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"divine providence" in French

And I love books. So I should have fallen head over heels at the news wonderfully commented on Arcade already that a team of computer scientists, mathematicians, social scientists and biologists from Harvard and MIT had taken to aggregate the texts of all the books printed and digitized from to and compute all the words printed in a given year 8 billions in !

And that, for a literary scholars made to feel on an everyday basis like one of the last generation of dinosaurs, feels nice. So, first: thank you.

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Yet, if there is one thing that literary scholars and historians agree can arguably not be lulled out from books only is precisely what we call culture. Sigh: the dream of a new academic and cultural order where scientists would work to produce ingenious tools for literary scholars because they and not scientists hold the key to the knowledge of who we are as a culture will probably not come true, even though the culturomics project seemed to be heralding that dream.

The premises of the project being thus questionable, the real work lies ahead: to do the actual work of interpreting what kinds of conclusions can be drawn from such a humongous and fascinating database, and figuring out in the first place about what exactly we are talking about when we draw from this tool. It is still unclear what this database is giving us access to. Strictly speaking, it can tell us a lot about books printed between , and certainly by inference about what they say or fantasize about what laid outside of them the world, history, etc.

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As with medical data , there is this weird ellipsis in the name of quantifying the humanities—body or soul on the need for, shall we say the word? Maybe something about cultural memory and how closely tied to the news cycle what gets into books has become. But what is the intellectual gain of knowing by how many years one gets closer to fame now than in the 50s?


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In the same way, we did not have to wait for any mathematical equation to infer from observation that new technology enters popular culture and books at an accelerated rate: it took my father to get married to buy his first TV; it took me 3 months to resists buying the ipad. Another statistical flaw that might seriously limit the import of any result drawn from the culturomics database: Google. Books digitizes only one copy per edition if that. As far as I know Google. Books is not interested in digitizing re-editions, not does it make any specific attempt to digitize all known editions from a work not to mention that a number of national library have refused to give their troves to Google.

Books: this is a big problem for the 19th century, where rare and important books belong to special collections of municipal, national, or university libraries. So we learn that censorship in Nazi Germany was very effective in suppressing the names of forbidden artists form the cultural production of the time.

I am not a specialist of censorship in dictatorships, but having worked on censorship in the early modern world and read a decent amount of scholarship on censorship across history, I found the conclusion at odds with other cultural trends, and thus deserving more contextualization. Maybe things do work differently in a totalitarian regime but are forbidden editions likely to find their way into Google. Books if they had to be hidden? It would have been worth contextualizing this finding into the broader context of the history of censorship to point out how original it was, if it was.

The part I found most interesting was the one on linguistics: not surprisingly, when the data the study is based on words coincide with the object of study words in languages , the results are more convincing. Anglophone specialists in the field will already know the work of both Begag and Hargreaves. Therefore this is presumably a welcome attempt at popularisation in the English speaking world. This good humoured tale of integration of Muslim immigrants in the West could well serve as an antidote to simplistic notions of a clash of civilisations, and the excessive pessimism that often dominates anglophone media discourse on ethnic relations in France.

And eager to please, the narrator always tries to cross boundaries.


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  • He pretends to be Jewish to become friends with two North African Jewish boys in his class. He gets on with a friendly teacher, who confounds the stereotype of the racist pied noir. Since there is much use of Lyonnais slang and Arabic dialect, readers may be reaching for the glossary at the back of the book, as Hargreaves sensibly chooses to avoid translating such phrases into some vaguely equivalent Anglophone idiom.

    Another key readership for this book should be undergraduate students from disciplines such as history taking courses on France with little or no knowledge of French. Those of us teaching such courses know there is a real gap in the market for this kind of translation. All too few books on contemporary France ever get translated into English, making students overly dependent on the second-hand interpretations of Anglophone scholars.

    The by now forty year old setting of the book would make it a useful primary source for history students. Indeed, outside the Franco-Algerian context, the book would be of interest to anyone considering the s more generally, since such themes as encountering modern consumer goods like inside bathrooms and televisions for the first time, and the advantages and disadvantages of old and new ways of life, replicate the experience of millions of people across Europe and beyond. Nevertheless, some themes of the Sixties, notably political activism, are absent.

    Unlike some other autobiographical novels by Beur authors,[3] there is nothing here on the flirtation of some first and second-generation Algerians with post French leftism. Begag is clearly an accomplished teacher--those of us who worry about how to teach our students to think critically will enjoy his description pp. The book opens with an anecdote about being singled out to be searched as Begag crossed the border into his home country on return from an appearance on Swiss television.


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    • How have things come to this, that a recipient of the Legion of Honour can be treated in this way? In making the difficult choice of sifting through the thirty-odd different ways in which they have been described, he settles on jeunes ethniques pp.

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      The social damage arising from the confusion of personal success with financial gain goes far wider than the banlieues and youths of immigrant origin. The question of value at stake here could be summarised in the following terms: If we take young people living in poverty who have seen their fathers exploited as cheap labor, then thrown onto the scrap heap of unemployment, who have no culture, are completely depoliticised, are subject to constant racism and are able to express themselves only through violence, how can we expect them to take a temporary job for a thousand euros a month when they can earn that much in a day or two in the parallel economy?

      Indeed, it might be asked whether, in English translation, the book constitutes preaching to the converted. Is Begag, in his understandable desire to rebut French assumptions of the superiority of the republican model over Anglo-Saxon multiculturalism, perhaps insufficiently critical of the situation in the English-speaking world? After all, Begag has himself pp. It might make sense, therefore, to pair this book on reading lists with a text defending the French system and set up a debate between the two.

      While Begag, who is critical of communitarianism pp.

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      While this approach is in many ways attractive, it does leave unanswered questions. What about privileged individuals living in deprived areas, and vice versa? And if it is wrong to deny someone a job purely because of their ethnicity p.

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      There were trade unions. While, using a sporting metaphor, he rightly argues that meritocracy does not exist in practice, because some leave the starting blocks with more advantages than others pp. It also exacerbates the arguments about affirmative action, by making more dependent on it.