AM, YOU KNOW
I AM CAPABLE OF DOING THIS.
AND THE PSYCHOLOGIST
TELLS HER MOTHER,
THERE IS NO PROBLEM.

He laughs and continues IT'S JUST A PHASE.
THE CHILD WILL GROW OUT
OF HER SECRETIVENESS.
AND SO PALOMA IS FREE TO
GO ON WITH HER HIDDEN LIFE
AS BEFORE.
I LOVE THAT.
I WON'T WRECK YOUR LITTLE
TRADE IN HUMAN SUFFERING.
I LOVE THAT.
I ALSO THOUGHT, WHEN I READ IT,
THAT MURIEL BARBERY'S HUSBAND,
STEFAN BARBERY, IS
A PSYCHOLOGIST.
IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN A
LITTLE DOMESTIC DIG.
BUT NOT EVERY MOMENT OF
PALOMA'S LIFE IS NEGATIVE.
SHE HAS MOMENTS OF GREAT
JOY, GREAT INSIGHT.
AT HER SCHOOL, SHE'S BEGUN
TO STUDY JAPANESE, AND
SECRETLY, SHE IS FAR
AHEAD OF HER FRIENDS.
SHE MAY REMIND YOU OF HOW
RENEE MICHEL WAS IN HER
VILLAGE DECADES EARLIER.
PALOMA CAN ALREADY READ
BASHO'S HAIKUS, THREE LINE
HAIKUS, OR FIVE-LINE TANKAS,
AND SHE HAS EVEN BEGUN TO
ENJOY JAPANESE COMIC
BOOKS, THE MANGAS.
AND JUST AS RENEE, THE
CONCIERGE CAN FIND GREAT JOY
IN A MOMENT, LIKE THE
SCENE IN OZU'S FILM,
THE CAMELLIA,
ON THE MOSQUE,
ON THE TEMPLE, SO CAN
PALOMA BE MOVED IN A MOMENT
BY THE GRACE IN ACTION OF A
RUGBY PLAYER, OR THE FALL
OF A ROSE BUD, OR THE SOUND
OF HER SCHOOL CHOIR, OR THE
PERFECTION OF A SENTENCE.
PALOMA HAS ALREADY
DISCOVERED AT 12
A DEEP LOVE OF PAINTING.
THERE'S ONE GORGEOUS MOMENT,
ONE OF THE TENANTS IS
TRYING TO SEPARATE TWO LAP
DOGS WHO HAVE BEGUN TO MATE.
AND WHEN SHE SEPARATES THEM,
SHE TURNS HER ANKLE, AND
SHE IS LYING THERE TWISTED
IN AGONY, CONTORTED.
AND PALOMA LOOKS AT HER, AND
SHE SAYS, A FRANCIS BACON
PAINTING COME TO LIFE
BEFORE MY VERY EYES.

He laughs and continues I LIKED IT.
I THOUGHT IT WAS FUNNY.
PALOMA HAS LONG HAD HER
SUSPICIONS THAT THE
CONCIERGE, MADAM MICHEL, IS
NOT WHAT SHE APPEARS TO BE.
SHE NOTICED, FOR EXAMPLE,
THAT WHEN RENEE'S SHOPPING
BAG WAS ACCIDENTALLY
SPILLED, THAT UNDER THE
VEGETABLES, UNDER THE
TURNIPS, WAS A BOOK
PUBLISHED BY VIRENT.
AND VIRENT IS THE PARISIAN
PUBLISHER OF PHILOSOPHY.
AND SHE COMES TO THE
CONCLUSION, I QUOTE HER,
MADAME MICHEL, I QUOTE HER, HAS
THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG.
ON THE OUTSIDE, SHE
IS COVERED IN QUILLS.
A REAL FORTRESS.
BUT ON THE INSIDE, SHE HAS
THE REFINEMENT OF A HEDGEHOG.
A DECEPTIVELY INDOLENT
LITTLE CREATURE, SOLITARY,
AND TERRIBLY ELEGANT.
AND THAT'S LOVELY.
THE ELEGANCE OF
THE HEDGEHOG.
AND WE SEE RENEE MICHEL
WITH ALL THE QUILLS.
BUT THERE'S MORE
TO IT THAN THAT.
MURIEL BARBERY DOES NOT
REALLY EXPLAIN IT IN THE
NOVEL, BUT AS A PROFESSOR
OF PHILOSOPHY, SHE MUST
KNOW THAT THE REFERENCE
ALSO COMES FROM A VERY
FAMOUS ESSAY BY THE BRITISH
PHILOSOPHER ISAIAH BERLIN.
ISAIAH BERLIN TAUGHT
IN MY LIFETIME.
ISAIAH BERLIN SAID THERE
WERE TWO KINDS OF THINKERS.
AND USED THE METAPHOR
OF FOXES AND HEDGEHOGS.
HE SAID FOXES ARE
THOSE THINKERS,
THOSE PHILOSOPHERS,
WHO HAVE MANY IDEAS.
AND HEDGEHOGS ARE THOSE
PHILOSOPHERS WHO ARE ABLE
TO BRING ALL THE IDEAS
INTO ONE BIG IDEA.
THE FOXES MANY IDEAS, THE
HEDGEHOG, ONE BIG IDEA.
BERLIN, ISAIAH BERLIN,
DESCRIBED, FOR EXAMPLE,
LEO TOLSTOY AS A FOX BY
NATURE, WHO KNEW MANY THINGS,
BUT WHO WANTED TO UNIFY THOSE
THINGS INTO ONE THEORY.
WHO WANTED TO
BECOME A HEDGEHOG.
ALTHOUGH TOLSTOY
NEVER QUITE MADE IT.
NOW, RENEE MICHEL, IN
THAT SENSE, IS A FOX.
SHE KNOWS MANY THINGS, BUT
SHE IS TRYING TO FIND
A UNIFYING THEORY.
SHE IS TRYING TO
BECOME A HEDGEHOG.
IN ONE SENSE, SHE IS A
HEDGEHOG, KEEPING AWAY
THE WORLD, BUT IN THE
PHILOSOPHIC SENSE OF
ISAIAH BERLIN, SHE HASN'T
QUITE MADE IT YET.
PALOMA GETS STUCK IN AN
ELEVATOR WITH A NEW TENANT.
THE FOOD CRITIC,
PIERRE ARTHENS HAS DIED.
A NEW OWNER HAS COME IN,
A JAPANESE GENTLEMAN,
KAKURO OZU.
SAME TITLE FAMILY NAME
AS THE FILMMAKER,
NOT THE SAME FAMILY.
HE'S JUST BOUGHT
THE APARTMENT.
SUDDENLY, THE
ELEVATOR STOPS.
PALOMA, 12 YEARS OLD,
IS STUCK WITH THE
JAPANESE GENTLEMAN.
AND SHE IS
PROMPTED TO SPEAK.
FIRST BECAUSE SHE WANTS TO
PRACTICE HER JAPANESE, AND
SECONDLY BECAUSE Mr. OZU
SPEAKS TO HER AS AN EQUAL.
AND HE BEGINS BY TELLING
LITTLE PALOMA THAT YOU KNOW
OUR CONCIERGE IS NOT
ALL SHE SEEMS TO BE.
HE HAS ALREADY CAUGHT
OUT RENEE MICHEL.
RENEE HAD SAID TO HIM,
APROPOS OF SOMETHING, ALL
HAPPY FAMILIES ARE ALIKE.
NOW, THAT'S THE FIRST
LINE OF
ANNA KARENINA.
AND OZU HAD QUOTED
THE SECOND LINE.
BUT EVERY UNHAPPY FAMILY
IS UNHAPPY IN ITS OWN WAY.
AND SHE HAD REACTED.
SHE KNEW SHE'D
BEEN CAUGHT OUT.
HE HAD AT THE SAME MOMENT,
ASKED RENEE MICHEL, THE
CONCIERGE, WHAT'S
THE NAME OF YOUR CAT?
AND SHE SAID LEO.
AND HE CONNECTED IT
WITH LEO TOLSTOY.
NOW, WE MUST REMEMBER THAT
THIS NEW DISTINGUISHED,
CULTIVATED, JAPANESE
GENTLEMAN IS AN OBJECT OF
GREAT INTEREST TO THE
OTHER SEVEN OCCUPANTS
OF THE APARTMENTS.
THEY ALL WANT TO MEET HIM.
THEY ALL WANT TO
CULTIVATE HIM.
HE'S OBVIOUSLY A MAN
OF IMMENSE CULTURE.
THERE'S ONE LOVELY
LADY, MADAM DE BROGLIE,
WIFE OF A STATE COUNCILLOR,
WE WOULD SAY A SENATOR,
PERHAPS, SO RIGHT WING
THAT HE DOESN'T SAY HELLO
TO DIVORCED PEOPLE.

[laughter]

Robert continues I LOVE THAT KIND
OF GIVE-AWAY LINE.
SHE GOES TO ENORMOUS TROUBLE
TO PASS AND REPASS HIS DOOR
IN THE HOPE HE'LL COME
OUT AND THEY CAN MEET.
BUT HIS WHOLE ATTENTION IS
FOCUSSED ON THE CONCIERGE.
AS HE SAYS TO PALOMA WHEN
THEY'RE STUCK IN THE
ELEVATOR, I'M VERY
INTRIGUED BY OUR CONCIERGE,
MADAME MICHEL, AND SHE IS
VERY INTRIGUED BY Mr. OZU.
THERE IS THE COINCIDENCE
OF HIS LAST NAME AND HER
FAVOURITE JAPANESE
FILMMAKER BEING THE SAME.
THERE IS THE COURTESY.
HE SENT HIS SECRETARY DOWN
TO THE CONCIERGE TO SAY
I AM MAKING RENOVATIONS
IN MY APARTMENT, BUT
BE ASSURED THAT THEY WILL
NOT CAUSE YOU EXTRA WORK.
THERE IS THE BREATHTAKING
NEWS FROM MANUELA,
THE CLEANING LADY, THAT
Mr. OZU HAS TWO CATS CALLED
KITTY AND LEVIN.
TWO OF THE MAJOR CHARACTERS
IN
ANNA KARENINA.
AND, FINALLY, THERE IS THE
GIFT THAT Mr. OZU SENDS
DOWN TO HER, AN INSCRIBED
COPY OF
ANNA KARENINA,
BY TOLSTOY, SAYING 'IN
HONOUR OF YOUR CAT'.
ONE OF THE MANY DELIGHTFUL
TOUCHES IN THE NOVEL.
MATTERS ARE BROUGHT TO A
HEAD WHEN OZU INVITES THE
CONCIERGE TO SOMETHING THAT
HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE
IN 27 YEARS.
PLEASE COME TO DINE
IN MY APARTMENT.
SHE'S TAKEN ABACK.
THAT EVENING IS A
FIRST CLASS SET PIECE.
RENEE GOES TO HAVE HER FIRST
REAL HAIRCUT IN HER LIFE.
HER FRIEND, MANUELA, HAS
ANOTHER FRIEND WHO MADE A
DRESS FOR A CLIENT WHO DIED.
THE DRESS IS THERE.
SHE BRINGS IT.
RENEE IS RESPLENDENT.
SHE GOES UP WITH A
CONFIDENCE SHE HAS NEVER
EXPERIENCED BEFORE.
AND AS SHE WALKS IN TO
Mr. OZU'S APARTMENT,
NOTHING IS HELD BACK.
SHE SEES ON THE WALL A
MAGNIFICENT COPY OF A
PIETER CLAESZ PAINTING,
AND SHE SAYS TO HIM,
I WOULD GIVE THE WHOLE
ITALIAN QUATTROCENTO FOR
THE 17th CENTURY
DUTCH MASTERS.
HA!
NOT MANY CONCIERGES
SAY THAT.

[laughter]

Robert continues AT ONE POINT IN THE
EVENING, SHE HAS TO PEE.
SHE GOES TO THE BATHROOM.

He laughs and continues AND THAT'S A GREAT SCENE!
FIRST OF ALL, THE TOILET
PAPER IS SO SOFT SHE
DECLARES IT, I QUOTE, A
CANDIDATE FOR SAINTHOOD.

[laughter]

Robert continues AND THEN, WHEN SHE SITS
ON THE TOILET, MOZART.
IT'S THE
CONFUTATIS MOVEMENT
FROM MOZART'S REQUIEM.
IT'S HER FAVOURITE PIECE.
SHE COMES OUT OF THE
BATHROOM, SHE GOES TO OZU,
AND SHE TELLS HIM
ABOUT THE MUSIC.
THEY GO INTO FITS AND FITS
AND FITS OF LAUGHTER.
THEY ARE KINDRED SOULS.
THE DINNER EVENING
IS FOLLOWED BY A TEA
AFTERNOON, AGAIN
IN HIS APARTMENT.
THEY LISTEN TO PURCELL'S
OPERA
DIDO AND AENEAS,
AND THEY LISTEN
TO DIDO'S ARIA,
WHEN I AM LAID IN EARTH,
WHICH RENEE SAYS IS THE
MOST BEAUTIFUL MUSIC FOR
THE HUMAN VOICE ON EARTH.
Mr. OZU INVITES RENEE
FOR HIS BIRTHDAY PARTY
AT A RESTAURANT.
AND RENEE HESITATES.
SHE HAS SEEN A PHOTOGRAPH
OF Mr. OZU'S LATE WIFE.
HE IS A WIDOWER.
AND SHE KNOWS THAT THAT VERY
BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IS SO MUCH
MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN
SHE IS, OR EVER CAN BE.
SHE THINKS HER OWN
APPEARANCE DOESN'T MATCH UP.
AND I THOUGHT THAT A
WONDERFUL HUMANIZING TOUCH
BY MURIEL BARBERY, TO MAKE
THIS WOMAN SO CONFIDENT IN
HER INTELLECT, SO DOUBTFUL
ABOUT HER APPEARANCE.
SHE HESITATES.
BUT A FAR MORE IMPORTANT
REASON FOR HER HESITATION
LIES IN SOMETHING SHE
CONFESSES TO PALOMA.
PALOMA, IN TURN,
TELLS Mr. OZU.
AND IT EXPLAINS MUCH
OF HER SELF-IMPOSED
EARLIER ISOLATION.
BACK IN HER VILLAGE, AS A
LITTLE GIRL, RENEE HAD HAD
AN OLDER SISTER, LISET.
BEAUTIFUL.
WHO HAD LEFT THE VILLAGE.
GONE TO THE BIG CITY.
FOUND A WEALTHY LOVER.
AND THEN ONE DAY, IN A
TERRIBLE RAINSTORM, IN THE
VILLAGE, IN THEIR COTTAGE,
THERE IS A KNOCK.
AND THE KNOCK IS LISET,
SOAKED, ABANDONED,
AND PREGNANT.
SHE DIES GIVING BIRTH TO A
CHILD, WHO WILL ITSELF DIE.
AND FOR 40 YEARS, SINCE SHE
WAS 17, HEAVY RAINS BROUGHT
BACK THAT MEMORY TO RENEE.
THE MEMORY OF WHAT HAPPENS
WHEN A PEASANT GIRL
TRIES TO RISE ABOVE
THEIR STATION IN LIFE.
RENEE TELLS PALOMA, BEFORE
THE BIRTHDAY INVITATION.
PALOMA BULLIES HER INTO
ACCEPTING THE INVITATION.
PALOMA SAYS IT MIGHT BE
POSSIBLE TO CHANGE ONE'S
FATE AFTER ALL.
MADAME MICHEL, YOU KNOW
YOU ARE GIVING ME HOPE.
AND HOPE IS BEING
REBORN FOR RENEE.
SHE HAS ALREADY FELT, I
QUOTE, THE PEACE OF MIND
THAT ONE EXPERIENCES
ON ONE'S OWN.
ONE'S CERTAINTY OF SELF, IN
THE SERENITY OF SOLITUDE.
AND NOTHING IN COMPARISON TO
THE RELEASE, OPENNESS AND
FLUENCY ONE SHARES WITH
ANOTHER IN COMPANIONSHIP.
AND JUST BEFORE SHE ACCEPTS
THE INVITATION, SHE IS
VISITED BY A YOUNG MAN.
THE SON OF THE
LATE FOOD CRITIC.
AND THE YOUNG MAN IS A
RECOVERING DRUG ADDICT.
AND HE HAS COME TO THANK
HER, PIERRE ARTHENS' SON.
HE SAYS, I AM RECOVERING
FROM MY ADDICTION.
AND WHAT HAS SUSTAINED ME IN
MY RECOVER IS THE VISION OF
BEAUTY, THE VISION OF BEAUTY
OF THE CAMELLIAS YOU
PLANTED IN YOUR GARDEN
IN THE BUILDING.
AND THAT BEAUTY I HAVE
FOCUSSED ON, AND THAT HAS
SUSTAINED ME.
AND WITH MANUELA, PALOMA,
Mr. OZU, AND NOW THE GRATEFUL
YOUNG MAN, RENEE'S LINKS TO
HUMANITY ARE STRENGTHENING.
PREVIOUSLY, ART, MUSIC,
LITERATURE, PHILOSOPHICAL
SPECULATION WERE
ALL AND ALL TO HER.
BUT NOW CONSIDERING HUMAN
RELATIONSHIPS, SHE WONDERS
ALOUD, MAYBE
THIS
IS
WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT.
THE EVENING OF THE BIRTHDAY
PARTY AT THE RESTAURANT
BEGINS EXQUISITELY.
THEY GO INTO A
QUIET LITTLE BOOTH.
AND THE LIGHT, SURROUNDED BY
SHIMMERING SHADOWS, REMINDS
THEM BOTH AT THE SAME
TIME OF SCENES FROM
RIDLEY SCOTT'S
FILM
BLACK RAIN.
AND RENEE CANNOT BELIEVE,
I QUOTE, THERE COULD EXIST
SUCH A CONGRUITY OF TASTE
AND THOUGHT PATTERNS.
OVER A MASTERPIECE OF SUSHI,
Mr. OZU MAKES A STATEMENT
TO RENEE THAT I TAKE TO BE
THE CLIMAX OF THE NOVEL.
I QUOTE, I DID INVITE YOU
TO CELEBRATE MY BIRTHDAY.
BUT IN THE MEANTIME,
SOMEONE, PALOMA, HAS GIVEN
ME SOME VERY IMPORTANT
INFORMATION SO I HAVE
SOMETHING CRUCIAL
TO TELL YOU.
YOU ARE NOT
YOUR SISTER!
AND RENEE CHOKES AND WEEPS.
BUT Mr. OZU IS RELENTLESS.
YOU ARE NOT YOUR SISTER.
WE CAN BE ANYTHING
WE WANT TO BE.
A SONG BY EMINEM,
COMES TO RENEE'S MIND.
I SAID SHE'S NO SNOB.
I QUOTE, IF YOU HAD ONE
SHOT, ONE OPPORTUNITY TO
SEIZE EVERYTHING YOU EVER
WANTED, ONE MOMENT, WOULD
YOU CAPTURE IT OR
JUST LET IT SLIP?
AND RENEE WEEPS THICK
ROUND TEARS OF HAPPINESS
AS Mr. OZU TAKES HER BY THE
HAND AND SMILES AT HER WITH
ALL THE WARMTH
IN THE WORLD.
AND SHE SAYS THANK YOU.
SHE DOES NOT
SLEEP ALL NIGHT.
AS SHE PUTS IT TO HERSELF,
OF HER MEMORIES, THE
DRIVING RAIN HAS BEEN
TRANSFORMED INTO LIGHT.
AND THEN IT COMES, RENEE
RUNS IN THE ROAD TO SAVE
A WANDERING DRUNK.
AND SHE IS FATALLY STRUCK
DOWN BY A PASSING VAN.
AND HER DYING MOMENTS ARE
THE MOST MOVING DEATH SCENE
I HAVE READ SINCE
MAGWITCH DIED IN
GREAT EXPECTATIONS.
WHAT SEEMED SO SIGNIFICANT
TO ME IS IN THOSE DYING
MOMENTS, AS SHE LIES BROKEN
IN THE ROAD SURROUNDED BY
ONLOOKERS, STRANGERS, RENEE
IN HER MIND SAYS GOOD-BYE,
NOT TO THE ART, THE BOOKS,
THE MUSIC, THE PHILOSOPHY,
THAT HAVE BEEN HER LIFE FOR
SO LONG, BUT TO THE PEOPLE
SHE HAD MET.
THE PEOPLE ARE
HER CAMELLIAS.
THEIR FRIENDSHIP HAS BEEN
HER VISION OF BEAUTY.
TO LUCIEN, HER ONE-TIME
HUSBAND, SHE SAYS, I DID
LOVE YOU WELL AFTER ALL.
WE WILL SLEEP IN PEACE
IN THE LITTLE CEMETERY
IN OUR VILLAGE.
TO PALOMA, SHE SAYS, IN HER
MIND, MY CHILD, IF I HAD
HAD A DAUGHTER, IT IS YOU
SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN, AND
WITH ALL MY STRENGTH, I
IMPLORE THAT YOU'LL BECOME
WORTHY OF ALL
THAT YOU PROMISE.
TO MANUELA, IN HER MIND, SHE
SAYS, YOU WHO MADE OF ME A
WOMAN WHO COULD BE A FRIEND,
CARRY ON WITH YOUR LIFE AND
THINK OF ME WITH JOY, BUT
IN MY HEART, THE IDEA THAT
I WILL NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN,
IS FOR ME AN INFINITE TORTURE.
AND TO KAKURO OZU, SHE SAYS,
MY HEAVENLY BENEFACTOR, WHO
MADE ME PREPARED TO LOVE
AFTER 54 YEARS IN THE
WILDERNESS, AFTER 54
YEARS OF NOTHINGNESS.
AND OF THIS LOVE SHE FINALLY
FOUND, SHE SAYS IN HER MIND,
I START TO CRY, TO
CRY FOR THE JOY INSIDE.
WHAT DO THESE ONLOOKERS SEE
AS THEY BEND OVER MY BROKEN
BODY, I DO NOT KNOW.
BUT INSIDE ME, THE SUN, THE
SUN, AND PEACEFULLY, I DIE.
AND THE REACTION OF THOSE
WHO ARE LEFT IS FORESEEABLE.
MANUELA FAINTS FROM SHOCK.
A WEEPING KAKURO OZU
GIVES THE NEWS TO PALOMA.
THE TENANTS ARE PREDICTABLE.
THEY ASK, WHO DIED?
THE CONCIERGE.
OH, RELIEF.
LATER THAT DAY, KAKURO
OZU AND PALOMA GO DOWN TO
RENEE'S LODGE TO GET THE
CLOTHES RENEE WILL NEED
TO GO TO HER FINAL REST.
THEY PAUSE IN THE COURTYARD
TO LISTEN TO A DISTANT PIANO.
THEY LET THE SUN WARM THEIR
FACES, AND KAKURO SAYS,
I THINK RENEE WOULD HAVE
LIKED THIS MOMENT.
AND THE LAST WORD MURIEL
BARBERY GIVES TO PALOMA.
SHE'S 12 YEARS OLD.
RENEE'S DEATH HAS GIVEN HER
HER FIRST UNDERSTANDING
THAT WE ARE MORTAL.
IT HAS GIVEN HER
A NEW PERSPECTIVE.
SHE REALIZES, I QUOTE, ALL
MY LITTLE PLANS WERE JUST
THE LUXURY OF A
PROBLEM-FREE TEENAGER.
POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL
WANTING TO DRAW ATTENTION
TO HERSELF.
I FOUND HER SELF-CRITICISM
A LITTLE HARSH.
I FOUND SOME OF HER INSIGHTS
MOST EXTRAORDINARY.
SHE WILL NEVER SEE RENEE
AGAIN, AND THE WORD 'NEVER'
HAS NEW MEANING FOR HER.
SHE NOW UNDERSTANDS
THAT LIFE IS FINITE.
I QUOTE HER.
THERE IS A LOT OF DESPAIR, BUT
ALSO THE ODD MOMENT OF BEAUTY.
SHE IS REFERRING TO THOSE
MOMENTS SHE HAS ALREADY
EXPERIENCED IN THE SOUND OF
A CHOIR, OR THE FALL OF
A ROSE BUD.
THEY ARE THE MOMENTS OF BEAUTY
THAT MARCEL PROUST RECORDED
A LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU.
THE POET WORDSWORTH CALLED
THEM SPOTS OF TIME.
THEY ARE MOMENTS WHEN WE
EXPERIENCE BEAUTY THAT
WE CAN HOLD WITH US WHICH WILL
CARRY US THROUGH THE OTHER
MOMENTS, JUST AS THE
RECOVERING DRUG ADDICT WAS
SUSTAINED BY THE MEMORY
OF RENEE'S CAMELLIAS.
THESE ARE MOMENTS WHEN TIME
CEASES TO BE, MOMENTS WHEN
WE CAN FEEL ETERNITY.
THE LAST WORDS OF THE NOVEL ARE
PALOMA'S LAST WORDS TO RENEE.
DON'T WORRY, RENEE,
I WON'T COMMIT SUICIDE,
AND I WON'T BURN A THING.
BECAUSE FROM NOW ON, FOR
YOU, I WILL BE SEARCHING
FOR THOSE MOMENTS OF
ALWAYS WITHIN NEVER.
I KNOW THAT THERE ARE THOSE
WHO FOUND THE DEATH OF RENEE
ABRUPT, MISPLACED.
BUT I'M NOT SURE MURIEL
BARBERY HAD A CHOICE.
BEFORE RENEE'S DEATH, THE
FAIRY TALE ELEMENTS WERE
TAKING OVER.
RENEE MICHEL'S STORY WAS
BECOMING THE STORY OF
THE UGLY DUCKLING.
AND Mr. OZU WAS IN PART
PRINCE CHARMING AND
THE FAIRY GODMOTHER.
IF MURIEL BARBERY WANTED HER
NOVEL TO COMMENT ON REAL LIFE,
I THINK SHE HAD TO
ANCHOR IT BACK INTO
REALITY, AND DEATH IS
THE ULTIMATE REALITY.
AND WHAT IS MURIEL BARBERY'S
FINAL COMMENT ON REAL LIFE?
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF
EXISTENCE THAT RENEE HAD
SEARCHED FOR?
THAT 12-YEAR-OLD PALOMA
HAD YEARNED TO FIND?
I DON'T THINK THE NOVEL
OFFERS ONE COMMENT,
ONE ANSWER.
I THINK THE STORY OF THESE
TWO LONELY INDIVIDUALS
WHOSE SEPARATE LIVES
ARE BEAUTIFULLY BROUGHT
TOGETHER BY A JAPANESE
CATALYST, I THINK THE
TWO STORIES OFFER
MULTIPLE TRUTHS.
I REFER YOU BACK TO ISAIAH
BERLIN'S OBSERVATION THAT
THE FOX KNOWS MANY THINGS,
AND THE HEDGEHOG KNOWS ONE
BIG THING.
SEEMS TO ME THAT THE MESSAGE
OF MURIEL BARBERY, THE
MESSAGE OF THE NOVEL IS THAT
WE CAN FIND MEANING TO JUSTIFY
OUR EXISTENCE IN MANY
THINGS, IN SPECULATIVE
REFLECTION, IN THE
CONTEMPLATION OF BEAUTY,
AND IN THE FULLNESS OF THE
MOMENT, AND IN FRIENDSHIP,
AND ABOVE ALL, IN THE
LOVE OF ANOTHER PERSON.
I THINK MURIEL BARBERY WAS
HAVING A LITTLE JOKE WITH
THE TITLE,
THE ELEGANCE OF
THE HEDGEHOG
IN THE SENSE
OF QUILLS KEEPING OUT THE
OUTSIDE WORLD FOR THE FIRST
54 YEARS OF HER LIFE, I
THINK MURIEL BARBERY WAS
A HEDGEHOG.
BUT SHE NEVER REALLY BECOMES
A HEDGEHOG IN THE SENSE
THAT ISAIAH BERLIN
TALKED ABOUT IT.
SHE NEVER FINDS ONE
CONTROLLING EXPLANATION
FOR LIFE.
BUT SHE DOES FIND, AND
SHE PASSES ON TO PALOMA,
MANY TRUTHS.
IN ISAIAH BERLIN'S TERMS,
THE NOVEL IS NOT ABOUT A
HEDGEHOG, IT
IS ABOUT A FOX.
AND MADAME RENEE MICHEL IS
A VERY WONDERFUL FOX WHO
LEARNS AND KNOWS SOME VERY
BEAUTIFUL AND MARVELLOUS THINGS.
AND I THANK YOU VERY
MUCH FOR LISTENING.

[applause]

Watch: Robert Adams on The Elegance of the Hedgehog