A Last Goodbye to André Glucksmann

What is a philosopher thinking about when he decides, as André Glucksmann did, that he wishes to be cremated?

Resolute atheism?

Residual Platonism?

The uselessness of this body, of which nothing need remain?

Confidence in books, the philosopher's real tomb, the only one that counts, the only memorial worth putting his name on?

Nothing before, nothing after, a brief passage between two tempests, two vertiginous voids?

Quite a few of us, I imagine, are asking ourselves the same question on this strangely mild fall Friday around the funeral hall of Père Lachaise, its dreariness transcended today by friendship and memory.

I see Chechens who know that André was their first, fiercest, and most faithful defender.

A Vietnamese couple that look to be the right age to have arrived in Europe aboard the Ile-de-Lumière, which he helped to put to sea.

A reflective Bosnian.

A young Rwandan woman in tears, a survivor of the genocide, returning the "Hello, beautiful!" with which André habitually greeted her.

A Georgian woman, Ukrainian by adoption, in from Kiev, who knows that the last regret of André's life was not to have had the strength to be by her side in the Maidan.

And Russians, as well. I think I can pick out quite a few who know that André's love for their country, for the real Russia--that of the cook and not of the cannibals, the Russia of Pushkin and Dostoevski, of Solzhenitsyn and Anna Politkovskaya, the Russia of Elena Bonner, Andrei Sakharov, and Boris Nemtsov, not that of Vladimir Putin--was as passionate as his hate for the manglers of memory who reign once more in the Kremlin.

I recognize a Czech aristocrat whose presence recalls Vaclav Havel's esteem for André.

An old Polish worker looking like a blend of Lech Walesa and Jacek Kuron.

A Latin American friend who might have been the young interpreter whom I have not seen since the time in Mexico, nearly 40 years ago, when that interpreter stood with Octavio Paz, André, and me on the stage of a university lecture hall as we were heckled by pro-Castro students who did not want to hear that fascism comes in red as well as brown.

Survivors of the leftist deluge of the '60s and '70s, young men now old who believed, as André had, that culture was misfortune's daughter and that, to change man and life, it was necessary to take the risk of cutting in two the history of the world--those old comrades stood shoulder to shoulder with (but were not quite successful in ignoring--nor he them) a former French president who had made exorcism of the thinking of May 1968 a centerpiece of his campaign.

There are the old friends, of course, who, as they are called by Romain Goupil, the most faithful of the faithful, guardian of the temple, get up to say a few words of farewell. And Fanfan, his eternal companion, shaky but brave, taking pains not to let her distress show. And Raphaël, André's other creation, the living continuation of his written work, who speaks with the patterns of his father, with the same blend of mildness and cold rage, of refinement and biting wit, with the same vocal quaver that causes one to wonder whether he is about to break into tears or declare an insurrection. And the others, all the others unknown to me, who perhaps have not read André but who know that before them is vanishing a great man to whom, without knowing precisely why, they have come to pay tribute.

What these disparate and perhaps contradictory expressions of grief have in common is the feeling of seeing depart one of the last embodiments of that beautiful and noble species that was the cosmopolitan intellectual in the French mold who, needing no authority beyond his own conscience, claiming no mandate, and flying in the face of every form of provincialism, echoed the groaning of the wretched of five continents.

All in attendance know that before them lies one of the rare men capable of saying, as André did years ago, that the risk of stirring up the French communist party and the trade unions was worth it if that was the price to be paid for publicizing the gross offenses done to the Soviet refusniks, or, more recently, that the plight of the Roma or of the shipwrecked refugees of Calais justified jostling self-satisfied conformists whose only concern, upon hearing troubling news, is for their standing in the next regional election.

And all bow before the memory of the one among us who believed most ardently in the power of ideas and who, indeed, made of his own ideas a force that, more than once, undermined our certitudes, exposed facile consolations and expedient accommodations, and, yes, managed to change, a bit, the order of things.

An aversion to dialectics can also break bricks.

The strength of an intellectual, whether any Little Father of the Peoples like it or not, can rival that of divisions. And that is not counting the damage that André Glucksmann's intellectual action has done to the rationalizations for dictatorship and to the theories of its apologists.

The only question that remains, as the body of our friend is reduced to ash and we disperse in sadness along the pebble pathways of Père Lachaise, is whether we have buried an era or rekindled the flame of a struggle that must not and cannot cease.

Translated by Steven B. Kennedy