DSK and France, 10 Days after Check-Out

In his May 19th letter of resignation and ‘infinite sadness’, the former head of the IMF said he wants to ‘deny with the greatest possible firmness all of the allegations made against me’ and to ‘protect this institution which I have served with honor and devotion.’   Let’s pass over the honor part, and contemplate devotion.   Maybe the IMF did receive the best of DSK’s love.  It will be interesting to hear the evaluations of subordinates, now that he is no longer the boss.  We’re presently being reminded about a series of financial scandals that were brushed under the rug during his time as French Finance Minister.   More generally, DSK was apparently long renowned in his circle for high-risk behavior.  For example: the day spent skiing solo, off-piste in an area plastered with avalanche warnings.  On his return a friend exclaimed, ‘You ski the way you lead your life!’   Astonishing, how his intimate supporters in the powerful PR firm of Euro RSCG managed to suppress colorful reality and create and defend the public vision of a cool-headed sage guiding the world through turbulent economic times.

The news last night (Paris time) was that the NYPD lab has established traces of DSK’s semen on the collar of the chambermaid’s blouse.   Evidence for sure, but relative non-news in the light of the defense attorneys’ previous tacit acknowledgment of a consensual encounter in room 2806.  Nonetheless, some French internauts are foaming at the mouth– so to speak–protesting that anyone could ‘rub her clothes up against the man, and thus acquire the traces of his DNA.’

More startling is the word-for-word revelation of the purported verbal exchange (the word ‘conversation’ just doesn’t work here) between the alleged victim and DSK.  She pleads her fear of losing her job.  He soothes her with, ‘Don’t worry, baby.’  And then cries twice, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’

Neither of these tidbits have been officially confirmed.  Presumably someone on the inside is blabbing to journalists.  But let’s note that this case has already engendered a surprisingly high rate of false rumors: the chambermaid’s non-‘brother’, her AIDS status, the exonerating lunch date et alia.

Last Sunday a few prominent writers, politicians and feminists called for a demonstration against ‘sexism’, and its trivialization in France.  Primary slogan: ‘We are all chambermaids.’  500 people, mostly female, showed up.  Heck, two weeks earlier 200 people had showed up at the Bastille for a demo defending Qaddafi!

On the other side, hugely popular former Minister of Culture (PS) Jack Lang has dismissed the importance of the whole matter, saying ‘no man (sic) died’.   And plenty of normally hard-to-ruffle folks here are scandalized by the US publication of photos of DSK in handcuffs, an image regarded as an unfair mediatized assumption of guilt.   In today’s published polls, although his popularity has taken a hard hit, 42% of the population still declare their overall opinion of DSK to be ‘favorable’.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. It looks as though the iconic couple Sartre/de Beauvoir continue to epitomize two main but unequal intellectual streams in France.  De Beauvoir’s subjects and passion were sexism, feminism and freedom of identity.  Sartre’s turf was Communism, anti-capitalism and the glorious Left.  De Beauvoir may have the been the better writer, but her lover/rival Sartre has pretty much won the territory.  It’s a given in France that the morally virtuous are crowded together on the political left–where DSK, until ten days ago, served as their standard-bearer.

Last night, a few women friends got together up in Montmartre for a delicious home cooked dinner.  Over lemongrass Thai chicken and fresh strawberries we found ourselves musing that ‘men know nothing about men’, a conclusion prompted by a spate of recent op-eds by French (male) psychologists who solemnly theorize on the immiscible personalities of a ‘seducer’ and an ‘aggressor’.  But all of us around the table, it turned out, carry in our memory’s baggage at least one experience of seduction changed lightning-fast to aggression.  (Statistical note: in France there’s one rape, of whatever stripe, every two hours.)  In each case the man in question was a person powerful in his sphere, successful and used to succeeding, with an extremely low tolerance for ‘no.’  In nearly each case, the aggressor was of a certain age, upward of fifty.

There is a literally insane quality that these experiences all had in common: the man’s forced attention, no matter how violent, was supposed to be taken as a favor.  A gift.  Every seducer-aggressor insisted on his pastel-wash of events before, during and after the fact.  Don’t worry, baby. These were men leading rich and exciting lives far beyond the ordinary, but they were aging men, and age, like its ending, is something one can’t charm, deal or buy one’s way out of.  So the party turns suddenly serious: it’s Eros vs. Thanatos.  Magical thinking (the elixir of female youth will save you) mingles with sheer desperation.  Seduction is stripped down to compulsion, to the demeaning need for sex at any cost–because to fail in the arena of sexual conquest is to die just a little bit faster, a little bit more.

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