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Amin Maalouf: “The French Academy is a major asset for France”

A few minutes after the announcement of the election of Amin Maalouf to the post of Permanent Secretary of the French Academy, thus succeeding Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, certain academicians expressed their joy.

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Amin Maalouf: “The French Academy is a major asset for France”

A few minutes after the announcement of the election of Amin Maalouf to the post of Permanent Secretary of the French Academy, thus succeeding Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, certain academicians expressed their joy. Under the Dome, François Sureau and Dominique Fernandez insisted on the great sympathy of the man. “He’s an old friend for forty years, I know him well,” explained Dominique Fernandez. And added: “He is not impulsive and that is what the academy needs: someone who is of an even mood, who has a sense of function, who puts his own interests under the general interest. of the Institution. He will be perfect for that.”

Alain Finkielkraut also felt that the Academy “made a very good choice. Amin Maalouf is a consensual, very hardworking candidate who will do a good job. He will know how to defend the French language.” Because, he clarified, “our role is the French language, we are not immortal, the language must be able to remain so.” Dominique Bona, for his part, has the feeling of having lived through a historic moment. “The Secretary will give the momentum, the character of the Academy of tomorrow. After the announcement of his election, Amin Maalouf had a very elegant word for his friend Jean-Christophe Rufin. Duality is no longer one, only friendship remains within the Academy.” Shortly after, the Minister of Culture, Rima Abdul Malak, entered the courtyard of the Academy. “It’s an excellent choice that the academicians made. He is an immense writer, a man of heart, of brotherhood, of dialogue, of appeasement. We need a lover of the French language, it’s a magnificent symbol for all French speakers in the world.”

Entering the living room Édouard Bonnefous, the newly elected Permanent Secretary, first had a word for Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, who died on August 5. “Hélène Carrère d’Encausse is someone we loved enormously. She was the face of the Academy for all of us and will remain an unforgettable character. A successor had to be chosen. I don't think anyone will do as well as her. She set the bar very high, but her example enlightens us and pushes us to give the best of ourselves. I will try to do it." He then answered a series of questions. Here is what he said during the press conference:

Was it a great emotional moment for you?

Amin MAALOUF. - Yes, I'm still there, I haven't come out. I feel like it's a lot of work. Over the last twelve years, I have had the example of Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, who had extraordinary energy. When I saw what she was doing, I said to myself: “I will never be able to do that!” And that’s what I said to the first academicians who called me! And then, little by little, I got used to the idea. Three things pushed me to finally say yes. The first was the brothers and sisters who spoke to me and expressed their feelings. The second is the functioning of the Academy, which I find remarkable. I knew that by applying for the position of Secretary, I would be fully supported. The third element is my passion for this Institution. I was elected to Claude Lévi-Strauss’ chair. I read his reception speech; he said that the Academy had offered him 17 ancestors: his predecessors to his chair. The first idea I had was that these 17 predecessors had become my ancestors, now with Claude Lévi-Strauss. I wanted to tell this story. My first book tells four centuries of French history through these ancestors, some are forgotten, but among them are Montherlant, Claude Bernard, Cardinal de Fleury... I developed a passion for the Academy. I am convinced that his mission is even more important today than in the Cardinal’s time. The Institution takes care of language, which is an essential element of the life and identity of a nation, of France in the world and I think that it is a major asset for this country.

What changes are you going to make?

I don't think in terms of change. Unlike other elections, I did not come with a program. We have activities that are underway and need to be completed, including the dictionary which is at the heart of our mission. We are very advanced. Hélène Carrère d’Encausse hoped to get to the end and she almost got there. She was with us for the reading of the word “zoology”, so here we are! This 9th edition is almost finished. Hélène Carrère d’Encausse played a huge role in making it move forward faster.

The Academy's dictionary dates back to the 17th century; it cannot be conceived today as it was conceived before. The last edition was the 8th, it ended around 1932-35. And between us and these dates, there is as much distance in terms of developments, technologies, knowledge, communication as between the 8th edition and Cardinal Richelieu. We began with Hélène Carrère d'Encausse a reflection on the foundations of what a 21st century dictionary should be and the 10th edition will be the subject of in-depth reflection on the part of our company. This is my priority. This will occupy us for a large part of this year.

The French Academy is often criticized for being conservative, what do you think?

Within the Academy, there are all kinds of opinions. The Academy is not and will never be a political party, it is a place of meetings between people who come from different fields and who have a different intellectual history. There is everything and it is important that an institution reflects the diversity of the country and even the diversity of the world. We are in a world that is sinking, distraught, we need places of reflection, of serenity like this place. It represents a moral conscience. We need it and it is important that there are all sensitivities, opinions and that all this happens in courtesy, in friendship, in fraternity. The entire concept of the French Academy encourages us to move in this direction.

The Academy is also criticized for being slow in the face of the proliferation of Anglicisms. Do you agree?

It is the nature of an institution like that not to react too quickly, when there is a trend, the Academy waits to check if it is something that will take hold, that deserves to be consolidated or if it is something that will pass. It is its function not to move too quickly in the face of current trends.

The permanent secretary is elected for life to the Academy. Do you think that we should establish a mandate of a certain duration, as is the case at the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences?

The Secretary is elected for life. This perpetuity is interpreted differently depending on the case. One of the logics that governs this choice is that there should not be too rapid changes at the Academy, that there should not be a spirit of competition for the person who will succeed. The Academy has avoided too much tension of this kind. Hélène Carrère d'Encausse stayed for 23 years, and sincerely, as someone who experienced the second half of her mandate, I can say that at no time did we feel that she had weakened, or that her strength was reduced. For my part, I can't imagine staying as long as her or Maurice Druon who stayed for 14 years. I don’t think it’s a good thing for someone who has just arrived to think about leaving (laughs). I will give myself the time I need as long as I have the necessary strength, I will devote myself to this beautiful old house. When the time comes, we'll see.

What are your relations with Jean-Christophe Rufin today?

He has been a friend since we published our first books in the same publishing house, almost forty years ago. We remain very good friends and we will remain so. I paid tribute to him during our meeting after my election. We will be friends as we are today, as we must be at the Academy, for life.

How did you interpret his late application?

He hesitated, he called me several times. He preferred that there be an election with more than one candidate, it is a respectable vision, and I respect it. Once the election is over, we will meet again as before, in the same friendship. I think we will never talk again about this competition that we had for a short day.

Is this a great moment for Lebanon, your native country?

Lebanon is going through a difficult time. He is happy when some of his sons are talked about for good reasons, linked to culture, knowledge, science and which make us forget a little about the tragedies and the violence. In Lebanon there is this passion for sons who have gone elsewhere and who give the country a breath of fresh air. I am sensitive to this and I am delighted if my election brings a little joy to Lebanon.

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