Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944) presents an attention-grabbing dichotomy. I might wager that almost all readers of those pages have loved his pleasant little story, The Little Prince, about 125,000 copies of that are offered per 12 months within the US (in comparison with about 300,000 in France). Those that haven’t but learn the brief e-book have in all probability heard about it. But the remainder of his oeuvre is essentially unknown within the US (and, curiously, in France, the place each city appears to have a avenue or college named for Saint-Exupéry, whose face adorned the final French 50-Franc invoice, earlier than the transition to the Euro).
I bear in mind devouring his aviation memoirs once I was in school. Southern Mail (1929), Night time Flight (1931), Wind, Sand, and Stars (1939), Flight to Arras (1942), and The Little Prince (1943), all captivated my creativeness with larger-than-life tales of early aviation, desert and mountain crashes, and reflections on friendship and humanity. Like my French mom when she was a young person (one thing I discovered later), I stored a diary of quotations, portion of which had been from Saint-Exupéry. Many got here from The Little Prince:
And now right here is my secret, a quite simple secret: It’s only with the center that one can see rightly; what is crucial is invisible to the attention.
-I’m searching for mates. What does that imply – tame?
-It’s an act too typically uncared for, mentioned the fox. It means to determine ties.
-To ascertain ties?
-Simply that, mentioned the fox. To me, you might be nonetheless nothing greater than a bit boy who is rather like 100 thousand different little boys. And I’ve no want of you. And also you, in your half, haven’t any want of me. To you I’m nothing greater than a fox like 100 thousand different foxes. However should you tame me, then we will want one another. To me, you may be distinctive in all of the world. To you, I shall be distinctive in all of the world….
Grown-ups by no means perceive something by themselves, and it’s tiresome for kids to be at all times and eternally explaining issues to them.
To like is just not to have a look at each other, it’s to look, collectively, in the identical route (from Wind, Sand, and Stars).
After I had devoured all of his books (aside from a posthumous novel), I by some means moved on. When my mom – a contract trainer of French literature and French as a overseas language – died unexpectedly in 2007, I discovered her lectures on Saint-Exupéry. I vowed to publish them as a posthumously co-authored educational paper – however I used to be then a first-year assistant professor, so I properly centered on writing the economics papers required for tenure and promotion, and put the mission in a drawer.
After I received COVID throughout a month-long keep in Paris in February 2022, I made a decision to revisit the mission. I re-read Wind, Sand, and Stars with grownup eyes, then dug into the lifetime of Saint-Exupéry, via an exhibit of Saint-Exupéry’s life and sketches on the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the memoir written by his pal Léon Werth, and Stacy Schiff’s magisterial biography (Saint Exupéry: A Biography, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1994). I discovered myself particularly intrigued by Saint-Exupéry’s odd 28-month exile in New York Metropolis, between the Fall of France in 1940 and the Allied invasion of North Africa in 1942. I dedicate these reflections to my late mom.
Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, depend of Saint-Exupéry, was born in Lyon, France, in 1900. He was tempted by a profession as an illustrator or architect, however discovered his calling as a pilot when he was drafted into army service within the new area of aviation, in 1921. He subsequently loved a profession as a mail pilot and check pilot, whereas writing and drawing on the aspect. His first brief story was revealed in 1926, and there adopted his sequence of autobiographical (and philosophical) novels about life within the air, and his reflections on friendship, humanity, and life, from 30,000 toes.
Flight to Arras is Saint-Exupéry’s private recollection of the Battle of France, wherein he participated as a pilot in a reconnaissance squadron. He makes use of one specific flight as a synecdoche for his participation within the Battle of France, the disastrous defeat to Nazi Germany, and reflections on life, destiny, battle, demise, and the ikigai of flying a aircraft. I’ve chosen this e-book as a result of it foreshadows the Fall of France and Saint-Exupéry’s wartime exile in New York Metropolis. For this #ReadWithMe, I’m utilizing the 2015 version, translated by Lewis Galantière, and revealed by Martino Publishing (Mansfield Centre, CT).
The e-book opens with the counsel of despair. Amidst the French military’s retreat in Could 1940, the statement squadrons are vastly outnumbered. All the French military counted a mere 50 statement crews of three males. Of the 23 crews in Saint-Exupéry’s squadron, 17 had been decimated within the first three weeks of the battle. “Crew after crew was being provided up as sacrifice. It was as should you dashed glassfuls of water right into a forest hearth within the hope of placing it out” (14).
As a professor, I’ve lived the absurdity of college forms: I as soon as puzzled why we wasted treasured time in month-to-month division conferences that might have been an e-mail (and even that will have been a stretch) – till I spotted that there was a gathering so the division chairman might report back to the dean that there had been a gathering… in flip, the dean might report back to the provost that each one departments had held a gathering that month. In the long run, time is taken away from educating, analysis, and substance – however no one dies.
In a wartime rout, issues are totally different: “It’s not our fault that we really feel none too cheerful. Not the most important’s fault that he’s ailing comfortable with us. Not the Workers’s fault that it offers orders. The main is out of types as a result of the orders are absurd. We all know that they’re absurd; however the Workers is aware of that in addition to we do. It offers orders as a result of orders should be given. Giving orders is its commerce, in time of battle” (18). That is all a part of a lethal dance within the theater of battle. “Good-looking horsemen transmit the orders – or quite, to be fashionable about it, motorcyclists. The orders ordain occasions, change the face of the world. The good-looking horsemen are like the celebrities – they create tidings of the longer term. Within the midst of turmoil and despair, orders arrive, flung to the troops from the backs of steaming horses. After which all is properly – no less than, so says the blueprint of battle. Everyone struggles as onerous as he can to make battle appear to be battle. Piously respects the foundations of the sport. In order that battle could maybe be adequate to conform to appear to be battle” (ibid). Remark crews are despatched as much as near-certain demise, and for what? “In all seriousness the Staffs concern orders that by no means attain anyone. They ask us for intelligence unattainable to offer. However the air arm can not undertake to clarify battle to the Staffs….After all they take our intelligence into consideration, for the reason that blueprint of battle requires that intelligence officers make use of intelligence. However even their war-by-blueprint had damaged down. We knew completely properly that they might by no means be capable of make use of our intelligence – fortunately. It could be brough again by us; however it will by no means be transmitted to the Workers. The roads could be jammed. The phone strains could be reduce. The Workers would have moved in a rush. The actually essential intelligence – the enemy’s place – would have been furnished by the enemy himself” (19-20).
Ever the poet and mystic, educated by Jesuits, Saint-Exupéry interprets this futility into a ravishing non secular expertise of despair. As he awaits one other absurd and harmful mission, he writes: “I used to be for the second like a Christian deserted by grace. I used to be about to do my job…honorably, that was sure. However to do it as one honors historical rites after they have not any significance. When the god that lived in them has withdrawn from them” (24). As he prepares for the mission, he laments: “I can not see the cathedral wherein I reside. I’m dressing for the service of a useless god” (33).
After which, one thing adjustments. The pilot, via his gear, actually turns into one with the aircraft: “I’m hooked up to the aircraft by a rubber tube as indispensable as an umbilical wire. The aircraft is plugged into the circulation of my blood. Organs have been added to my being, and so they appear to intervene between me and my coronary heart” (38-39). “I’m an organism built-in into the aircraft” (46). Though the mission could also be futile, the pilot’s ikigai is heavy with that means. “For me, piloting my aircraft, time has ceased to run sterile via my fingers. Now, lastly, I’m put in in my operate. Time is not a factor aside from me. I’ve stopped projecting myself into the longer term. I’m not he who could maybe dive down the sky in a vortex of flame. The longer term is not a haunting phantom, for from this second on I shall myself crate the longer term by my very own successive acts. I’m he who checks the course and holds the compass at 313*. Who controls the revolutions of the propellor and the temperature of the oil These are wholesome and rapid cares. These are family cares, the little duties of the day that take away the sense of rising older. The day turns into a home brilliantly clear, a ground properly waxed, oxygen prudently doled out…” (44). The absurdity, futility, and despair within the briefing room have given solution to the enjoyment of a craft properly practiced: “It got here to this, that I used to be working at my commerce. All that I felt was the bodily pleasure of going via gestures that meant one thing and had been important unto themselves. I used to be aware neither of nice hazard (it had been totally different whereas I used to be dressing) nor of performing an amazing responsibility” (48). Naturally, Saint-Exupéry then turns again to mysticism: “At this second the battle between the Nazi and the Occident was decreased to the size of my job, of my manipulation of sure switches, levers, faucets. This was correctly. The sexton’s love of his God turns into a love of lighting candles. The sexton strikes with deliberate step via a church of which he’s barely aware, comfortable to see the candlesticks bloom one after the opposite as the results of his ministrations. When he has lighted all of them, he rubs his palms. He’s happy with himself” (48-49).
- What does ethical philosophy dictate in a state of affairs of absurdity, futility, and hazard? Are we nonetheless referred to as to do our responsibility – and discover that means in it? Will we belief the hierarchy, our superiors, and “the system”? Or is it morally permissible to shirk a futile responsibility?
- I’ve typically puzzled if there was actually one thing totally different about World Battle II – or if that is my bias as a result of it’s newer – or as a result of my French grandparents lived via the Occupation of France (1940-1944), and my American grandfather was an officer within the Navy assist groups for Operation Torch and Operation Neptune. I’m wondering if, say, the Franco-Prussian Battle and World Battle I had been simply big-power geopolitical struggles – nonetheless battle, with its horror and heroism, however not an existential battle for Western values. Saint-Exupéry refers to “the battle between the Nazi and the Occident” (48)
Nikolai G. Wenzel is the L.V. Hackley Chair for the Examine of Capitalism and Free Enterprise, and Distinguished Professor of Economics, Broadwell Faculty of Enterprise and Economics, Fayetteville State College (Fayetteville, NC).