Reading Note:
Noblesse Oblige


Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog is narrated by two denizens of 7, Rue Grenelle, in Paris: the concierge, Mme Michel, and Paloma, the twelve-year-old daughter of a parlementaire. From the very beginning, these two have more in common than either of them would guess (comparison hasn’t yet occurred to them); what I noticed right away is that both are sticklers for attentiveness and, perhaps consequently, attuned to the compression of Japanese aesthetics. For her part, Mme Michel is a big believer in noblesse oblige, at least where language is concerned. When the Mme Pallières, a privileged standout in a building tenanted by the privileged, interpolates an unnecessary comman into a utilitarian note for Mme Michel, the latter delivers a tirade:

For all of these reasons, Sabine Pallières has no excuse. The gifts of fate come with a price. For those who have been favored by life’s indulgence, rigorous respect in matters of beauty is a non-negotiable requirement. Language is a bountiful gift and its usage, an elaboration of community and society, is a sacred work. Language and usage evolve over time: elements change, are forgotten or reborn, and while there are instances where transgression can become the source of an even greater wealth, this does not alter the fact that to be entitled to the liberties of playfulness or enlightened misusage when using language, one must first and foremost have sworn one’s total allegiance. Society’s elect, those whom fate has spared from the servitude that is the lot of the poor, must, consequently, shoulder the double burden of worshipping and respecting the splendors of language. Finally, Sabine Pallières’s misuse of punctuation constitutes an instance of blasphemy that is all the more insidious when one considers that there are marvelous poets born in stinking caravans or high-rise slums who do have for beauty the sacred respect that it is so rightly owed.

I must figure out how to make the heart of this paragraph serve as a credo for The Daily Blague.

One Response to “Reading Note:
Noblesse Oblige”

  1. Nom de Plume says:

    You already have.